Make us your home page
Instagram

Republican convention more bust than boom for downtown Tampa restaurants

TAMPA

David Cullen figured his Quiznos restaurant downtown would be jammed during the Republican National Convention. He packed his freezer with extra food. He brought in more workers. Then the fence went up. Police erected the security barrier around his building adjacent to the police headquarters. To get to his restaurant, customers had to walk to the opposite end of the block and ask a police officer for access through a gate. No one did. By 11 a.m. Tuesday, Cullen sent his single employee home. By 1 p.m., he locked the door. "Would you really bother going through an armed guard just to get a sandwich?'' he said.

Cullen isn't the only downtown restaurant owner disappointed by business from the convention's estimated 50,000 visitors. Several complained of empty tables and idle employees. Most cried out for their regulars, who have fled downtown.

"Don't ever bring this here again,'' said Jeff Morzella, co-owner of Fresh, a breakfast and lunch cafe on Franklin Street. "We're ready to go, but there's no one here. It's brutal.''

Business at his restaurant was down about 75 percent on Monday, when convention officials canceled downtown events because of Tropical Storm Isaac. Tuesday, the first official day, wasn't much better. Two people came in for breakfast.

Morzella left at lunchtime, unhappy and frustrated.

"All our regular customers have been scared away,'' he said. "There's no one downtown."

Many owners complained that people stayed away because they didn't want to deal with the traffic or parking. The city blocked streets throughout downtown and eliminated parking meters on some of the main thoroughfares.

Samaria Cafe on Tampa Street planned to stay open for dinner but, aside from a few delegates, business hasn't warranted it. Owner Georgia Xanthoudakis remained hopeful crowds would swell as the week progresses but acknowledged she overestimated the convention's impact.

"I'm going to be very positive because this is a great thing for Tampa,'' she said. "But we did overstock and overstaff for it.''

Lynn Pham, owner of Bamboozle Cafe, said business was so slow she already had to throw away food and take a loss. She fears only restaurants that booked parties in advance will benefit from the event.

"We're hurting terribly,'' she said, profusely thanking two locals who came in for lunch on Tuesday. "It's painfully disappointing.''

Downtown coffee shops seemed to fare a bit better, enjoying a caffeinated boost from police and media to offset the loss of regulars.

"It's going well,'' said Katie Senkovich, manager of Indigo Coffee at Franklin and Twiggs Street. "We expected to be slammed, but it's better to be overprepared than underprepared.''

Even some restaurants in Ybor City — quite a distance from the convention zone — were feeling a bit snubbed.

When asked how business was going, Vicki Doble, co-owner of Tampa Bay Brewing Co., gave a big thumb's-down.

"I hope this does something for Tampa, because it's not doing anything for me,'' she said.

She had turned away some private parties to accommodate regulars but now regretted it. Sales over the weekend and early in the week were lackluster for August. Many locals have stayed away.

"It's tough, there's no question about it,'' she said. "I think people are a little afraid of the protesters.''

Carmine's restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Ybor has been steady for several days, enjoying business from regulars and RNC visitors. Orders for deviled crabs were up, said Gino Iavarone, who runs Carmine's and Market on 7th next door.

"Carmine's is a destination restaurant,'' he said. "We've been doing this for 31 years.''

The Tampa Downtown Partnership, which promotes local businesses, has heard mixed reviews from restaurants and blamed Monday's bad weather for the slow start.

"Some are doing well and some have not been doing well,'' said spokeswoman Donna Chen. "But the week isn't over.''

She anticipated people would go out to eat after Jon Stewart's tapings at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and parties at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. She also pointed out that famous politicians and media types were dining locally: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at Hattrick's and Fox News' Chris Wallace at Bernini's.

That comes as little solace to Cullen, the owner of Quiznos. He planned to stay closed until at least Friday, compounding his losses after an already exceptionally slow summer. And Monday is a holiday.

"I've been waiting for this for six months. I thought it was going to be great,'' he said. "But it has been a disaster.''

Republican convention more bust than boom for downtown Tampa restaurants 08/28/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 10:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Unexpected weak quarter at MarineMax slashes boating retailer shares by 20 percent

    Business

    CLEARWATER — Just then you thought it was safe to go back into the water, a boating business leader issued a small craft warning.

    Bill McGill Jr., CEO of Clearwater's MarineMax, the country's biggest recreational boat retailer. [Courtesy of MarineMax]
  2. CapTrust moving headquarters to downtown Park Tower

    Corporate

    TAMPA — CAPTRUST Advisors, a Raleigh, N.C.-based investment consulting firm, is moving its Tampa offices into Park Tower. CapTrust's new space will be 10,500 square feet — the entirety of the 18th floor of the downtown building, which is scheduled to undergo a multi-million-dollar renovation by 2018.

    CAPTRUST Advisors' Tampa location is moving into Park Tower. Pictured is the current CapTrust location at 102 W. Whiting St. | [Times file photo]
  3. Good news: Tampa Bay no longer a major foreclosure capital of the country

    Real Estate

    Once in the top five nationally for foreclosure filings, the Tampa Bay area no longer makes even the top 25.

    A few short years ago, Tampa Bay was a national hub for foreclosures. Not any more. [Getty Images/iStockphoto]
  4. Tampa-based start-up takes on Airbnb by promoting inclusion, diversity

    Tourism

    NEW TAMPA — Last May, Rohan Gilkes attempted to book a property in Idaho on the home-sharing platform Airbnb. After two failed attempts, the African-American entrepreneur asked a white friend to try, and she was "instantly" approved for the same property and dates.

    Rohan Gilkes poses for a portrait at his home and business headquarters in Tampa. 

Innclusive, a Tampa-based start-up, is a home-sharing platform that focuses on providing a positive traveling experience for minorities. Rohan Gilkes, the founder, said he created the organization after several negative experiences with Airbnb.
[CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]

  5. McMansions, state sewage order on tap at St. Petersburg City Council

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council is set Thursday to vote on two major issues: controversial zoning changes aimed at curbing big McMansion-style homes and a consent order with the state that will require St. Petersburg to fix its ailing sewage system.

    Two big, blocky homes on the 2300 block of Dartmouth, Ave N under construction in April. Several new homes under construction.
in St. Petersburg's Historic Kenwood Neighborhood are too big, residents complain. The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday is set to consider ordinances aimed at curbing the construction of big "McMansions." [LARA CERRI   |   Times]