Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Restaurants go from busy to booming when TV food shows come calling

Tom Geer sat depressed watching TV, having just moved from the microbrew-rich mountains of Montana to the craft beer wasteland many consider Florida.

Then an oasis appeared. Food Network's ubiquitous Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, an addictive series about unique hole-in-the-wall restaurants, was featuring Hillsborough County.

A spiky blond hot-rod-driving chef Guy Fieri was climbing out of a convertible.

"Oh, I dig rolling into Tampa Bay," he said into the camera. "We're in a historical area known as Ybor City to check out a brew house that's not just handcrafting their beers, they're handcrafting their food."

Geer's eyes widened as he watched Fieri bite into Tampa Bay Brewing Co.'s bacon-wrapped beer-glazed meatloaf and cider wings.

Within days, Geer drove to Ybor, sidled up to the bar and ordered a beer sampler and the same wings he saw on television.

"Phenomenal," he said after the meal. "I was pouting. I thought there weren't any microbreweries here."

Diners, Drive-ins and Dives made him feel as if he'd been let in on a secret. But the show is really the equivalent of a bullhorn. Had Geer looked around, he would've seen several other customers at the restaurant ordering up specials, as seen on TV, just like him.

Such culinary exploratory series, including Heat Seekers, The Best Thing I Ever Ate and Fieri's show — all on the Food Network — and the Travel Channel's Man v. Food, have become economic stimulators for a slew of Hillsborough restaurants.

With cult followings in the millions, the shows expose local food treasures to tourists, snowbirds, transplants — and even some natives — who have yet to hear about the fish tacos at California Tacos to Go, the Cubans at Aguila Sandwich Shop, the chili cheeseburgers at a little place called Danny's All-American Diner.

Some, like Tampa Bay Brewing Co., have had to hire more staff to handle the influx of customers.

Just before the show aired in October, general manager Ryan Kelly hired four additional servers and two more line cooks based on Fieri's recommendation and the experiences of Munch's Restaurant in St. Petersburg. Munch's experienced a tidal wave of new customers after it was featured on the show in 2007.

Sure enough, the brewing company experienced a 33 percent increase in business that hasn't waned thanks to consistent reruns.

"As the show continues to air, we get killed," Kelly said.

The episode featuring the Tampa Bay Brewing Co. aired again Feb. 26, and three days later, the brewery sold 40 meat loaves in one day.

"That's another way we can tell," Kelly said. "It's meatloaf, mussels and wings all day long."

The phenomenon wasn't limited to the brew house. Just ask Danny's All-American Diner on N Falkenburg Road, featured on the same episode.

"Ever since the show aired," owner Gayle Doak said, "they've been knocking us over."

Or California Tacos to Go on Skipper Road, which was on that same show.

"Probably about an 80 percent increase in business and it continues to grow," owner Charles Morrell said. "It's all good. Extra people got extra jobs."

Morrell said he hired three more employees after the show featured his fish tacos made with grilled corn tortillas, tempura-battered grouper, cabbage, guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese and a white sauce made from dill, capers and yogurt.

While the Food Network and its parent company could not be reached, restaurant owners say they were chosen thanks to a little bit of luck, customer appreciation and reputation. Faithful customers sent emails to the Food Network and Travel Channel, begging for features on their favorite haunts.

They desire nothing more than to see TV personality Adam Richman stuff his mouth with their favorite Cuban sandwich on Man v. Food.

"A customer had gotten in touch with him and told him we were very good," said Cindy Aguila, explaining how her family's Aguila Sandwich Shop was spotlighted on the show. "They like to watch the challenges and see how much he can eat."

The sandwich shop, on W Hillsborough Avenue, has been around town for 24 years under its current name or former iteration as La Ideal and has a built-in, large local following. But what the shop didn't expect after its Cuban sandwich became a national TV star was the hordes of tourists popping through to taste what Richman had ordered up on the show.

"We've had people come in from all over the country," Aguila said. "California, Hawaii, Maine, everywhere. If they're coming to the area, they check where he's been and make sure they try it out."

Justin George can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3368.

 
Comments
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

When Brenda Terry was 16 and living in St. Louis, she was a hostess and food runner at a sports bar where female employees wore cute, little cheerleading skirts. One night, she said, a patron grabbed her crotch. She ran to her management team and the...
Published: 12/15/17
Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Shrieks of laughter echoed off the walls of the hospital as Thunder the mini pig flopped onto his side and the children huddled around him, scratching his pink, hairy belly. He and his wet-nosed partner, Bolt, drew patients in wheelchairs and bandage...
Published: 12/15/17
Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

LARGO — Eight months after paying $10.15 million for the office building that houses IT services company Vology, a New York company is suing the Pinellas County Property Appraiser and Florida Department of Revenue contending its $5.5 million tax asse...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

In 2010, Florida was in the throes of an unprecedented housing crisis. One in every eight homes was in some stage of foreclosure. Today, the foreclosure rate is one in every 83. Because of that enormous drop, Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund will s...
Published: 12/15/17
Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

By ELAINE KURTENBACHTOKYO — Global inequality has stabilized at high levels in recent years, a report said Friday, despite gains among the poor in China and much milder disparities in incomes and wealth in Western Europe. The World Inequality Report ...
Published: 12/15/17
How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

Associated Press NEW YORK — After years of tremors, the earthquake that had long been predicted finally shook Hollywood. Disney’s deal to purchase most of 21st Century Fox ends the era of the "Big Six" major movie studios, toppling one ...
Published: 12/15/17
St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, under construction since 2015, is scheduled to be complete by the summer of 2019.The five-story, 137,100-square-foot building will house businessman and collector Rudy Ciccarello’s...
Published: 12/15/17
Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Today is the day that open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act will close for most people. But those affected by the slew of hurricanes that pummelled Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and other states earlier this year can take advantage of a two-week ...
Published: 12/15/17
Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

A record-breaking number of Americans are expected to travel this holiday season.The American Automobile Association projects that 107.3 million Americans will pack their bags and travel more than 50 miles by planes, trains, automobiles and other mod...
Published: 12/14/17