TAMPA — When the Blind Tiger Cafe opens its newest coffee shop on S. Howard Avenue in South Tampa this summer, it'll be less than a mile away from a busy Starbucks right up the street.
Just a few blocks in the other direction is a Buddy Brew Coffee in Hyde Park Village and there's another not far on Kennedy Boulevard.
But Roberto Torres, owner of the Blind Tiger Cafe, isn't worried about his business. Coffee, like craft beer and the many other local foodie trends that have helped reshape the restaurant and retail landscape of Tampa Bay in recent years, is only just getting started.
"Portland probably has 650 coffee shops across the city," said Torres, who opened the first Blind Tiger Cafe on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City in November 2014. "There's been a culture shift in Tampa Bay away from corporate and to support the independent. The market is ripe. I think there's room for all us."
Torres, an 39-year-old entrepreneur who also owns the Black & Denim clothing company and CoWork Ybor, is constantly coming up with new ways to improve and expand his various business ventures. Last year he launched a corporate coffee cart program at the Blind Tiger Cafe, where businesses pay a monthly fee for the cafe to provide coffee services for the entire office.
Torres said the program started through a conversation with a friend, and has grown to five corporate clients, all through word of mouth.
"Local, good coffee is the new kind of office perk," Torres said. His staff install a nitro tap where both hot and cold coffee can be dispensed in an office. Then they restock it. "People want a better cup of coffee. And they're more productive because they don't have to leave the office to get it."
Tim Moore, director of Diamond View Studios, a Tampa-based video production company, has been offering Blind Tiger coffee in his office for more than five months now.
"I hadn't seen anything else quite like this before when Roberto mentioned it to me," said Moore, whose company employs 22 people. "We go through the keg pretty quick, so I'd say we're happy with it. All you have to do is taste Blind Tiger's coffee for yourself."
Back at the new Blind Tiger space in development on S. Howard Avenue, Torres is preparing the new shop to be part of a documentary. Torres is working with Nathan Schwagler, a facilitator at the Dali Museum's Innovation Lab, to build and film a creative problem solving program for employees who work for the Blind Tiger Cafe.
Torres attended a one-day skills lab at the Dali that trained him and others how to apply creative problem solving in the workplace. Torres said he was hooked.
"After that I called Nathan and said I want to implement this with my team," Torres said. "And he said, can I shoot a documentary about it?"
The new cafe is still under construction, but like the two other Blind Tiger coffee shops in Tampa, this new one will share the space with another company. In Ybor City, the cafe shares space with the Black & Denim retail showroom, his other business. The new shop in South Tampa will share space with Ella Bing Bow Ties, a local company that makes wood bow ties and sunglasses.
Torres opened the second Blind Tiger Cafe in Seminole Heights late last year. This third 1,700-square-foot cafe in South Tampa will open on the ground floor of The Morrison, a mixed use building in the Soho Corridor that includes 13,890 square feet of retail, 6,950 square feet of office space and 46 apartments. The building is expected to open in the fall, but Torres said his cafe will open this summer.
This third cafe will operate as sort of a flagship for Blind Tiger's operations. Torres said this cafe will stay open late and serve as a quiet retreat from the more rowdy bars and restaurants along S. Howard Avenue. It will sell beer and wine in addition to coffee.
"There are plenty of places to go out and have a drink on Howard," he said. "But not a lot of quiet places."
He hopes to scale this store as the model for future locations. Next up? Across the bay to St. Petersburg.
Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.