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Samba Room swings open in SoHo; new name, new owner for downtown Thai Cafe, Sophie's Bakery closed

TAMPA — Opening the Samba Room two weeks before the Republican National Convention gave owner Gordon Davis just enough time to tweak the menu and service at his latest Hyde Park restaurant, previously home to Ceviche, St. Bart's Island House and Le Bordeaux.

Now diners will discover traditional Latin comfort food, incorporating Peruvian, Brazilian and Colombian flavors, under the direction of chef Felicia Lacalle. That includes paella, beef short ribs, Cuban grilled lobster and a mixed grill boasting lamb sausage, skirt steak and chicken and chorizo.

Tapas choices come from land and sea, including tuna smoked with cigars, lamb meatballs in a sherry cream sauce and a raw bar offering five kinds of ceviche, such as scallop in pomegranate sauce with toasted coconut.

Dessert favorites are guava and cream cheese bread pudding with dulce de leche ice cream and tres leche cake topped with salted caramel, honey and white chocolate mousse, both $7.

Davis' tropical, pre-Castro Havana design comes with an outdoor patio and lounge featuring live music Wednesday through Saturday. There are a dozen specialty cocktails: standouts are mojitos and colorful Cattleya made with Absolut Berri Acai, lemon, creme de violette, and Cava Rosado.

A spacious private room near the wine cellar can be reserved for parties. Coming soon: Sunday brunch.

The Samba Room, 1502 S Howard Ave. is open from 5 p.m. to midnight; the bar is open 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., till 2 a.m. on weekends. A website is under construction, call (813) 251-4022.

Thai favorite gets a new owner, name

Thai Cafe is the new name Moo Betron has chosen for the Twiggs Street restaurant she purchased in July. It was previously called Sumo Thai and owned by Lawrence Storer, who has returned to Thailand, according to Betron.

"We will continue the menu," said Betron, including the popular pad Thai, crab Rangoon, soups and curries.

Her sister, Sumalee Sams, does the cooking and has added such new dishes as Thai Basil and mixed vegetables, with a choice of chicken, shrimp, tilapia or crispy duck over jasmine rice. Sams also added a new appetizer: vegetable tempura.

Betron, who attended hotel management school in Copenhagen, has worked in the hospitality industry for 20 years, including 10 years in Bangkok and several years as manager of Ban Thai in Clearwater.

Thai Cafe, 301 Twiggs St., is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; (813) 849-7866.

Family businesses close their doors

As the economy zigs and zags, we report the closing of three small family businesses.

Sophie's French bakery and cafe in Hyde Park Village has turned off the oven and unplugged the coffee pots. Carole and Todd Binkowski opened in February 2011 as Amelie's bakery, striving to become a neighborhood rendezvous point, with fine pastries and a lunch menu. The couple survived a legal entanglement with the original creators of Amelie's French Bakery in Charlotte, N.C., resulting in the name change. Apparently, the owners, who did not return calls this week, were not selling enough croissants and cappuchino to pay the rent. A note posted on the front door reads "Despite our best efforts, we simply could not develop a business model that would allow us to be successful in this location."

Nicholson House would have celebrated 20 years of selling handmade jewelry, greeting cards and eclectic gifts in November. Instead, Missy Purcell Towne, and her mother, Beth Purcell, who have opened and closed branches in Clearwater, Orlando, two locations in Hyde Park, and International Plaza, will close the Carriage Trade Plaza shop in October.

"I don't know exactly when we are leaving, or who the landlord will re-lease to," said Towne, adding that the management is releasing them from the five-year lease signed in August 2011.

Everything in the store is 30 percent off, said Towne, and prices will continue to drop.

Nicholson House, 1902 S. Dale Mabry Highway, is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. Call (813) 251-0236.

Eleventwenty Café Bistro in Grand Central at Kennedy closed July 26, due "to lack of day-to-day business and operating capital fell short," said Terry Riney, co-owner with his wife Dolly. The Channel District cafe began serving breakfast and lunch in January, next to Be Seen, the dry cleaners they also own.

"We are looking at our options," he said, "possibly reopen or partner with another restaurant."

Do you know something that should be Everybody's Business? Call (813) 226-3332 or email

Samba Room swings open in SoHo; new name, new owner for downtown Thai Cafe, Sophie's Bakery closed 08/30/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 30, 2012 4:30am]
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