SOHO — Like so many southern Californians, Alexandra VanWie and her husband became enamored with Pinkberry, the strangely tangy frozen yogurt product that made its debut in Los Angeles in 2005 and rapidly became a cultural phenomenon.
After the VanWies moved to Sarasota two years ago, they discovered they really missed Pinkberry. But when they contacted the company about opening a franchise — as of now, the stuff is only available in Southern California and New York City — they were turned down.
"Then I thought, 'I can do this myself, my own way,' " Alexandra VanWie said.
VanWie soon will launch her own tangy, low-calorie frozen yogurt brand called SunniBunni in health- and youth-obsessed SoHo. Her store at 1413 S Howard Ave. is scheduled to open by mid May. If her special "tart" and "green tea" yogurt flavors catch on, VanWie is aiming to open four to six more locations in the Tampa Bay area.
Why SoHo? "It's a great place to do this concept," VanWie said. "There's a very young, hip group there."
And it is largely residential, as opposed to the more touristy nature of her home city of Sarasota. The idea is to draw in repeat customers.
SunniBunni's style of yogurt originated in South Korea and "tastes a little bit like frozen, sweet sour cream," VanWie said. "When you first try it, it's sort of like, 'What is this?' But you end up having these strange cravings for it."
The flavors can be doctored up with toppings that are either healthy (fresh fruit, nuts, granola) or indulgent (chocolate). VanWie also plans to launch a SunniBunni-themed clothing line in the 1,150-square-foot store, which is next to Bella's Italian Cafe.
Hours will be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 to 11 Friday and Saturday, and noon to 8 Sunday.
From Slyders to cigars
At Channelside, the White Castle burgers are out, and the cigars and coffee are in.
The Pirate's Cove Bodega, a market and eatery on the exterior part of Channelside Bay Plaza, has been taken over by a company that is busy opening cigar bars around Tampa. Though Pirate's Cove owner Shawn Kaplan tried to lure customers in by offering the famous square White Castle burgers called Slyders, the store had struggled since opening last May.
Acme Sports and Entertainment, a publicly traded company based in Satellite Beach, recently bought the assets of Pirate's Cove. This month Acme reopened the 2,500-square-foot store as its fifth Casa Havana, the chain of cigar and coffee bars that Acme began opening last year. The other Casa Havana locations are in Ybor City, on Kennedy Boulevard, on Bay to Bay Boulevard and in Madeira Beach.
"We do everything that Starbucks Coffee does, but we do it in a smoke-friendly environment," said Mike Muzio, the company's executive vice president for public relations. "The last safe haven for smokers is a cigar bar."
Casa Havana sells its own brand of hand-rolled cigars, Ybor City 1800's, and each location has a roller working on site. The stores offer a light menu of foods prepared and packaged elsewhere, including empenadas, flans, guava pastries and Cuban sandwiches.
Muzio said the company plans to take the concept nationwide. The advantage of Casa Havana, he said, is that it creates a comfortable place for all smokers — not just cigar smokers — to grab coffee and a bite to eat.
"If you're a smoker, you thank us for these locations," Muzio said. "If you're a nonsmoker, you don't like us. We believe we're providing a service that is much needed."
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