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Tampa on menu for 2 upscale chains

Two more upscale casual-dining chains are moving into the full-blown restaurant row that has emerged on Boy Scout Boulevard in Tampa's West Shore area.

International Plaza, which is already building a home for Ocean Prime seafood and steaks next to a new Crate & Barrel, has signed a deal for Brio Tuscan Grille.

And across Boy Scout from the mall, the new MetWest mixed-use project has lined up Kona Grill as the first of several destination restaurants there.

Based in Scottsdale, Ariz., Kona uses its full sushi bar and 40 fresh-made sauces to create American fare with an international flair. Popular dishes are miso-marinated sea bass and five-spice baby back ribs.

Named the "hot concept" of the year by Nation's Restaurant News in 2007, Brio offers a higher-end Italian menu than Romano's Macaroni Grille or Olive Garden with an average $30 check for dinner, $16 for lunch. Decked out to look like a Tuscan country villa, the marble-floor décor is also reminiscent of a Cheesecake Factory.

Both chains may be drawn by prospects of serving office workers, IP shoppers and West Shore hotels flush with business travelers living on expense accounts. One note of caution: Business travel is down 3 percent, the Travel Industry Association says. Even luxury shoppers have turned frugal, and companies are tightening expense accounts.

Indeed, sales at Kona restaurants open more than a year dropped 10 percent in the most recent quarter, and the company just closed its first Florida store, which was in Naples.

Kona opens this winter. Brio arrives in the fall.

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Here's more unsettling news from the struggling TV shopping industry: St. Petersburg-based HSN's bigger rival, QVC, is laying off 900 employees after reporting declining sales in the third quarter and flat domestic revenues for much of this year. The casualties include 160 management types and the entire call center at network headquarters in suburban Philadelphia. Also vaporized: 10 of the 1,300 jobs at QVC's distribution center in Port St. Lucie.

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Traffic is up 4 percent at supercenters, 3 percent at dollar stores, pet stores and grocery stores, and 10 percent at drugstores, according to figures compiled by Nielsen Co. Traffic is down 9 percent at department stores, 8 percent at office -upply stores and 6 percent at toy and apparel stores.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Tampa on menu for 2 upscale chains 11/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 2:08pm]

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