Make us your home page

West Tampa's Snack City closes after half a century


The place on West Columbus Drive was, by any measure, shabby and uninviting. But for three decades, Cuban-born Alfredo Naranjo served up Tampa's most unusual — and, some argue, most flavorful — ice cream at his West Tampa eatery, Snack City.

Snack City closed last month after 50 years in business, the last 30 or so with Naranjo as proprietor. He would mix by hand hard-to-find ice cream flavors like mango, ginger or Cuban mamey fruit, and dish it out to an astoundingly diverse clientele.

The ice cream often would come with a side of political discourse or, on some Saturday nights, a heartfelt romantic ballad. Naranjo was noted for his passion, much of which he poured into "the art of gelateria,'' said Gary Mormino, a professor of Florida studies at USF's St. Petersburg campus.

As a customer of more than a decade, "I bet I've recommended that place to thousands of students and friends," Mormino said. "You could make an argument it was the most democratic—- small d — establishment in Tampa.

"There were African-Americans from the neighborhood, Latino immigrants, yuppies. The first time I was there, I was in line behind two Indian physicians. They were in their lab coats, and they were each ordering a gallon of mango ice cream. They told me Alfredo imported all his mangoes from India."

You would never guess at the quality from looking at the outside, Mormino said. "The place was a dump. It was not a place for a first date." Still, he took dozens of teachers there after workshops every year, encouraging them to sample the mamey or the guava.

Snack City's closing had long been rumored, partly because Naranjo himself would threaten to close it. Then 75, he told the Times in April 2008 that "I won't be here long." But Naranjo and his wife, Sylvia, endured until early November.

The Naranjos could not be reached for comment.

"I was really surprised," said Andrew Huse, food historian, USF special collections librarian and author of the recently released book, The Columbia Restaurant: Celebrating a Century of History, Culture and Cuisine.

"I think maybe Naranjo was kind of afraid to raise his prices, especially because . . . it's not a big money area."

Huse was introduced to Snack City by Mormino. And he dropped by often, even though it was out of his way, frequently grabbing a $6 half-gallon of coconut or ginger and taking it home to mix with sautéed fruit.

"One of the things that made it really addictive is unlike American ice cream, it doesn't rely on sugar as much," Huse said. "(With) the chocolate, the first thing you tasted was cocoa, then the sweetness would come in. It really allowed the ice cream to have more flavor in my opinion."

Huse said Naranjo also made a mean frita Cubana, a Cuban hamburger on an onion roll with mustard and onions and potato sticks on the side. "It was just a great place for snacks," he said.

It is the loss of Naranjo's "extraordinary" ice cream, though, that will be felt the most, Mormino said.

"How rare is it in life," he noted, "to taste an entirely new flavor?"

Information from Times files was used in this report. Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call 226-3394 or e-mail

West Tampa's Snack City closes after half a century 12/10/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 10, 2009 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  3. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  4. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  5. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.