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New downtown Tampa lunch event off to slow start

TAMPA

When she ran a fruit smoothie stand at last year's downtown street markets, Joanne Anderson had to hustle to keep up with the orders.

But at Friday's first "Lunch on the Lawn," an event that replaces those downtown markets, Anderson leaned against her counter, arms crossed, as a nearby three-man band scratched out jazz tunes.

"We'd usually be jumping at this time," she said.

The Tampa Downtown Partnership canceled its four-year run of Friday downtown markets, which featured food trucks, local farmers and small merchants, after it said surveys and focus groups showed downtown workers didn't have time to shop on their lunch hours.

Their decision also coincided, however, with complaints by downtown restaurants that the food vendors were taking away business.

So the partnership moved the farmers market, minus the ready-to-eat food, to Sundays starting Oct. 14. And it replaced the Friday event with "Lunch on the Lawn" at Lykes Gaslight Square Park.

The event, which runs through May, features lunch orders from two local restaurants — this week it was Spain and Ragin' Grill — and nonfood vendors ranging from Red Bull to United Healthcare. Organizers set up dining tables with umbrellas.

On Friday, most of the lunch crowd walked right past the event on their way to the restaurants. A few people took advantage of the seating, plopping down with a newspaper and no food. One man sat down, threw his tie over his shoulder and declared regret before laying into a foot-long chili-cheese hot dog he'd bought from a street vendor.

Donna Chen, marketing director with the partnership, said organizers wanted to start small with just two restaurants per week but plan to expand. She expects attendance to go up as word gets out. "So far, so good," she said.

Over at Spain's booth, workers were selling roast pork, chicken and rice, Cuban sandwiches and black beans and rice.

"I think it's going pretty well for the first time," said Spain manager John Sansone, who estimated he had sold about 30 meals midway through the event. "I thought the Friday market they used to have was very good as a concept. … I thought there were just way too many food vendors."

Beth Alden, a county employee who was eating Spain food with two friends, said she thought the event was off to a good start. "The music is great," she said. "The Friday market was fun, but I can't say I was doing a lot of shopping at it."

Anderson, who runs the smoothie stand, said a few repeat customers from last year stopped by to ask when the street market would start up. She said they were disappointed when she told them it would not.

Still, she said she figures attendance will pick up. "It's just the first day," she said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

New downtown Tampa lunch event off to slow start 10/05/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 6, 2012 12:07am]
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