Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Put Brandon area independent eateries on your menu

Al Paone, owner of the Shrimp Boat Grill in Brandon, concocts a specialty margarita sorbet that is made with margaritas and liquid nitrogen. Paone says that chain restaurants may appeal to Brandon’s residents more than smaller-budget independent eateries because “you know what you’re going to get there.”


Al Paone, owner of the Shrimp Boat Grill in Brandon, concocts a specialty margarita sorbet that is made with margaritas and liquid nitrogen. Paone says that chain restaurants may appeal to Brandon’s residents more than smaller-budget independent eateries because “you know what you’re going to get there.”

The restaurant review heard round the world: Marilyn Hagerty, 85, reviews Olive Garden for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota.

The Twitterverse smirked, Gawker and Fark choked and sputtered. The ensuing electronic deluge might have been poking fun at Grand Forks, at 40-year newspaper veteran Hagerty or even at Olive Garden itself, described in the review as "the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks."

But it seems more likely that the snarkfest was a nationwide recognition that there are some communities out there where, in the absence of great independent restaurants, the arrival of a household-name chain is cause for celebration.

Brandon, you're no Grand Forks, but don't get too smug. Cruise along Brandon Boulevard and other major thoroughfares and get your checklist ready: Chili's, Outback, Village Inn, Beef 'O' Brady's, Buca di Beppo, Bonefish, Carrabba's, Mimi's Cafe, GrillSmith, Panera, Red Lobster, Applebee's and, yes, Olive Garden. I'm out of breath here, but I could keep going.

Why does Brandon have such a preponderance of chain restaurants? Opinions vary.

According to Al Paone, owner of Brandon's Shrimp Boat Grill, it's partly because Brandon has a more transient population than some other nearby communities. A diverse population with a fair number of snowbirds, residents may be drawn to chain concepts because, as Paone says, "you know what you're going to get there."

He's also quick to note that chain restaurants tend to have multiple levels of management, lots of employee training and systems in place to "idiot-proof" the kitchen and dining room operations.

Independents, often smaller-scale and smaller-budget endeavors, may not have these safety nets built into the system, and they are visually less dramatic and come-hither, often stacked along strip malls as opposed to in freestanding buildings with major-league signage.

John Reeves, general manager of Brandon's Mellow Mushroom, a chain out of Atlanta, thinks it's a function of being in the suburbs.

"Suburban people like consistency, and that's harder to get in smaller places. It's harder for the little guys to compete."

But he agrees with Paone that a transient population favors the chains: "We get a lot of people from out of the state who come to live here."

So why does it matter?

According to a report released in February by research company NPD Group, independent restaurants have been disproportionately decimated by the recession.

And they're still struggling.

Americans ate out 60.6 billion times last year overall, down from 62.7 billion in 2008. That's a 2.1 billion difference — 2 billion of that in independent establishments. That's 87 percent of the losses on the backs of independents.

No one would claim that independent restaurants are inherently better than chains (although it is true that to patronize a locally owned business is often to put your money back into the community).

Still, independent restaurants are often the vision of a single person, a person who may be a creative genius or woefully confused. In the world of food, as in art or literature, real change and forward momentum is seldom achieved by committee.

Put another way, a great chain restaurant may excel at executing and a great independent restaurant at innovating. For a robust restaurant scene, you need a mix of both.

If the Brandon area wants to improve its status as a place for good eats, it needs more independents and more residents willing to give ambitious chefs and locally owned eateries a chance.

Laura Reiley can be reached at or (727) 892-2293.

Put Brandon area independent eateries on your menu 04/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 14, 2012 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bill Clinton coming to Miami Beach on Saturday for mayors' convention


    From our friends at the Miami Herald:

    Former President Bill Clinton gives the opening address to kick off a meeting of International Aid Groups at the InterAction Forum 2017 at the Washington Convention Center on June 20.
  2. Obama's secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin's election assault


    WASHINGTON — Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried "eyes only" instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Barack Obama shake hands at the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, France, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. [Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]
  3. GOP's challenge: Finding votes for Senate health care bill (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally unwrapped his plan for dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law. Now comes his next challenge — persuading enough Republicans to back the measure and avert a defeat that could be shattering for President Donald Trump and the GOP.

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks to reporters at the Capitol after Republicans released their long-awaited bill to scuttle much of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 22, 2017. He is one of four GOP senators to say they are opposed it but are open to negotiations, which could put the measure in immediate jeopardy. [Associated Press]
  4. Trigaux: Halfway through 2017, a closer look at six drivers of the Tampa Bay economy


    We're nearly halfway through 2017 already, a perfect time to step back from the daily grind of business and ask: How's Tampa Bay's economy doing?

    Is there one theme or idea that captures the Tampa Bay brand? Not really but here's one possibility. The fun-loving annual Gasparilla "Invasion" of Tampa is captured in this photo of 
The Jose Gasparilla loaded with pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on its way this past January to the Tampa Convention Center. In the future a vibrant downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg may be the better theme. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  5. Harmeling first woman to receive lifetime honor at Sneaker Soiree in Tampa

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — For the last quarter-century, she has combined passion and meticulousness to keep the Gasparilla Distance Classic humming and evolving. Indefatigable and detailed, Susan Harmeling braces for every race-weekend contingency.

    Susan Harmeling gives a speech after accepting an award  during the annual Sneaker Soiree, at TPepin's Hospitality Centre, Thursday, June 22, 2017.