Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

Put Brandon area independent eateries on your menu

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 [email protected] or (727) 892-2293.

Comments
Man free on bail during DUI manslaughter appeal arrested for drinking alcohol

Man free on bail during DUI manslaughter appeal arrested for drinking alcohol

A Tampa man convicted of DUI manslaughter for drunkenly running down a tourist and released on bail while his case winds through the appeals process was arrested Tuesday.Brock Troutman, 34, violated the conditions of his release from jail by consumin...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Family recalls troubled youth for teen killer, now 39, who seeks new sentence

Family recalls troubled youth for teen killer, now 39, who seeks new sentence

TAMPA — The bearded man with shackled hands sat weeping as he listened to witness after witness — his mother, aunt and sister among them — recount his childhood of poverty, abuse, and depression.Kyle Moran leaned forward occasionally, stretching to w...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Tropical Breeze patron rides shuttle to check on crew

Tropical Breeze patron rides shuttle to check on crew

PORT RICHEY — Loretta Santini was one of a small group of customers boarding a Tropical Breeze Casino shuttle Thursday afternoon as the company sailed for the first day since another of its shuttle boats burned to the water Sunday, killing one woman....
Updated: 1 hour ago

The Reading File: Excerpts from interesting articles

Exploring the gray areasIn the Atlantic, James Hamblin writes that "the story of Aziz Ansari and ‘Grace’ is playing out as a sort of Rorschach test." Read "This Is Not A Sex Panic" in full at http://theatln.tc/2mOvCKf. Here’s an excerpt.To target onl...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Will the third time be the charm for these Tampa Bay townhouses?

Will the third time be the charm for these Tampa Bay townhouses?

ST. PETERSBURG — In real estate circles, it would seem an odd match — 54 townhouses in an office park and a group of Realtors best known for selling luxury single family homes on Snell Isle. Yet the Strickland Property Group is convinced it can do wh...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Joe Henderson: Leaders can’t job-out responsibility for bad substitute teachers

Joe Henderson: Leaders can’t job-out responsibility for bad substitute teachers

Sometimes, people in authority need a reality check before they can recognize a problem that should have been obvious. In this case, it took a meticulously reported story last Sunday by education writer Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times to alert ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Updated: 2 hours ago
DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-thru for Taco Bell

DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-thru for Taco Bell

SPRING HILL — A 38-year-old Tampa man was arrested Wednesday on a charge of driving under the influence involving drugs or alcohol after deputies said he mistook a Bank of America drive-thru for a Taco Bell.The branch manager of the Mariner Boulevard...
Updated: 2 hours ago
East Hillsborough strawberry farmer: ‘I was a kid the last time I saw this much ice’

East Hillsborough strawberry farmer: ‘I was a kid the last time I saw this much ice’

DOVER — Matt Parke grew up on his family’s strawberry farm, so he’s spent many nights watching as whirring sprinklers coated the crop with a protective layer of ice.Thursday’s cold snap stands out in the 34-year-old old farmer’s memory."I was a kid t...
Updated: 2 hours ago

More than 400 apply to Pasco technical high school

School choice for 2018-19 is in full swing, and district officials said they’ve been pleased with the interest they’ve seen so far.The window for applying to the district’s magnet schools closed Jan. 12, except for applications for the new Wendell Kr...
Updated: 2 hours ago