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Six gifts that come with local flavor

This holiday season, you can spend your money at the mega-mart, on gifts made in other countries that profit big corporations. Or, you can buy locally, from crafty entrepreneurs right here in Hillsborough County.

Need a reason? How about six?

Try finding these items — some unique and artful, others a bit, well, out there — at the mall.

1) All-natural hot sauce | Michele Northrup, North Tampa

It all started at her kids' school with the vegetable of the week: the carrot.

Michele Northrup and other parents at Learning Gate Community School decided to create recipes out of carrots grown in its organic garden.

Northrup, lover of all things spicy, cooked up a hot sauce.

As she walked the aisles of her neighborhood grocery store, she noticed nobody else had made a carrot-based hot sauce. Well, the kids loved it. And after she concocted seven more sauces and created an online store, so do hot-heads across the country.

Northrup, 37, founded her business, Intensity Academy, just a little over a year ago. Her sauces have already won 14 national prizes.

There's her Chai Chipotle, part of a line infused with organic tea. And Carrot Karma, whose habanero peppers give it kick.

She makes a cocktail sauce, a teriyaki sauce and her most popular item, a Chai Chipotle ketchup.

Her ingredients are all trans-fat-free, all-natural and, of course, all spicy. Alexandra Zayas, Times Staff Writer

2) Fruit wine Joe Keel, Plant City

Farmer Joe Keel needed something to do with his ugly blueberries — those deformed

or slightly bruised, but that tasted just fine.

Jams? he thought. Jellies? Pies?


He began to experiment with blueberry wine at home and brought in Vermont native Chase Marden, who had experience developing fruit wines.

That was 2003. Now, Keel and Curley Winery, which rests on 25 acres in Plant City, produces 16 types of wines. Its 100 percent blueberry wines come sweet, semidry and dry.

Other wines include: Peach Chardonnay, Strawberry Riesling, Tangerine Tango Zinfandel, Wild Berry Pinot Noir, Mango Citrus Fusion, Key West Key Lime and Black Raspberry.

For the more traditional taste buds, they also produce six types of grape wine. Alexandra Zayas, Times Staff Writer

3) Key West Spiny Lobster buoy wreath Joe and Kim Brown, North Tampa

The burlap coffee bean bag? The tattered leather jacket? The battered baseball? They've all found second lives at Hong Kong Willie, a kitschy roadside shop where recycled objects are transformed into handbags and art.

This is not your typical boutique. A chicken roams the property, which is next door to an extended-stay hotel. The owner, 58-year-old owner Joe Brown, walks around barefoot and does his sewing in a back room with a floor covered in old coffee bean shells.

Every object has multiple uses, he says. If everyone changed the way they looked at material things, there would be less garbage, Brown said.

This 30-inch wreath is made of old buoys, a popular item that has found new life at Hong Kong Willie.

Indeed, his shop is decorated with strands of buoys from the Florida Keys, old, broken and mismatched flip-flops and boat parts — items once destined for landfills.

Back in 1958, an art teacher told Brown that reuse was common in Hong Kong. Brown then melted a Gerber baby food jar into a glass paper weight, and Hong Kong Willie — the most American name he could think of at the time — was born.

Dong-Phuong Nguyen, Times Staff Writer

4) Tampa-themed tray | Ginny Lindquist, South Tampa

What says Tampa more than the ornamental balustrade of Bayshore Boulevard. How about the minarets of University of Tampa or an Ybor City hotel with a streetcar and lamp post and a Gasparilla ship?

Tampa designer Ginny Lindquist came up with the idea to capture iconic Tampa images on Toiles (fabric printed with a scene, pronounced twall) after vacationing in Nantucket.

"Everybody came back with T-shirts and baseball caps and I had nothing because I don't wear T-shirts," she said. "But I love Toiles. They tell stories about a place."

Lindquist, 56, opened her store in fall 2006 with interior design items such as wallpaper. As a side, she added pillows, aprons and place mats. "It quickly became all about gifts," she said. "So I changed my business plan."

Now she has the fabric laminated and made into foam place mats, travel mugs, wine buckets, umbrella stands, magnetic bulletin boards, wallpaper, picture frames and clothes.

Elisabeth Parker, Times Staff Writer

5) Stained-glass art piece | Sandra Z. Duran, Ruskin

Sandra Z. Duran labors over her stained-glass artwork, as if she were making a custom piece for a loved one, so it's sometimes hard for her to part with her hand-made mirrors, jewelry and three-dimensional pieces.

"I really put a lot of love and good energy in each piece," she said.

Duran creates unique designs on top of her glass pieces by sculpting the solder. She used that technique on her three-dimensional Autumn Among the Trees piece to create a tree design on top of the amber-colored glass.

Duran has been working on stained glass for about five years and recently added shadowbox stained-glass necklace pendants to her collection as an affordable gift option.

She also does traditional pieces, including mirrors.

She has three children with her husband, who creates custom wood furniture pieces for the South Shore Gallery, which features art made by about 40 local artists. There's jewelry, furniture, pottery and more.

Jessica Vander Velde, Times Staff Writer

6) Gatos chess-style game Manny Alvarez, Ybor City

Price: $49 To buy: Call Alvarez at (813) 453-5507, e-mail him at or visit

In 1978, a teenage kid named Manny Alvarez had a crazy idea during a game of chess. What if he flipped the board diagonally?

And what if, instead of kings and queens and bishops, the pawns were predators, like lions and leopards and panthers?

Thirty years later, after much tooling and tweaking, Alvarez's game is ready for retail. It's called Gatos, a Spanish word for cats, where the ultimate way to win is to fatally ambush your opponent's lion.

Alvarez, 46, lives in Ybor City, within walking distance of the restaurant he owns, Streetcar Charlie's Bar & Grille.

He has helped form a group of local Gatos players, who occasionally gather at King Corona Cigars to play. This holiday season, he plans to only sell a limited edition of 100 board games.

But he hopes to start mass producing them by the summer. He's looking for investors. Alexandra Zayas, Times Staff Writer

Six gifts that come with local flavor 12/11/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 14, 2008 1:16pm]
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© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


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