EAST TAMPA — Across the street from the Burger King and just west of the Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Church's Fried Chicken sits a new and long-overdue restaurant on E Hillsborough Avenue.
Nothing against those fast-food outlets, but a lot of people in East Tampa longed for a more stylish and contemporary restaurant along this urban corridor. They got their wish when the Yummy House, a popular Chinese bistro on Waters Avenue, opened a second location at 2620 E Hillsborough Ave. last week.
The grand opening crowd on June 28 jammed the 200-seat restaurant, which is replete with an ambience — wood decor, carpeted floors and framed photos — that rivals any upscale casual outlet.
But the menu, which may soon feature an entree named after Mayor Bob Buckhorn, is reasonably priced.
Diners included State Attorney Mark Ober, Property Appraiser Rob Turner, city of Tampa Housing Manager Sharon West, community activists Diane Hart and Evangeline Best, as well as Chloe Coney, district director for Congresswoman Kathy Castor.
Cars filled every spot in the lot and spilled over into the Fifth Third Bank branch lot next door.
The success of that first night belied the naysayers who told developer Tony Leung he couldn't turn the lot into an upscale restaurant across from his Sanwa Market on Hillsborough. It made a mockery of the cynics who told Yummy House owner John Zhao he should expand in South Tampa instead of East Tampa.
More than anything, it boosted the hope of supporters who believe Yummy House can inspire more restaurants and retail outlets to increase East Tampa's economic development.
"The first investment always breeds another investment," said Ed Johnson, East Tampa manager for the city. "When other developers see the energy generated by this place, other investors are going to want to put something along this corridor.
"I've already heard from some other restaurateurs."
The potential ripple effect isn't lost on Zhao, but he also wanted to give his fans a chance to dine in a larger place with an expanded menu. Diners, who occasionally would wait more than an hour for a seat at the Waters location, asked him to branch out — in part because they love the honey walnut shrimp and salt-and-pepper calamari.
In choosing the Hillsborough spot, he has a new restaurant centrally located between South Tampa and New Tampa that's just minutes east of Interstate 275 and minutes west of the Seminole Hard Rock Casino.
As Yummy House draws from those diverse areas, it showcases other retail outlets in the area.
One of Zhao's friends said she had no idea Ross Dress For Less had a store in the nearby East Gate Shopping Center.
They also may be surprised to learn that another shopping complex, Tampa Festival Centre, managed by Forge Capital Investors, has 100 percent occupancy.
This is what a destination business can do for the community — not only serve the residents but bring more dollars from outside the neighborhood.
Leung, 59, held just such hopes when he envisioned restaurants across from his market, which provides an array of fresh products for ethnic cuisine. Not only has Leung's investment brought in Yummy House, but he plans an adjoining restaurant, the Country Pumpkin.
"He knew this was the right kind of investment and the right time to do it," Johnson said. "No one else wanted to take a chance, but he sees things we can't see."
If Johnson's crystal ball proves accurate, more developers and investors are on the way. Thanks to Leung and Zhao, they will have a place to meet — Yummy House has a private conference room perfect for making big deals.
That's all I'm saying.