Tampa does love its political hot spots for a little nosh and joe, restaurants to see and be seen in, coffee shops where the powerful go to caffeinate.
For years, elbows rubbed over white linen at Valencia Garden, and dish flows daily over fancy salads at Mise En Place or beans and rice at La Tropicana. And lately, there has been much political buzz over a coffee shop on busy Kennedy Boulevard called Buddy Brew.
Here, presidential hopeful and multimillionaire Mitt Romney chatted about the state of jobs in Florida, making his unfortunate quip of, "I'm also unemployed." Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty hit Buddy Brew before bowing out.
And this week, Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe stood amongst burlap coffee sacks to announce his challenge to Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. So, yes, there has been a decidedly Republican tilt so far, though owners Susan and Dave Ward say they welcome customers of all political stripe.
So how does a small business in a bad economy beget this buzz? By chance, happenstance and the random passing of people who seriously like coffee.
The political part begins with one of our more wired politicians, both computer and caffeine-wise. Sharpe was headed to get a cup at Starbucks or McDonald's, your more corporate coffee spots (though I hear corporations are people, too.) He saw a neighbor exiting Buddy Brew and decided to try it. He liked it so much he would soon hold weekly political pod casts there. "I learned Twitter at Buddy Brew," he says.
For the Wards it began as a hobby born of near-obsession with coffee. She worked for a pharmaceutical company. He was an investment banker. His first gift to her when they were dating: a coffeemaker.
When his work slowed to a crawl, they started an Internet business roasting beans in their garage eight ounces at a time, and named it for their beloved golden-retriever-collie-and-maybe-a-little-yellow-lab mix, Buddy. (If dogs had a party, do you think they'd be Democrats? And cats Republicans? Just thinking out loud here.)
Apparently the dismal economy has not kept us from our coffee. Buddy Brew boomed. Last year they opened the shop with Buddy's face on the window. An "artisan roaster," they sell coffees from places like Bali and Tanzania online and wholesale, have six full-time employees (jobs!) and supply coffee to 25 businesses. Their retail space up front, with its sprawling tables, worn rug and big green couch, took off, too.
So when campaign workers were hunting for a small business for Romney's Tampa schmooze, Sharpe suggested Buddy Brew. Eventually the place got tagged by some as a right-wing hub, though the Wards say this is not so. They are registered GOP, but are probably "some of the least political people you'll ever meet," Dave says. They may put out red and blue coffee beans for customers to vote by putting them in jars for the big election. The philosophy seems to be: coffee for all.
And Democrats do Buddy Brew.
"I buy their nonpartisan espresso beans," confirms former mayor and rumored potential gubernatorial candidate Pam Iorio. The Wards, in fact, are crafting an invite to President Barack Obama. And what a world if he came, dogs and cats, having coffee together.