It was time for another gamble. Rodney and Pamela Forton had decided _ correctly _ about five years ago that an authentic British pub could thrive in a West Pasco strip mall and that there might one day be such a thing as a local cricket team dressed in authentic whites and hurling away at wickets or whatever it is they do.
They thought darts tournaments would work, mushy peas would sell and hand-pumped 52-degree bitters would catch on.
So many homesick Brits liked the idea so much that the Fortons wondered if they would go for a newspaper that offered a taste of home.
"It was iffy," said Forton, who thought hard before making the jump from publican to publisher, "but we decided the numbers were there, so we went for it."
They sold their pub, put their dealings in a rapidly souring real estate market on a back burner and launched a learn-by-doing newspaper project they think will be a success.
Brit, flying the Union Jack proudly atop its front page, went to press for the first time this month, leading with a story about the visit of a British warship to Tampa Bay and carrying everything from recipes to home news tidbits to features about royalty inside.
"The reaction has been fantastic," said Forton, visiting his old stomping grounds, the Dog & Gun pub in New Port Richey. "The telephone hasn't stopped ringing since we came out with the first edition. I'm very enthusiastic."
Just as expatriate pubs cater to people wishing to feel comfortable ordering "bangers and mash" and who understand that "chips" don't come in a bag and are frequently served with gravy _ Brit is for people who spell "color," "colour," like their paragraphs only slightly indented, know "whilst" from "while" and can think of the word "football" without conjuring up mental pictures of steroid-case behemoths in plastic armor.
Nobody, it seems, really keeps figures on how many British people live in or regularly visit the bay area. But the Fortons estimate that 30,000 to 40,000 is probably a safe estimate for residents and that about a million or so British tourists come through the bay area every year.
"There's even more if you factor in Orlando," said Rodney, adding that an Orlando bureau for Brit may open soon if initial indications of success continue. "You get people here looking for the two-stop experience. . . . Mickey first and then one coast or the other."
For a first effort, the paper is impressive.
"Rather than say we have no idea what we're doing," said Forton, dampening the edges of his dry humor with a healthy sip of ale, "I'd prefer to state that we are on a regular steep learning curve."
The paper's initial coverage area stretches from Venice to Crystal River. "We didn't plan on going that far south at first," said Rodney, who lives in Palm Harbor, "but we found such a strong Scot influence down around Sarasota . . . and we found six pipe bands in Dunedin alone, that we figured we had to make that stretch."
Still seeking contributing writers, the Fortons are doing most of the editorial work themselves. Pam Forton writes the kitchen column and writes on royalty; Rodney writes about sports and helps gather news tidbits on Britain, "from anywhere we can get them from."
"Rodney," said Mrs. Forton, smiling, "is also in charge of shouting . . . and quite good at it."
The paper is available from some retail outlets and sells for $1 per copy, but it is offering mail subscriptions at $10 for 12 monthly issues and throwing in a special price on a Union Jack license plate.
If you want to get in touch, write Brit, 35246 U.S. 19 N, Suite 137, Palm Harbor 34684.
So why am I giving all of this free publicity to a competitor?
Because a few years back when Boss sent me to investigate the Forton's claims of operating an "authentic" British pub, I wound up matching Rodney at drinking "yards" of Guinness Stout . . . and then sleeping in my car in the parking lot rather than taking to the road.
This column is much easier on my body.