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Big Fish comes to town, but did he catch any Z's?

Don Shula never imagined one restaurant bearing his name would blossom into 28 steak houses in less than 11 years.

Back in 1990, he was approached by his son-in-law about lending his name to the restaurant at the golf club in Miami Lakes, the community developed by the Graham family (brothers Phil, Bill and U.S. Sen. Bob). Shula, a longtime friend of the Grahams, resisted the idea at first but later agreed.

Now there are Shula restaurants sprinkled across the hemisphere, including one in the Wyndham Hotel at West Shore and Kennedy and one in Panama City, Panama. Shula visited the Tampa restaurant on Wednesday. Servers almost snapped to attention, but general manager Joseph Gianelli said Shula's visits are motivational, not intimidating.

The visit was undoubtedly an attempt to generate buzz before The Palm opens at West Shore Plaza Mall next week, but Shula said his focus is not on the competition.

"When we opened here in Tampa seven years ago, it was only the third restaurant and people said you're crazy to open in Tampa with Bern's here," he said. "But we felt if we did a good job, we would draw business.

"It's just like when I coached football. You respect your opponent, but you just try to do your thing the best way you know how."

The Mutiny will stage its inaugural "Hispanic Heritage Night" Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. More than 30 local "Hispanic Heroes" will be honored, including Mayor Dick Greco.

Also happening that night is a relief effort for victims of Peru's earthquake in June. It's being spearheaded by Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica and his brothers Bill and Santiago. Game time is 7 p.m., but a special "Fiesta Zone" in the South Ticket Plaza will open at 4 p.m.

Guys like having cars that turn heads, but Paul Cindrich and Gene Stracener have a pair of autos that make people turn their cars around.

The BlueCross BlueShield business partners each own a 300 ZX that appears to be the property of a Gator-Seminole marriage. Cindrich's car is painted orange and blue on the left, garnet and gold on the right. Stracener's model mirrors the design: garnet and gold on the left, orange and blue on the right.

Cindrich, who lives in Valrico, also owns a Bucs-themed 300 ZX, a Marines-themed 300 ZX, and a Marines-themed Toyota Supra. An avid sports fan, Cindrich painted his fifth 300 ZX in University of South Florida colors after a chance encounter with Bulls football coach Jim Leavitt.

Cindrich, 54, started the hobby after being diagnosed with diabetes and heart problems two years ago. The former veteran had not taken a vacation in nearly two decades, and Stracener and other friends told him he needed a hobby.

Cindrich may not be done. Someone has asked him to do a Florida A&M-Bethune-Cookman car.

Quick takes: The port authority called to say it recognizes there was a traffic flow problem in the Channelside parking garage last weekend and is taking steps to correct it. Crowds, drawn by the official openings of Howl At The Moon and Stumps Supper Club, waited as long as 40 minutes to get out of the garage at the end of the evening . . . Tampa General will have a pizza party today to thank the 65 high school students who volunteered at the hospital this summer . . . Summer Jam II will be held at Rowlett Park July 28 and Bobby Green is looking for vendors for the outdoor event, which will feature R&B and jazz bands. Call (813) 240-4307.

_ Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hoopersptimes.com. His column appears on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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