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Cafe Creole in Ybor City ladles out its last gumbo

Published Aug. 31, 2005

Cafe Creole, the New Orleans-flavored restaurant that helped revitalize Ybor City in the 1980s, has closed. It was 15 years old.

The cafe was in the historic El Pasaje Hotel at 1330 E Ninth Ave. It was the brainchild of Anthony D'Avanza, who died six years ago and passed the restaurant on to his son, Anthony Jr.

The cafe's closure is effective today.

"It's very sad to see them go," said Annette DeLisle, president of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce.

DeLisle said construction work on parking garages and, more recently, the trolley car tracks, has taxed businesses in the area.

The restaurant was known for its gumbo and crawfish _ Cajun dishes perfected by D'Avanza Jr.'s mother, Selena, who hailed from New Orleans. The family also had a restaurant, Selena's, in Hyde Park, that closed several years ago.

Harris Mullen, co-founder of the Tampa and Ybor City Street Railway Society, said he doesn't think the cafe's closing speaks to the area's viability.

"I don't think the closing is at all tied to the economy of Ybor," said Mullen, who used to own real estate there. "I think it's all tied to management."

In the early 1900s, Ybor City had a thriving culture of immigrants from Europe and Cuba. The community declined as Italian, Cuban and Spanish immigrants gained a financial foothold in Tampa and moved to other neighborhoods.

When Cafe Creole opened in 1987, Ybor City was still a rough neighborhood with a bad reputation. The cafe was among a handful of clubs and restaurants that helped spark a renaissance.

Now Ybor City is reinventing itself. In addition to bars, the historic district offers contemporary apartments and more than two dozen restaurants. DeLisle predicted the historic building that housed the Cafe won't go empty for long.

Still, the restaurant's death buries a bit of Ybor history.

"It's been a real fixture," Mullen said. "I'm sorry that they're having problems."

_ Kathryn Wexler can be reached at wexlersptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.