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Fast food, fondest memories, and honors

Depending on your passion for food, the building of a new fast food restaurant in your neighborhood is apt to create joyful anticipation.

But for the family of Manuel Lemus, construction of a Krystal at 2625 W Hillsborough Ave. brought out a different emotion.

Manuel loved those little, square burgers that Krystal has served in the Southeast for more than 70 years. His wife, Debbie, said he loved them since he was a kid, and it wasn't uncommon for him to leave his West Tampa home and go to the old Krystal at Dale Mabry Highway and Kennedy Boulevard.

In the middle of the night.

"He would wake up and just have to have them," Debbie said. "When they closed the Krystal on Kennedy, he would drive all the way to Fletcher."

Manuel would often bring home two dozen burgers. He liked to surprise his teenage sons, who would come home to the smell of the burgers after a night on the town.

When a new Krystal opened in Town 'N Country near his brother-in-law's house, Manuel was jealous. Then one day, Debbie discovered Krystal was building a location at Hillsborough and Habana Avenue near their home.

"He kept saying mine's closer," Debbie said. "It was the biggest thing. He joked about how he could actually walk to the Krystal. We were all waiting for it to open up."

Manuel never made it to the grand opening. An insulator for Local 87 who was well known for his work with the West Tampa Little League, he died suddenly in July at the age of 49.

When the restaurant finally opened Thursday, Debbie and more than 20 family members paraded from their home to the Krystal, wearing T-shirts honoring Manuel. Other friends came by and joined them.

"They said it was really hard watching the building go up," said Cindy Rogers, the store's general manager. "They came in with pictures of him on their shirts. It was nice. They were a real nice family."

The Krystal opened on the birthday of the Lemuses' son, Anthony.

"I told him your dad had it open for your birthday," Debbie said. "I thought it was really cute."

Krystal management has invited the Lemus family back for a free dinner and hopes to videotape them walking from the house to the restaurant.

Kudos to developer Al Austin, who will receive the Pioneer In Prostate Cancer Award from Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf on Thursday at a Florida Prostate Cancer Network event at the downtown Hyatt Regency.

The award, named in honor of Schwarzkopf, is given annually at the organization's Celebration of Hope Gala.

Austin, a prostate cancer survivor and patient peer counselor, is being honored for his efforts on behalf of newly diagnosed patients. He also has raised funds to support the organization's programs.

"Al has been a calming influence on many of his peers who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer," said Julie Wills, executive director of the network. "He offers hope and reassurance at a time when they need it most."

Another upcoming event to keep an eye on is the Taste of Bay Street. Twelve International Plaza restaurants will participate in the three day event beginning Oct. 8. Servings will include food, wine, spirits and entertainment _ all the things I love.

Tickets begin at $1, with sales benefitting the Lynn Sowers Foundation and Stand Up For Kids. The Lynn Sowers Foundation works to donate money to families of law enforcement officers who have died, become injured or suffered economic hardships. Stand Up For Kids is new to the area and aims to help homeless kids.

There also will be a drawing for a weekend for two at the mall's new Renaissance Plaza Hotel. The prize includes a private cooking lesson, and I'm hoping to win. My kids are getting tired of pigs in a blanket.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or