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MEAL-PREP STATION ADDS DELI COUNTER

The meal-prep and assembly business is not what it used to be.

At the height of the trend several years ago, South Tampa was home to Let's Eat, Weekday Gourmet and ImagineEats, where customers could assemble and take home a dozen dinners at a time to freeze for later.

Now, only Let's Eat remains south of Carrollwood, and the meals come assembled. But what to do with all that space that used to be filled with prep stations?

Heidi Butler figured it would make a great spot for lunch.

Butler is a neighbor of Scott and Laurie Daigle, franchise owners of the Let's Eat at 3415 W Bay to Bay Blvd. She is also married to a chef. She persuaded the Daigles to let her create a deli in the Let's Eat space under the name Urban Lunchbox. The lunch counter opened Aug. 17 with seating for 22.

Let's Eat and Urban Lunchbox are separate businesses with separate menus. But "we cross-utilize everything," Butler said, so good ingredients don't go to waste. The counter offers daily specials to go, while ample freezer space is filled with Let's Eat meals that lunch customers can take home for dinner.

As with Let's Eat, the aim is to use fresh and local produce and bakery items, as well as fresh stock for soups, Butler said. She tried to make prices recession-friendly. Salads start at $7.50, specialty sandwiches at $6.50 and hoagies at $6.50, with kids' meals priced a few dollars less.

"The meal prep, the assembly part, I think it was a fad," Butler said. "People who buy these meals do it because they don't have time to do dinner."

A grand opening is scheduled for Saturday. The deli's menu is at myurbanlunchbox.com. Let's Eat has its own Web site for online ordering, delivery and menu information at letseatdinner.com. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, with lunch served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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Giggle Box gets Kooky

Two blocks down on Bay to Bay, two other businesses are joining forces.

Giggle Box Couture is known for its upscale, trendy kids' clothes, but owner Jennifer Tishler is hoping to turn it into a go-to gift shop. So she has decided to lease part of her retail space to Staci Brum, owner of Kooky Kidz, an online store for offbeat gifts, toys and clothes that Brum started in October.

Kooky Kidz moved into the store at 3211 W Bay to Bay last week.

"Jen is going to continue doing clothes," Brum said. "We're introducing more toys and books and monogrammed stuff. My stuff is very funky, and a lot of it is handmade."

Tishler, who opened Giggle Box in 2006, is back at the store full time after a maternity leave. Brum, meanwhile, also will continue her online business at kookykidzonline.com.

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Restaurant revolving door

Abol Bunna, one of two Ethiopian restaurants that sprung up in South Tampa in the past two years, closed last month. The restaurant received generally positive reviews since opening in October, but a sagging economy took its toll, owners Azeb Bezabeh and Teddy Habtemariam said in an e-mail to customers. They will continue to offer catering.

Another restaurant is getting ready to take its place in the 3,000-square-foot space at 3644 W Kennedy Blvd.

The new eatery will be Renzo's, which owner Renzo Menzerotolo describes as a South American/European deli, bakery and meat market. He is reworking the interior and might be open as early as the end of this month, he said.

Renzo's will offer counter service for takeout or eating in. The primary focus will be pastries, cakes, chocolate, breads and meat cuts that are commonly found in South America, Spain or Italy but are not available locally, said Menzerotolo, a native of Venezuela.

"All of South America is very European influenced," he said. "It's European, but we have our own style and way of making things."

Renzo's will be open at 9 a.m. for late breakfast, lunch and dinner service.

Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call (813) 226-3394 or e-mail sharonlginn@yahoo.com.

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