Published March 12, 2010

If you've been hearing Caribbean music wafting through the air in Riverview lately, chances are Dale Cooper or his wife, Wendy, is nearby.

The Coopers own the area franchise for Kona Ice, a brand of snow cones sold exclusively from trucks. They've had only one truck, which mostly roamed the south part of the county, until now. In recent weeks they added a second truck that travels around Riverview, FishHawk Ranch, Bloomingdale and neighboring areas.

Instead of Pop Goes the Weasel or other children's songs that make up the standard ice cream truck repertoire, Kona trucks play simulated steel-drum music with an island flair.

"The kids usually know us when we're in their neighborhood because the music's so unusual," Dale Cooper said.

The Coopers' Kona trucks feature 40 flavors, from standards such as cherry and strawberry to more imaginative tastes such as wedding cake and fuzzy navel. The 10 most popular flavors are available from spigots on the exterior of the truck, so customers can pour their own cones. Kids especially like that feature, Cooper said, and they often create combinations that might make a grownup a bit queasy. The sour apple/wedding cake combo is one that especially baffles Cooper.

Cooper wants to elevate the image of the ice cream truck. Instead of the usual beat-up old vehicles festooned with amateurish logos and decorations, his Kona trucks are clean, shiny and welcoming. Parents hosting birthday parties or organizations holding fundraisers will often arrange for a Kona truck to be on the premises, so Cooper wants to make sure his trucks are attractive enough to welcome guests.

One daily stop for the new Kona truck is Riverview High School, right around the time school gets out. (The Coopers' first truck still stops at East Bay High School every school day.) The drivers have passed background checks, and the Coopers donate a percentage of their school sales to the school district.

The Coopers are the area's only franchisees for Kona Ice, based in Kentucky. The brand originated in Hawaii, which explains the name.

"I've had people from Hawaii tell me they grew up with Kona and they're so glad to have a chance to taste the original again," Cooper said. "That's what I've been told, but I've never been to Hawaii, so I don't really know. Sounds like maybe I need to take a business trip."

If you'd like to arrange for a Kona truck to be on hand at an event, call (813) 645-0257.

Joel's Steak House more than beef

Joel's Steak House, a casual upscale eatery that opened in Valrico in December, offers a variety of steaks, of course. But Joel's also serves creative fish specials on weekends and such offerings as a rack of lamb with cherry sauce.

Because it's a new business, the staff and managers are aware that they need to build the restaurant's reputation.

"We're family-owned and family-operated," said kitchen manager Jason Sierra. "We don't get a second chance like Outback or Longhorn does. We have to do things right the first time, and everyone, the cooks, the servers, the busboys, we're all committed to that.

"When you come here, we make sure you feel at home, and when you leave we make sure you feel full."

The steak house is at 1020 Bloomingdale Road at the corner of Bell Shoals Road in Valrico. It's open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

For information, call (813) 662-5635.

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