1. Business

Hey, you got St. Pete in my Tampa. No, you got Tampa in my St. Pete.

Kyle Matheny and Devin Matheny play giant beer pong in the outdoor games area of Park & Rec Wednesday in downtown St. Petersburg. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published May 23

Suzanne Perry calls it "jumping the bay."

And a lot of Tampa Bay's hottest haunts are doing it.

In June, Suzanne and Roger Perry will debut South Tampa's Datz gastropub in downtown St. Petersburg. Its soon-to-be St. Pete neighbor a few blocks away, game and sports bar Park & Rec, is making the opposite trek. Its second location will open in Tampa's Channel District this summer.

Star-crossed lovers of the Datz Cheesy Todd burger or Park & Rec's giant garbage can beer pong will no longer need to traverse the Howard Frankland to get their fix. Although the notion of Pinellas and Hillsborough county businesses expanding across the bay isn't new, the number of restaurants and bars taking the leap seems to be at an all-time high.

Area business owners say it's a byproduct of the region's major post-recession bounce back and the community's push to support local, rather than corporate, cafes and restaurants.

"I think it's a natural progression," said Roger Perry. "If you saturate an area, you start looking at where's my next place going to be? There's a big a gap between (Tampa) and St. Pete, and it's water."

The Perrys and others say they're not looking to start a franchise. Several told the Tampa Bay Times they wanted to stay local and had a certain kinship to their respective cross city. What's yet to be determined: Just how much the clones could effect the characteristics that give Tampa and St. Pete their individual vibe if the trend continues.

Most owners say they work to adapt to their new homes, but at the same time, it's not like they can remove the city that influenced and fostered the concept's initial success.

"I believe that it's really one big city at the end of the day in a lot of ways," said Park & Rec owner, and Tampa native, Stephen Schrutt. "I think the stigma of Tampa versus St. Pete is definitely not as big of a rivalry anymore. People enjoy both sides of the bay."

St. Pete's Bodega and Mandarin Hide made the move about 10 months ago to Seminole Heights — though owners named the Tampa version of the popular cocktail bar Mandarin Heights.

Seminole Heights' favorite Ichicoro opened its St. Pete ramen spot about two years ago inside the trendy Station House co-working space. Station House will open a Tampa location this summer, Hyde House, in Hyde Park Village.

Tampa Bay craft beer pioneer the Independent opened in St. Pete in 2005 and added a Seminole Heights location, which has grown to be a Tampa mainstay, a few years later. The original location closed in 2012, and then was rebooted on St. Pete's Central Avenue in 2016. Bavaro's Pizza Napoletana & Pastaria opened in Tampa in 2009 and now has spots in St. Pete, Sarasota and the Tampa airport. That's not even close to a full list of Tampa Bay doubles.

Debbie Sayegh, the owner of Cuban eatery Bodega, said her customers would regularly leave Yelp reviews: When are you coming to Tampa? Why aren't you are in Tampa? I wish you were closer.

"They welcomed us to the neighborhood with open arms," she said. "We pinpointed Seminole Heights from the beginning because we enjoyed going there to eat."

Sayegh said she tried to adapt the restaurant to Seminole Heights, while still bringing the color scheme and decor inspiration that makes Bodega, well, Bodega.

"I don't think it's necessarily bringing the St. Pete to Tampa or vice versa," she said.

The Perrys put up a survey on social media a few years ago, with St. Pete being the clear winner over other Tampa Bay cities for their next Datz.

Suzanne Perry said driving across the bridges can be like a psychological block — even during non-rush hour times when a drive between the downtowns can take as little as 25 minutes. For that reason, Perry and the other cross-bay businesses aren't worried that opening a second location will somehow cannibalize the success of their flagship stores.

They also suspect that the new locations will pull from different suburbs than their current spots.

"Driving from Wesley Chapel to downtown St. Pete?" Schrutt said. "That's far."

But Pasco County to downtown Tampa? That's more realistic.

Schrutt said Tampa and St. Pete have become similar markets: St. Pete's comeback started first, but Tampa has followed up strong. Now both cities have high-rises under construction and a population of millennials and Gen Xers who opt to avoid driving. They enjoy experiences — whether it be a trip to a food hall like Armature Works near downtown Tampa or going out for drinks before or after a Lightning game.

"They want to live in areas they can walk," Schrutt said. "They're starting to live a lifestyle of: Monday through Friday I drive to work, but Friday through Sunday, you're walking, Ubering — trying not to deal with traffic."

That's why Schrutt loves the location of Park & Rec in Tampa: It's a two-story space attached to the Towers of Channelside, where he imagines a lot of his future customers will live. It's a short walk from Sparkman Wharf and the burgeoning Water Street development.

But not every local staple is rushing to cross the bridge.

Roberto Torres opened Blind Tiger Cafe in Ybor City in 2014. It's been steady growth for the coffee shop since then with the addition of three new locations relatively close by, in Seminole Heights, SoHo and Westchase.

Torres said he can saturate the Tampa side of the bay market further before going across the bridge. He doesn't want to spread his resources too thin. He used his whole milk order as an example: He gets 200 gallons a week from one distributor. With all of his locations within a few miles of each other, it's easy to get that milk around.

"Going to St. Pete," he said "that's a bigger undertaking."

He estimates he can open 20 cafes in Hillsborough County before it makes sense for his business model to expand to St. Petersburg. He plans to announce more coffee shops over the next year.

For now, at least, Blind Tiger will be will be exclusive to Hillsborough. In the meantime, Torres said he's watching, much like the rest of Tampa Bay. He's interested to see how the bay jumpers adapt to their new cities.

One thing he knows for sure about multi-city Tampa Bay business owners:

"They spend a lot of time in their cars."

Contact Sara DiNatale at Follow @sara_dinatale.


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