VALRICO — Nate Baranowski has become a regular at Tijuana Flats.
Oh sure he may enjoy fast casual Tex-Mex fare like most people, but it's not the food that keeps him returning. Executives of the Florida-based chain keep inviting him back for his artistic skills.
The muralist has been hired to adorn the walls at many recent new store openings over the past couple years. His latest canvas is the walls at the recently-opened Tijuana Flats inside the Crest Pointe Towne Center at 2050 Bloomingdale Ave.
Brittany Bazemore, managing partner for the restaurant, said the artwork along with the music and the cheerful staff just add to the high-energy, yet laid-back atmosphere. Andrew Povec, area supervisor for all 23 local stores, said Baranowski's masterpieces are just one example of how the restaurant strives to make its food stand out.
"We pride ourselves on the experience," Povec said. "It's not just a taco or burrito."
As guests walk in, they are greeted with a smiling face and a menu, but they have to walk past an electrified bull, an ode to the neighboring Bloomingdale High School Bulls mascot and a larger wall featuring a lightning catching woman with the Tampa skyline outlined in bolts.
Bazemore said the flautas and hard beef tacos rank among the top sellers across all locations.
Povec noted that as of August, Tijuana Flats went back to its menu from more than 6 years ago, bringing back the likes of enchiladas, tostadas and Mexican pizzas "to make the brand loyalists happy."
After ordering, diners can visit the Tijuana Flats' signature hot bar that features 15 hot sauces, ranging from "Sissy Sauce" to "Death Wish." When you grab your drink and look up, you might also notice the ceiling tiles painted in the Newsome High School and other local school mascots. There's a non-Baranowski contest going on to fill the remaining ceiling panels with more artwork.
Povec said this new location triangulates the existing Brandon and Riverview eateries and fills in the Flats gap. While it's a bit of a refreshed look and feel inside and on the menu, guests can expect a pair of signature specials: Tijuana Tuesdaze (two tacos, chips, and a drink for $5.99) and Throwback Thursdaze (burrito or bowl, chips and a drink for $5.99).
Tijuana Flats continues contributing to its Just in Queso Foundation, with proceeds from the opening weeks going toward A Kid's Place — a local non-profit organization providing foster care and a loving home for abused, neglected or abandoned children.
The 10th location in Hillsborough County, spans 2,400 square feet and seats 104 guests (64 interior, 40 exterior). The new restaurant will employ 30 hourly employees. Visit tijuanaflats.com.
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