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Baristas in bikinis; Kahwa coffee perks up downtown Tampa; Mojitos' lively Latin menu

Published Jan. 12, 2012

GANDY ­— Coffee, tea — and, uh, cleavage?

The sexy servers at Baristas Coffee Co. are often called Hooters girls on caffeine by customers driving up to the espresso stands for a jolt of java.

"We employ extremely attractive females who wear alluring, sexy costumes,'' said Barry Henthorn, CEO of the publicly-traded Baristas, naming French maid, sailor girl, pirate, angel and devil as some examples.

"That's no regulation uniform that 'policewoman' wears,'' he said. And not much is camouflaged on Military Mondays, the day servicemen and women get a discount on the specialty coffees.

On Jan. 23, the eighth location, and the first in Florida, opens on Gandy Boulevard at Himes Avenue. Not coincidentally, it shares the Publix parking lot with Starbucks.

"We found we do very well when we go head to head with Starbucks,'' Henthorn said. "We have an incredibly high-quality product." Light breakfast fare, muffins and such, are sold as well as beverages. The first Baristas opened in Seattle in October 2009 and Henthorn has expectations of 50 more this year.

Besides hiring young women and peddling franchises, Henthorn is helping to cast a reality show based on the drama-filled lives of the employees as they vie for top shifts.

"These girls make exceptionally good money. Tips can add up to thousands a week,'' he said. "The competition is tough. There's a lot of cattiness."

He said he couldn't identify the cable network that will carry the show being produced by award-winning M & M Productions. Casting will take place in Tampa on Jan. 30; shooting begins the next week.

Despite the baristas' apparel (or lack thereof), Henthorn says the shop is appropriate for all.

"We want to make things comfortable, so you can drive up with your kids,'' he said. "Not everybody is, but it's nothing you wouldn't see on cheerleaders on NFL Sunday."

Baristas, 3601 W Gandy Blvd., will open from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Kahwa has new place to sit, sip and chat

Kahwa Coffee offers a much less risque caffeine fix in its newest location, which opened Jan. 9 in "Rivergate Tower." (Owner Raphael Perrier would rather you not refer to his third cafe as being inside the Beer Can building.)

"We call it the Cube atrium,'' said Perrier, listing a variety of locally roasted coffee blends, prepared as cappuccino, espresso, latte and more, along with French pastries, croissants and baguettes. At lunch time, the menu expands to sandwiches, salads and quiche.

Perrier and his wife, Sarah, also run two popular Kahwa coffee shops in downtown St. Petersburg. In February, they will open their fourth, an espresso bar, in downtown Tampa's Element condominium at 808 N Franklin St.

Kahwa Coffee Espresso Bar and Cafe, 400 N Ashley Drive, is open from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Visit kahwacoffee.com or call (813) 225-2040.

Mojito eatery, lounge opens in Crowne Plaza

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A New Year's Eve grand opening launched Mojito restaurant and lounge on Kennedy Boulevard in the West Shore area.

"You don't feel like you're in a hotel at all,'' says Sharon Haley, director of sales and marketing, describing the menu as "edgy, Havana-style." Mojitos, of course, come in many flavors.

Tapas dishes include deep fried lobster tail served with papaya, flank steak turnovers, pulled chicken and cheese tostones and jumbo lump crab cake with housemade mango salsa.

For now, dinner only is served, but a lunch menu and hours are coming in February.

Mojito is in the Crowne Plaza Tampa Westshore Hotel, 5303 W Kennedy Blvd. Hours are 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday; noon to 1 a.m. Saturday; and noon to midnight Sunday. Visit cptampawestshore.com/tampa-dining.php or call (813) 289-1950 for more information.

Share new business news with Amy Scherzer at ascherzer@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3332.

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