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Hurricane Irma Autopsy

Hopefully you survived Hurricane Irma and are here to read this. Last week was absolutely one of the craziest weeks I have ever lived through.

The week started with a general state of panic around Tampa Bay and Florida as people flooded to stores and gasoline stations to prepare for Hurricane Irma. GasBuddy helped people find the scarce gas stations with fuel available. Lines for sand bags were at least 2 hours or longer.

The panic for water was also quite crazy as well because most people in Tampa Bay had drinking water available to them via tap for most of the week. The irony of people buying Aquafina which is bottled tap water and desperately searching it just shows how afraid we were.

The fear wasn’t unfounded, Tampa Bay has not been tested in a major hurricane (that’s a Category 3 or higher) in nearly a century and by a miracle we were able to escape Irma’s wrath and Naples and the Florida Keys were instead destroyed.

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Plywood was completely scarce and despite lots of searching my family was never able to find any. Some people put up their fencing and cardboard around their windows in a desperate attempt to protect their homes. People started taping their windows which experts say is useless and a common misconception about hurricane survival.

Personally, I’ve never bothered to buy D batteries in the past, but they were absolutely nowhere to found last week. Portable battery chargers? All gone. Radios? None.

You would think that the local and state government would have a supply of these things people need to survive a storm and also put limits on how much of it people can buy in a crisis, but that DID NOT happen during Hurricane Irma.

Also – how does a place with tons of construction companies everywhere not have any plywood? Maybe the construction companies should have opened their supply to the people who live here.

7-11 started shipping free water to Florida after the Florida Attorney General shamed them on television for price gouging at over 20 locations. The Florida AG reported “receiving over 100 calls per-hour” about price gouging regarding 7-11 and other stores.

Airlines tried to take advantage of the situation by making airfare prices go into the thousands. By the time something was done about it, the storm was getting ready to nearly destroy the state.

If people have to evacuate, the government should provide more ways for them to get out. Why was there only one bus company providing ways out of the state in Tampa?

Not everyone can afford an airplane that is $300+ round trip or a $200+ train (that’s how much they were to get to Atlanta which was also hit by Irma).

There are solutions to all the problems that people had preparing for Irma and some of them rest in our government and companies as well as with people preparing far enough in advance.

If Hurricane Irma had hit Tampa as a Category 4 as was reported on Saturday, mass devastation would have impacted the people who were unable to find any supplies.

What can we learn from Hurricane Irma? 

  1. Be Prepared: The massive panic leading to the arrival of Hurricane Irma seemed to be partially coming from the fact that people were completely unprepared. Every year the local and state government warns people to prepare for hurricane season and they brush it off. Tampa was lucky this time, but it’s a mistake to think that a major hurricane can never hit Tampa, one almost did this weekend.
  2. Make a plan for your family: My family had no plan for the storm. Make sure your family does. Who is going to stay where? Can you come together to help lower the heavy cost of preparing for a storm or come up with an escape plan if the storm is too massive to sit through. Don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors for help if you have no family around.
  3. Be Patient: Before and after Hurricane Irma, there was plenty of impatience on full display. People trying to cut lines in stores and at sand bag stations (turned around by police). Yelling and screaming isn’t going to help in a crisis, think clearly and try to find a solution.
  4. Share: The panic led to people hoarding gas, food, plywood, and water. Now those same people are at the stores trying to return all the things they bought. First of all, hurricane season does not end until November so you might want to hang onto that. I witnessed a man at Sam’s Club put 20 loaves of bread into a shopping cart when there was hardly any to begin with. It’s understandable that you may have a large family, but other people also need supplies to survive with. Stores only started rationing supplies when almost everything was gone.

Hopefully we never live through this again. The reality is that we live in Florida though and will always have the potential of tropical devastation from a hurricane and need to be more prepared as a community.

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Hurricane Irma: Find Fuel with GasBuddy app

Gasoline is currently very difficult to find around Tampa Bay and Florida with numerous stations on low-supply during Hurricane Irma. This also happened in Texas last week during Hurricane Harvey.

Tampa lacks a robust public transportation system and fuel shortages are a serious issue here where people cannot get around at all without cars and depend on gas to get to work and around town. The state is attempting to address the problem with trucks plowing in gas.

The FREE app GasBuddy has a feature that will help you locate stations with available fuel. The app is available for both iPhones and Androids. Users at stations can help update the app and let people know where there is fuel and where they have ran out.

The locator is also available via regular and mobile web browsers at: http://tracker.gasbuddy.com/MobileDefault.aspx

The more people who use the app, the better the system will work.

Download the app: http://www.gasbuddy.com/App

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Hurricane Irma Safety Guide: Be Prepared

Hurricane Irma is racing towards Florida and you should make sure you’re ready in case the storm enter the waters of Tampa Bay. As of Tuesday, September 5th, the storm is a Category 5 Hurricane with 185 MPH winds.

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Here are some resources to help you prepare for the storm:

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7th Annual Food & Wine Weekends Launch Party

Last week I visited The Waldorf Astoria Orlando for a private media launch party to the 7th Annual Food & Wine Weekends.

Waldorf Astoria Orlando and Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek offer a special menu every year for 9 weekends during the Epcot® International Food and Wine Festival. This year runs from September 8th to November 12th.  The prix fixe menus are priced from around $40-$60 and include 4 courses of eats.

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Things we tried include braised short ribs, risotto, carved beef tenderloins, chocolates, macarons, cocktail creations, sushi rolls, poke bowls, and more.

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It would be impossible to highlight all the food in a blog post, but let me say that my favorite thing was Chimay Braised Beef Short Rib with Risotto, Porcinis, Melted Leeks, Butter Squash, and Horseradish Gremolata.

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The short ribs came off the bone in a way that made my mouth drop and each bite was insane. This will be part of The Taste of La Luce at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.

The sushi rolls from Zeta Asia at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek were also delicious and hard not to keep eating. Guests were able to meet hotel staff and chefs who make it all happen. The staff is diverse and clearly a melting pot that is helping to land their restaurants on the top of some local lists in Orlando.

We also tried their private label Pinot Noir – Leatitia which is a Bonnet Creek Reserve from Arroyo Grande, California. It was incredible and I found myself going back for seconds, thirds, and more. You must try it if you visit these hotels.

The hotels are also in the process of making their own craft beer and have already created their own whiskey and tequila in collaboration with major national brands like Patron and Knob Creek. This attention to detail definitely shows an sharp focus on the customer experience that exemplifies the goals of hospitality.

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They showed us a signature Bulls & Bear’s Spicy Margarita during our visit made with Patrón Barrel Select Añejo Tequila, Green Chartreuse, St. Germaine, Organic Agave, Lime Juice, Gracias A Dios Mezcal, Avocado, and Egg White.

For a full list of the planned events for Food & Wine Weekends and to see full menus visit them online at: http://www.waldorfastoriaorlando.com/food-wine/

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Amazon to immediately lower price of healthy food after Whole Foods acquisition

In a move that is sure to send shock waves quickly throughout the grocery business, Amazon will immediately lower prices of healthy food items once it successfully acquires Whole Foods on Monday, August 28th, 2017.

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On the list: organic avocados, organic brown eggs, organic responsibly-farmed salmon, almond butter, organic apples, organic rotisserie chicken, and more. Amazon has pledged to continue dropping prices and will offer Amazon Prime members exclusive deals in the future when they phase out the current rewards system that Whole Foods has in place.

In addition, Whole Foods brands will be available on Amazon.com, AmazonFresh, Prime Pantry and Prime Now starting Monday.

Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO, Jeff Wilke, says they are “determined to make healthy and organic food affordable for everyone. Everybody should be able to eat Whole Foods Market quality.” He also said they “will lower prices without compromising Whole Foods Market’s long-held commitment to the highest standards.”

Whole Foods was sued in the past multiple times for price-gouging customers, Amazon seems to be making it clear they will prioritize making prices friendlier to consumers with these statements. Lowering the price of healthy food is sure to put pressure on grocery stores that frequently charge consumers extra for healthy food.

A 2013 study in the British Medical Journal Open found that people with healthy diets spend about a $1.50 more per day than people who eat unhealthy diets. This is mainly a burden for families that have low-incomes. The 2013 study also notes that the food industry itself is part of the problem and needs to change to make healthier food available:

unhealthy diets may cost less because food policies have focused on the production of “inexpensive, high volume” commodities, which has led to “a complex network of farming, storage, transportation, processing, manufacturing, and marketing capabilities that favor sales of highly processed food products for maximal industry profit.” Given this reality, they said that creating a similar infrastructure to support production of healthier foods might help increase availability—and reduce the prices—of more healthful diets.”

Maybe Amazon is trying to do exactly that. Only time will tell.

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The Founder – How Greed Created McDonald’s Empire

I saw The Founder on Netflix yesterday. I was told about about it by some friends and encouraged to give it a look. I have heard the story of McDonald’s in the past, but watching it in a film was something else.

Ray Kroc was a man filled with ambition and nothing would stop him until he had what he wanted.

The original McDonald’s founders were simple men of integrity, hard-work, and valued their customers…something that was lost in the noise as American corporations have made their push forward. Ray Kroc bought the rights to McDonald’s from them after buying up the land underneath their franchisee locations and using banks and franchisees to force a sale.

The founders of McDonald’s were woefully inept and allegedly used a handshake deal for 1% of the company’s profits that never came to be. That moment reminded me all too much of the crazy events of The Social Network.

The end result was brilliant from a business point-of-view and terrible from a people point-of-view.

One of the main arguments the creators of McDonald’s experienced with Ray Kroc in the movie was Kroc’s desire to use powdered milkshakes instead of real milkshakes. This troubled the founders who wanted to serve real products to their customers.

One could argue this is where McDonald’s went down the slippery slope that they find themselves in today. The trade-off between customer health and profits has been a long-fought one with fast food companies increasingly becoming conscious of their impact on society as fast-casual restaurants and socially-responsible corporations take a bite out of their sales.

Just look at the “pink slime” scandal McDonald’s found itself in when Chef Jamie Oliver exposed their use of ammonium hydroxide in their food. The Founder ended saying that McDonald’s feeds billions of people a day so it is safe to say that plenty of people ate this until McDonald’s and other fast food giants discontinued use.

McDonald’s fries have almost 19 ingredients in them – many that you won’t find in other countries that ban chemicals in their food. Until last year, McDonald’s nuggets were made with artificial preservatives. I could go on but you get the point.

I’m not saying that I expect fast food companies to provide great quality food, but there should be a fine line between harmful chemicals and profits. The fact that McDonald’s can operate in foreign markets that ban chemicals and make a profit there suggests that it is simply out of pure convenience and greed that real products are denied to Americans.

But what about the economy? Low wages and record profits at McDonald’s continues taxpayer funded corporate welfare that is costing taxpayers almost $1.2 billion dollars a year as employees at McDonald’s find themselves unable to survive and end up on food stamps and other programs. In 2013, McDonald’s was busted trying to tell their employees how to live in poverty.

McDonald’s ranks as the #1 fast food business that has employees on public assistance.

The greed displayed in the film by Ray Kroc doesn’t seem too far from the reality. Kroc built a McDonald’s across the street from the creators and ran them out of business after trademarking their last-name in a most profound amount of petty I have never witnessed.

In response to the health impact of their food, Kroc was quoted saying: “What do all those nutritionists and college professors and those Nader types know?” he says. “How many jobs have they ever created?”.

The amount of preservatives used in McDonald’s food is well-published and has been on the public display for some time now. The Founder establishes that these roots were made from an early point in history and continue today.

Theatrically, The Founder is an excellent film and tells the story well without a real biased point-of-view. The acting is superb and the cinematography correctly matches the era it was meant to capture. What occurs during the film will have you thinking about the ethics of American corporations and greed in the United States for some time.

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Caffeine Roasters now open on Kennedy in South Tampa

Caffeine Roasters has moved into where Drama Burger once stood at 2420 West Kennedy Boulevard and is now open. Caffeine is also located in Downtown Tampa minutes from Franklin Manor at 212 East Cass Street. I am a fan of the Downtown location and also really enjoy the new space as well.

The expansion mirrors an expansion happening with many of the new coffee shop brands taking on Buddy Brew Coffee and Kahwa locally.

The menu is the same at both locations and the space has lots of seating from couches to tables and plugs and Wi-Fi available. The only downside of the new location on Kennedy is lack of parking – the place has only been open for a few weeks and parking already sucks.

On the positive side, they have a drive-thru so you can take your coffee with you if you can’t find parking.

The staff is very friendly and happy to explain the types of coffee they provide and the background of what they are doing – that was also noticeable when I visited the Downtown Tampa location in the past as well.

Last but most certainly not least, their coffee tastes great – I had an El Salvador roast during my visit and fully enjoyed it without hardly any sweeteners or add-ons. Check out Caffeine Roasters!

Restaurant Name: Caffeine Roasters

Neighborhood: South Tampa

Address: 2420 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, FL 33609

Phone Number: (813) 644-7245

Website: http://www.caffeineusa.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CaffeineRoastersTampa/

Twitter: @CaffeineTampa

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/caffeineroasterstampa/

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Little Donut House more than a little disappointing

What is it about miniature donuts that makes them so enticing? Is it how magical they look on Instagram and Snapchat? I’m not really sure, but I decided to give them a shot this past weekend at Little Donut House located at 4048 West Kennedy Boulevard.

I was initially inspired to try Little Donut House after sampling their Margarita Donut at CL Margarita Wars which was actually quite tasty and impressed me with an innovative taste.

My friend and I ordered 6 donuts ($4.50) and shared them during our visit to Little Donut House. None of them were appealing.

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The donuts were cold and lacked any flavors that stood out. They did not taste fresh from the donut underneath to the toppings. Most of the menu items were basically chocolate choices and the other ones did not sound too appetizing.

I suppose you can argue that the donuts were not fresh because we visited in the middle  of the afternoon. Still – I liken it to a pizza place selling pizza by the slice in the afternoon that should probably be thrown out.

If you’re open for business – the quality should still be there.

Quality toppings and ingredients could definitely pave the way for an excellent mini donut. There is lots of possibilities, but I haven’t seen that execution yet.

The most disappointing donut I had was the Maple Bacon Donut. The bacon on the donut tasted like bacon you might get from a salad bar drizzled on top of a miniature donut and fell completely flat on flavor.

It’s really hard to make bacon unappealing and that’s why this experience has stuck with me in the back of my mind for days.

I am not a fan of Mini Doughnut Factory either – too sweet, too cakey, just not for me…but Little Donut House fell even under that scope.

I wasn’t even aware that Little Donut House and Mini Doughnut Factory were in the middle of litigation recently over a name dispute, but frankly I don’t like either.

For mini donuts I am going to stick to Disco Donuts and for regular donuts I am sticking to Craving Donuts.

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Taco Traveler delivers world class eats

I stopped by The Taco Traveler food truck today for Taco Tuesday at C. 1949 Florida Beer Garden. The two have teamed up for a weekly Taco Tuesday event as of late. It was my first time visiting either business.

The Taco Traveler is a local food truck that started last year serving tacos inspired from around the world.

To be honest, I’m surprised there are not more taco trucks in Tampa Bay considering how popular Mexican food is and how easy you can blend it with other cuisines. In world history, Mexico was an important connection between the Eastern and Western worlds and many flavors and spices traveled through Mexico to other nations.

Let me mention also that The Taco Traveler isn’t trying to play towards traditional Mexican cuisine, but the dishes it puts out do capture the flavors I want in my food.

The Taco Traveler has a few standard menu items and rotating specials.

On the list were the Korean BBQ Taco, Banh Mi Taco, Tex Mex Taco…to name a few. I went with the Tex Mex Taco which was the Taco Tuesday special ($2) and the Korean BBQ Taco ($4.50 with tax). Both surpassed my expectations and impressed me.

They offer a choice of flour or corn tortillas and the correct answer to that question is always corn tortillas.

The sad part about corn tortillas is when they rip – but that’s what forks are for!

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The Tex Mex Taco comes with your choice of beef or chicken, cheese, shredded lettuce, house-made salsa, sour cream, and green onions. What impressed me about it was the quality of the beef I ordered and the seasonings of it – it was excellent down to every last bite.

The salsa was also quite tasty.

Then there was the Korean BBQ Taco which came with pickled red cabbage, Korean BBQ, sriracha aioli, kimchi, queso fresco, and green onions. It was INCREDIBLE and I was truly happy with this taco.

I’m a bit of a Korean food snob having lived in Seoul in the past, but this taco was definitely what I wanted and how I imagine a Korean taco would taste. It made me start thinking about all the other possibilities of what can be done using Korean cuisine when applied to other categories.

Can I also say that more places in Tampa should use queso fresco? It’s such an amazing topping to food dishes and you hardly see it on menus here.

The prices were reasonable considering they are a small trailer food truck. I had two tacos and felt pretty full. I would like to try their nachos in the future.

I will definitely return in the future for more tacos.

C. 1949 was also quite an experience. The bar menu was huge and the staff was friendly. They had a ton of local options and the draft beer and local list was filled with tons of choices and varieties and many new craft beer choices that are just recently hitting the market.

It’s obvious that the management of C. 1949 cares about providing quality craft beer to their customers.

The atmosphere at C. 1949 fits Seminole Heights as a neighborhood and has that hipster vibe down.

The lighting and actual decor is modern and the bar itself is spacious, well air-conditioned, and has plenty of seats. Outdoor seating is nice although it was certainly be more enjoyable when Florida cools down a bit.

The live acoustic musician outside was great and fit the overall vibe. C. 1949 seems to be doing lots of events lately and you can see more about it on their website if you’re interested: http://c1949.com/

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Brio Tuscan Grille celebrating National Lasagna Day

Full disclosure: I was invited to Brio Tuscan Grille for a tasting of their menu in exchange for this article about their upcoming promotion for National Lasagna Day.

This Thursday, July 27th, Brio Tuscan Grille will celebrate National Lasagna Day early and offer guests 50% off their Mama’s Lasagna Bolognese. Lunch will include a half-portion option with salad and dinner will only offer the full-portion size of the dish.

Here are some quick facts about lasagna – please note that some are disputed by different historians:

  • The name lasagna comes from the Greek word laganon – one of the world’s oldest forms of pasta.
  • The word “lasagna” originally was in reference to the pot that the food was cooked in, not to the actual dish.
  • Modern lasagna was created in Naples, Italy during the Middle Ages – recipes seem to point back to the 13th century.
  • The World’s Largest Lasagna is 5.29 tons, took 10 hour to make, and was made in 2012 in Poland. The lasagna was made in honor of the Italian national soccer team.
  • Recipes for lasagna originally could not have called for tomatoes although they are essential to the dish nowadays because tomatoes were not commonly available until after the Age of Exploration in the 1500s.
  • Fun fact: tomatoes were believed to be poisonous when they were first introduced in Europe. Hard to believe that considering how important tomatoes are to Italian cuisine now.

Brio’s Mama’s Lasagna is a mixture of Bolognese meat sauce, Alfredo, ricotta, and Mozzarella.

Brio Tuscan Grille is located at the International Plaza in Tampa at 2223 N. West Shore Blvd., Tampa, FL 33607. The Tampa location can be reached at (813) 877-3939. Reservations are recommended and can be made online at http://www.brioitalian.com/.