I joined the Founder and CEO of lunchpool, Alexander Abell, this week for a conversation about my history in food and advice for food influencers or best practices for those looking to grow as an influencer and how to get your start as a blogger or someone in writing.
I shared experiences about my journey and also upcoming events with the Tampa Bay Foodies Club.
Grubhub, a popular mobile ordering and delivery platform worth at least 5 billion dollars, is in hot water (again) after it was discovered that Grubhub is allegedly listing restaurants on the platform without their permission and offering delivery from Ghost Kitchens that don’t even represent the companies on their website.
Pim Techamuanvivit, owner of Kin Khao in San Francisco, wrote in a Twitter thread this past weekend, that her restaurant has been added to Grubhub and Seamless without her permission or any kind of agreement. She does not offer delivery or take-out, yet orders were fulfilled by another business posing as Kin Khao.
It isn’t the first time something like this happens or accusations are made. It was discovered last year that Grubhub was taking control of business listings through a partnership with platforms like Yelp and putting fake phone numbers on listings.
These numbers led to a Grubhub controlled number that then generated orders and charged restaurants for sending customers that were simply trying to order from the restaurant. Restaurants were shocked when they discovered they were paying Grubhub for a service they never agreed to.
Grubhub went as far as generating fake domains that seemed to be the official website of restaurants with menus that led to Grubhub for business orders. Over 23,000 domains were discovered by journalists at New Food Economy. In a normal world, there would be consequences for these actions.
Grubhub was basically forced by New York City to start changing the policy after threats were made and a class-action lawsuit was started against them by restaurateurs they charged for these “services” that is now asking for 5 million dollars.
Yet this continues:
Of course, this isn’t limited to just New York City or San Francisco. Once this story made its way around the internet business owners in other cities also began also crying foul. The story made it over to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and it seems this may be deeply run into the food ecosystem.
Which begs the question, is Grubhub scamming your restaurant business? Is Seamless? It’s probably best to look up your own listings to make sure.
Rumors are swirling online that Grubhub is for-sale. Whether that explains this rampant behavior against restaurants or not, one thing is clear: restaurant owners have a right to control of their businesses and this is wrong plain and simple.
Restaurants have a failure rate of 60% in their first year and 80% in their first five years. Foot traffic is falling and costs are going up. Isn’t it hard enough without someone taking control of your restaurant listings, phone number, and website presence?
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Executive Chef Lee Aquino of Birch & Vine at The Birchwood in Downtown St. Pete recently for an interview. Aquino is originally from Amelia Island. The restaurant and hotel owner, Chuck Prather, is also making moves to soon expand into the new St. Pete Pier that is opening in 2020.
Here is the interview:
Q: What’s new on the menu at Birch & Vine?
A: Birch & Vine is updating all facets of our menu. We’re updating the face of the building and our scratch kitchen with fun, awesome, but also approachable food. Our style is French rustic with an American twist.
Our diners are a variety of people: hotel guests, passerby customers, and people who see our menu in the front of the building on the first floor.
On our top floor at The Canopy, it’s a little different. We have retired folks and a variety of young people as well. Our menu is mainly bar food and we are looking to update the flatware and menu items. Lighter and fresh vibes. Food that is easy to eat.
No caviar here.
Q: What trends do you see coming in 2020?
A: Towers. I’m sure you’ve seen them in old school tea parties.
Smaller portions with more variety and more choices. Multiple appetizers and hors d’oeuvres with in-between price points.
Q: Do you think plant-based meat will join the menu in 2020?
A: We are not using plant-based meat at Birch & Vine. My main concern is cross-contamination issues, which has been a concern as some of the big concepts and chains that have deployed it.
We try to be as conscious as possible about our imprint at Birch & Vine.
Seasonality is a thing in Florida, even though there’s one season things don’t grow the whole year. If a party orders a fig salad – it can be a tough thing to find when a farm runs out of it. Sourcing can be difficult and we try our best to get ahead of it.
We never want to mislead the clients. Be honest.
Q: What’s your history and background?
A: I have been at Birch & Vine for 2 years as Executive Chef. I started at the Tampa Yacht & Country Club as an Executive Sous Chef for 6 years in the past. I bought a house in Downtown St. Pete and made it my home and that led me here.
Q: Where do you like to eat on your day off?
A: Somewhere I haven’t been. I like to be provoked and taste the town. I have no favorites though (laughs).
The Birchwood is located at 340 Beach Drive Northeast in Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The hotel features Birch & Vine restaurant, an 18-room boutique hotel on the second and third floor, conference, event, and entertainment space in The Grand Ballroom on the fourth floor and a rooftop lounge, The Canopy.
It is a Spanish Mission-style building originally built in 1922 and underwent historically correct renovations in 2013. It is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.
The popular Armature Works food hall stand, Graze 1910, is opening their second location in South Tampa at 2217 South Dale Mabry Highway in the Palma Ceia neighborhood this February. This location will serve breakfast all day as well as lunch, dinner, and brunch on the weekends.
Menu items will include egg dishes, artisan burgers, chicken and waffles, tartines, greens and grains, and vegan options.
“After two years of success with Graze 1910 at Armature Works, we decided it was time to extend the brand, expand the menu and attract more families and locals,” says Raymond Menendez, owner of Graze.
“Graze is community-minded and the spot you’ll come to time and time again not only for our reliably, quality food, but our laid-back setting and welcoming atmosphere.”
Raymond Menendez has 30 years of restaurant experience and was previously with Hooters in Clearwater and a Managing Partner with Ciccio Restaurant Group in Tampa.
Lawrence “Bubba” Durley, Graze 1910’s head chef, previously with Oxford Exchange and Café Dufrain, will oversee both Graze kitchen locations and continue to be their creative menu advisor.
Where else can you drink a craft beer at an affordable price and shop around a grocery store sometimes with live music? Lucky’s Market was an absolutely treasure that I enjoyed shopping at whenever I was in Orlando or Pinellas County.
After a long wait, Shake Shack is finally confirmed as coming to Tampa, first reported by Tampa Bay Business Journal. The location will be at Midtown Tampa, a “new kind of urban experience with 1.8 million square feet of retail, residential, 3 Class A office buildings, entertainment and hospitality”.
The long-awaited location for the gourmet burger chain still has no opening date for Tampa, but is at least confirmed to be opening by the developer. Shake Shack has long been open in Orlando and opened in Sarasota recently. Midtown Tampa is expected to open in time for the Super Bowl in February 2021.
“Shake Shack is an iconic brand with worldwide recognition, and is yet another first-to-market restaurant that we’re thrilled to bring to Tampa,” said Nicholas Haines, CEO, Bromley Companies. “We’ve followed Shake Shack from its first location next to our office in New York’s Madison Square Park, and appreciate the delight and appeal it has to its customers.”
Shake Shack has over 170 locations worldwide and has been growing around the country in recent years including locations on both the east and west coast. The franchise started as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park back in 2001. The burger concept was started in 2004 as a kiosk.
A Filipino favorite, Jollibee, is opening its doors on Friday, January 17th at 4057 Park Boulevard, Pinellas Park, Florida. The location will be the 40th location to open for the franchise which is currently experiencing high growth and expansion across the country. The chain plans to open 150 stores in the United States by 2023. It is the first location in Tampa Bay.
The opening time for opening day is from 9AM to 10PM.
“We cannot wait to welcome Jollibee fans who have long waited for their turn to finally have Jollibee in their area, in addition to welcoming new foodies intrigued by our unique menu, which we fondly describe as a joyous mash-up of Western comfort food and Asian flavors,” said Beth Dela Cruz, President of Jollibee Foods Corporation North America, Philippine Brands Group.
Popular items at Jollibee include the Chickenjoy, Jolly Spaghetti made with signature sweet-style sauce loaded with chunky slices of savory ham and hotdog, and Peach Mango Pie, made with real Philippine mangoes enclosed in a light, crispy crust.
Tampa is home to one of the largest Filipino communities with its Bayanihan Center and annual PhilFest celebration that draws thousands for a celebration of Filipino food and culture every April.
There are some perks for those who choose to line-up early for the opening:
The first 50 customers in line to spend $25 or more will get FREE Chickenjoy for a year.*
The first 50 with the best #ItsOurTurn signs will get a Jollibee in Barong Funko Pop.
The first 300 on day 1 (plus the first 100 on days 2 and 3) will get a free drawstring bag with a minimum $25 purchase.
*One 6-piece bucket of Chickenjoy per month for a period of one year
Bubble tea fans have plenty to be excited about. Ding Tea Tampa on Waters has a new opening date of Friday, January 24th, 2020. The location is located next to where the old Yummy House and Got Tea locations were.
The delay was explained to be connected to the health department (Ding Tea was originally set to open on November 3rd).
It will be located at 2202 West Waters Avenue, Tampa, Florida 33604.
Ding Tea is a chain from Taiwan that has over 350 locations in Asia and has been rapidly expanding across the United States. There was a location that opened in between this time period by USF Tampa’s Uptown at 1518 East Fowler Avenue Suite B. One of the latest businesses to open in that area.
Michelle’s Faedo is opening her second location of Michelle Faedo’s Tampeño Cuisine on Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 in Downtown Tampa at 601 East Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, FL, 33602 inside the Hillsborough County Building.
The restaurants are an off-shot of Michelle Faedo’s On The Go food truck which has been in operation for years. The first location is located at the ENCORE! building not too far away from Downtown close to Ybor City.
Popular items on the menu include the Famous Traditional Cuban and deviled crabs that pay homage to Tampa’s rich food history. Like the Cuban Sandwich, deviled crabs were created by the immigrant communities in Tampa that existed during the cigar boom.
Faedo is an award-winner from the annual Cuban Sandwich Festival and is well-recognized for her Cuban sandwiches around the Tampa Bay area.
The opening hours for the location will be Monday through Friday from 7AM to 4PM.
City of Tampa Mayor, Jane Castor, is expected to be there at around 1PM to celebrate the occasion.