Taking a look Inside the Box at Armature Works

I have long heard of Inside the Box, but never actually been to the cafe before. I reached out to Inside the Box when they opened at Armature Works in Tampa Heights to get the story behind this unique project.

I met up for a few hours with their PR representative and Executive Chef Clifford Barsi walked me through their operation. Inside the Box is a social enterprise that generates funds to help fund Metropolian Ministries. 100% of the profits from the deli go back to the charity.

Chef Clifford Barsi spearheaded social enterprises for Metropolitan Ministries after volunteering there and realizing he wanted to help combine culinary with helping people get back on their feet.

Attacking Poverty Using Culinary Arts Training

Inside the Box primarily employees people who need work that have trained under their Culinary Arts program for their cafe and also helps those in need get employment and training at some of Tampa’s busiest restaurants including Mise En Place, Boca, Bizou Brassie, and Oxford Exchange.

The goal? To help those in need get higher paying jobs by giving them desirable skills that are needed in kitchens. Poverty often exists because people don’t have access to training and Metropolitan Ministries is working to change that.

The cost of living in Tampa has been climbing at a rapid pace although recently slowing behind the national average (sometimes 15% increases in rent prices year over year in the mid 2010s) since major investment projects around the bay began and programs like this will be needed more as people need better paying jobs to afford living in our city.

Metropolitan Ministries takes a look at what skills restaurants need from potential employees and seeks to teach these skills to their trainees. Some skills include how to be a prep cooks, advanced knife skills, how to clean a fryer/change oil, and knowledge of different essential foods. Trainees are placed in busy restaurants to build these skills that will ideally lead them to a career and financial stability.

Classes are small with only 8-10 students and is offered each quarter of the year. The course is 16-weeks. Each student is funded on a full scholarship. Only those in need qualify. Each culinary arts program features:

  • 150 hours of culinary classes
  • 20 hours for a Food Handling Certification Course
  • 100 hours of High Volume Production experience
  • 100 hours of Cafeteria experience
  • 100 hours of Restaurant experience
  • 40 hours for a Life and Employment Skills Course.

One particular skill that Chef Clifford Barsi highlighted was the importance of learning how to take a recipe and multiply or divide it. Consistency is key when restaurants are trying to create customer retention and this kind of skill is often missed in cooking programs.

None of this would possible without volunteers, donors, fundraisers, and these new social enterprises that are helping to fund these programs.

More info about their social enterprises: http://www.metromin.org/about/social-enterprise.html

Inside the Box Cafe Recommendations 

Inside the Box serves gourmet deli meat daily at Armature Works and also serves some delicious sandwiches. The price point matches the other vendors in the building at around $10-$12.

To me the best deal from the Inside the Box Armature Works stand is the deli meat which is sold at prices similar to popular Boar’s Head deli cuts, but will instead help fund a cause that aims to change and improve people’s lives.

As far as sandwiches are concerned – I tried a smoked lamb sandwich during my visit and it was absolutely delicious. During the soft opening for Armature Works I also tried a delicious turkey sandwich. The bread and cuts are certainly gourmet.

Some menu items include Smoked Salmon, Roast Porchetta, NY Strip Pastrami, and NY Strip Corned Beef. Sandwiches are steamed to keep them moist and warm when served with cheese. Plenty of sides are available to enjoy with your food.

Chef Clifford Barsi tells me that Inside the Box tries to source locally in Florida when possible, but as the Tampa Bay Times has highlighted before, that can be a challenge in Florida. You’ll find some Florida cheeses and cuts around the deli when in season.

Inside the Box also has a local market on the side where you can find lots of local produce, vegetables, coffee, and culinary goods as well as fresh bread from popular local vendors from around Tampa Bay and Florida including Piquant, Urban Canning Company, Sunset Salsa, Le’Anns Cheesecakes, and more. I’m hoping this market expands because I would like to see more things like this in our food halls.

Annual Fundraisers

You can help support the mission to end homelessness and poverty by supporting some key annual fundraisers put on by Metropolitan Ministries – although they are also always in need of volunteers to come help them get things done at the non-profit.

Metropolitan Ministries is a 4-star out of 4-star charity according to Charity Navigator.

Tampa Bay Food Fight is annual competition that Metropolitan Ministries organizes between chefs from both sides of the Howard Franklin Bridge. Proceeds from the event go back to supporting the charity.

Their Bridge Builders luncheon is coming up on Wednesday, April 25th, 2018 at Hilton Hotel Downtown and WWE SuperStar Titus O’Neil is the keynote speaker this year. There are plenty of ways to get involved.

You can donate to Metropolitan Ministries directly here: http://secure.metromin.org/site/SPageNavigator/donate.html

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Empamamas now open at Armature Works

Local food truck Empamamas has joined the vendor list at Armature Works for the Heights Public Market today. Several empanadas have appeared on the soft opening menu and it will expand with some time.

This is a huge deal for local food trucks and shows their gourmet power, especially after Surf & Turf is already doing great inside Armature Works. Today I had the signature dish, Tampa Girl Empamama, which is pretty much like a Cuban sandwich inside an empanada.

Here’s hoping to see more from them soon!

Armature Works food hall now in soft opening

The long awaited Armature Works Heights Public Market is now in soft opening in Tampa Heights. The building opens at 7AM and most concepts are open by 11AM.

The food hall features over 10 different food concepts and bars throughout and is waterfront right off the Tampa Riverwalk near Waterworks Park.

I visited the soft opening preview last night and I’m back today trying out the menu at different concepts throughout the building. Everything has been delicious so far and you’ll find almost everything you might want to eat.

Visit them online at http://armatureworks.com/

Here are some photos:

Chicken slider samples from the all-day breakfast and lunch spot called Graze 1910.

Salmon Poke Bowl sample from Zukku Sushi.

Horchata Latte from Union Coffee (more popularly known as Commune and Co.).

Korean Philly Sandwich from BNB BBQ.

Pork Belly Bowl from Ichicoro Imoto.

Steak samples from Cru Cellars.

Delicious seafood from Surf & Turf Truck!

The Hall on Franklin now in soft opening in Tampa Heights

Have you heard the buzz? Tampa Heights is booming. Ever since Ulele opened doors, businesses have been flocking to the area and tonight The Hall on Franklin had a family and friends night, which I attended.

This new food hall is now in soft opening and you should definitely be patient as they figure out their kinks and get this show going, but there is much to be excited about.

What’s a “food hall” you ask? It is essentially a business that sells a variety of food from different stands indoors. The first concept of it’s kind in Tampa Bay was the Locale Market in St. Petersburg which is owned by Chef Michael Mina.

The Hall on Franklin is different in concept and combines different food entrepreneurs and chefs together into one building. It was hard to imagine how it was all going to come together until I experienced it for myself tonight and I have to say I was completely impressed and surprised at the quality establishment that has surfaced.

I visited nearly every stand tonight for a bite and drink and found that all the food was of excellent quality. Despite being a family and friends night and having the stress of POS systems, the staff was completely friendly and hospitable.

The Hall on Franklin is what would happen if you dreamed of all your favorite things in one place without having to drive around. You can visit the kiosks yourself to order food or have a waiter bring you food.

Parking is available on the street or via valet which will hopefully be a regular thing.

The best part? The quality is only matched by the prices that are fair and allow you to actually try all the great spots inside the building with tons of options from sides, different sized entrees, drinks, and desserts. I happened to meet developer Jamal Wilson during the preview who told me that is exactly what they were going for.

Some thoughts:

Poke Rose: Finally some real poke in Tampa. Every last bite was delicious and packed with flavor. Make sure to ask about spicy levels. Chef Jason Cline left me happy and I can’t wait to come back for more.

North Star Eatery: I have followed Xuan since Anise Gastrobar opened (one of my favorite bars in Tampa) and I am never disappointed with her business acumen. The pork yakitori was an excellent side dish and I look forward to coming back to try her ramen in the future and of course some Stinky Bunz.

Bake’n Babes: I first tried Bake’n Babes at Ginger Beard Coffee a few weeks ago in an affogato. Their ice cream rivaled Revolution Ice Cream, no lie. Lord – I tried the Bacon Beer Battered Cupcake tonight though and it was one of those moments where you pop food into your mouth and feel instant delight. This is a sweets empire in the making.

The Heights Melt Shoppe: I split a Philly Sub with a friend and could not stop putting it in my mouth. Every last bite was excellent. Wow.

The Collection: The bar is beautiful inside The Hall on Franklin. The bartenders were very friendly and easy to talk to. There is a happy hour (YES) and plenty of cocktail creations on the menu that I want to try. For tonight, I tried their signature beer “The Hall Pass” ($6) which is made in a partnership with Hidden Springs (keeping it local) and has hibiscus, yuzu, and cucumber. Anyone could drink this delicious craft beer.

Ko-fē: Tonight I had a butterscotch cappuccino made with Buddy Brew beans. They plan to roast their own beans in the near future. The barista noted their espresso machine is not to be messed with.

The only booth I missed was The Heights Fish Camp (we were way too full!) – but the lobster corn dog nuggets and fish and chips will be something to look forward to in the future.

Something great has been released into the City of Tampa with The Hall on Franklin and I have good feelings.

Visit The Hall on Franklin online at http://thehallonfranklin.com/