Smashburger plans 35 new restaurants in Florida West Coast

Smashburger opened its first Tampa location last week in South Tampa at 4035 South Dale Mabry Highway and plans to open at least 35 new restaurants along the Florida West Coast in the next 5 to 6 years.

The investment will cost $37 million dollars. Each location will employ 30 people, adding about 1,400 new jobs in total to the region.

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The Denver-based, fast-casual, burger concept is also located in Clearwater and Sarasota. Smashburger was founded in 2007 and serves “made-to-order, never frozen” burgers.

Their localized burger for the Tampa Bay area is the “Media Noche” burger, which contains smoked ham, aged Swiss cheese, pickles, red onion, and mustard on an egg bun. Local craft beer from the area will be a highlight of these locations.

Some would say the Tampa market is over-saturated with burger concepts. I don’t think that is necessarily the case.

There are just a number of low-quality, badly-managed, and overpriced restaurants that have expanded too much and you can see that playing out in the market with bankruptcies and retreats from locations.

The burger business is a $73 billion dollar business and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Smashburger is participating in the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Burger Week and serving their “Sin City Burger” from Vegas for the promotion for $6.69 plus tax. The burger features “signature Smash sauce (a mayo, mustard, relishy blend), topped with a fried egg, applewood smoked bacon, and haystack onions”.

I stopped by last week for a taste and my favorite burger was the Truffle Mushroom Swiss. I thought about that burger days after visiting. I don’t care what food snobs say about truffle being overrated, I’ll take some on everything, thank you very much.

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National Coffee Day 2017 Tampa Bay: Deals & Freebies

National Coffee Day is this Friday, September 29th, 2017! Plenty of great coffee shops around Tampa Bay will be celebrating with deals and discounts. Forget Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts – grab yourself some REAL coffee during this celebration.

Here is a list of the deals I’ve been able to find:

  • The Lab (North Hyde Park): Public cupping beginning at 11AM on National Coffee Day.
  • Kraftologee (Brandon/Riverview): Coffee flights for $2 – sample several hot and cold coffee drinks
  • Caffeine (Downtown Tampa & South Tampa): 40% OFF single origin coffee beans. Slow Bar Deals: $1 Aeropress, $1.50 V60, $2 Chemex. $1 Cold Brew Drive-Thru Only Special.
  • Felicitous (USF): BOGO hot brewed coffee from 9AM-11AM
  • Buttermilk Provisions (Wesley Chapel): $1 OFF any large cold brew or hot brew
  • Jet City Espresso (Seminole Heights/Hyde Park): FREE extra shot in any size
  • Kahwa Coffee: BOGO coffee all day long
  • Ginger Beard Coffee (Downtown Tampa/Channelside): $1 drip coffee and $1 OFF cold brews
  • Buddy Brew Coffee: BOGO Cold Brew when you bring a friend.

Here are some coffee quotes to live by as well:

“What do you want?” “Just coffee. Black – like my soul.” ― Cassandra Clare, City of Bones

“As long as there was coffee in the world, how bad could things be?” -Cassandra Clare, City of Ashes

“Coffee first. Schemes later.” ― Leanna Renee Hieber, Darker Still

“Life’s too short to drink crappy coffee and cry over boys who don’t care.”  -Unknown

“I decide to turn to my old faithful solution to all that is wrong in life. Coffee.”  ― Lisa Renee Jones, If I Were You


Any other local shops doing deals or freebies? Shoot me an email at carloseats[at]gmail[dot]com.

Hurricane Maria: Tampa Bay Helps Puerto Rico Recover

Update 9/28: 

ViVa Tampa Bay Hispanic Heritage Festival will take donations for Course of Action PR on Sunday, October 1st in Centennial Park. More details on this post.


Hurricane Maria smashed through Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm yesterday and wrecked much of the island. It is the first Category 4 Hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since 1932 according to ABC. The entire country lost power and it could take weeks to months for the power grid to recover after already being hit by Hurricane Irma.

That means over 2 million people have no power in the United States commonwealth.

Puerto Rico is already in a delicate state and filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. This kind of infrastructure damage will no doubt complicate things for the people who live there. The minimum wage in Puerto Rico was reduced from $7.25 to $4.25 an hour as a part of this bankruptcy crisis due to a U.S. plan called PROMESA in 2016.

This will certainly impact the ability of people to recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.

The Puerto Rican communities around Florida have mobilized to get supplies to send to the people in Puerto Rico impacted by the storm. Shipments of supplies are already being accepted in Puerto Rico starting today. Here is where you can donate supplies around Tampa Bay:

The Prestige Barbershop of Tampa Bay
(Monday to Saturday from 11AM to 7PM)
105 US-301 #109
Tampa, FL

Los Gorditos Bar & Grill
(Tuesday to Saturday from 12PM to 9PM)
6110 Causeway Blvd.
Tampa, FL

Los Gorditos Food Truck
3125 W. Hillsborough Ave.
Tampa, Fl

La Fondita de Leo in Clearwater 
(Monday to Sunday from 11AM to 9PM)
528 Cleveland Street
Clearwater, FL

El Rico Frappé Latino
(Monday to Sunday – Hours vary)
122 Pierce Christie Dr
33594 Valrico

Course of Action PR
(Monday to Saturday – 11AM-7PM)
4916 S Lois Avenue
Tampa, FL

Suggested donations:

• Water
• Canned milk (UHT or Carnation) or box milk
• Canned food
• Flash lights
• Candles
• Batteries (C,D,DD)
• Dog and Cat food (small bag)
• First-Aid items
• Mosquito repeal sprays (ex. OFF)
• Wipes
• Diaper
• Formula
• Baby food
• Bottles
• Cleaning items
• New underwear for men and women
• Blanket
• Towels
• Baby onesies

Local food truck The Cake Girl has setup a fund as well for people to donate to at: http://www.youcaring.com/hurricanevictimsinpuertorico-956986

Any tips on other places to donate? Shoot me an e-mail at carloseats[at]gmail[dot]com.

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.

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.

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:

Tampa Bay Taco Tuesday Dining Guide

Wondering where to eat for Taco Tuesday in Tampa? No, I’m not talking about your average Tijuana Flats. Taco Tuesday offers deals at many great spots around town and no two taco places are created equal.

Here is my list of go-to spots for Taco Tuesday deals in Tampa Bay and places I’d recommend visiting. There may be more restaurants offering the deal, but that doesn’t mean I recommend them.

  1. La Villa River Hills: I am a Mexican food snob from San Francisco and most places in Tampa are “good for Tampa” and that is about it – they don’t even come close to the quality or ingredients of taquerias on The Mission. La Villa River Hills is the real deal though. Fresh, Mexican cuisine at an affordable price and the quality is apparent in everything from their salsa to their tamales. They offer $2 tacos on Tuesday. The location is near FishHawk and Valrico which is a long drive for many – but well worth it. You might want to call-ahead because the restaurant is small, but this is easily my favorite Mexican place in Tampa Bay right now.
  2. Taco Traveler: This local food truck is delivering tasty non-traditional tacos on Tuesdays at C. 1949 in Seminole Heights. Enjoy $2 taco specials and $1 off select beer inside the building. Live-music is also happening.
  3. Ciccio Cali: One of the best known Taco Tuesday deals in town. Many of the bowls available at Ciccio Cali can be converted into flour tacos for just $2 each during Taco Tuesday. They load them up. My favorite? Hot & Crunchy Tuna. The flavor is there. More places should experiment with sushi tacos in general. Be patient because the crowds can get crazy and my experiences with hostesses have been mixed. It’s located in Brandon, New Tampa, and St. Pete.
  4. TacoSon: The original Taco Bus. TacoSon is where the owners of the original Taco Bus opened shop after their sale and you can tell by the crowds that the original fans have followed them to this location on 56th Street. Avoid the drive-thru unless you’re comfortable with sitting in your car for long periods of time and just go inside. They don’t do Taco Tuesday deals, but on the flip-side tacos there are $2.50 everyday. Real deal. They now have locations in St. Pete and Wesley Chapel as well.
  5. California Tacos To-Go: This local chain has excellent tacos and offers 2 tacos, chips, and a drink for $6.99. A little more expensive than some other spots, but the quality is definitely there. Most recipes hail from SoCal and the loaded fish tacos are truly amazing. Locations in USF, South Tampa, and St. Pete. It’s one of the few places that Guy Fieri recommends that I can agree with.

If a place did not make the list – it is likely that I either do not recommend it, I haven’t visited the place, or I forgot and this list will be regularly updated as well so look for that. If your favorite place isn’t on the list that’s okay too. This is an opinion-based piece and you are entitled to your opinion.

Bento Cafe opening in Downtown St. Petersburg

Popular Asian eatery, Bento Cafe, is planning to open their first Tampa Bay location in Downtown St. Petersburg in the Spring of 2018. According to St. Pete Rising the location will feature 80 seats along with outdoor sidewalk tables.

It makes sense considering how much Downtown St. Petersburg has grown over the years, but it is definitely a little disappointing to all the USF – Tampa students that have waited years for a location after frequenting locations at the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, and even University of North Florida. Apparently Bento is also looking for 2 locations in Tampa.

Bento Cafe has been hinting at a Tampa Bay location for over 2 years on Facebook and seems to be expanding rapidly across the state over the next year or so. Hopefully in the future Bento will look at the USF area as a potential future investment area.

Bento is known for their fast-casual Asian environment with inspirations from Japanese, Thai, Korean, and other Asian cuisines. 

Their sushi rolls are quite popular and their sashimi rice bowls are a personal favorite as well as their Spicy Cream Chicken. In addition, Bento also sells bubble tea and other popular Asian drinks.

Visit Bento online at http://www.bentocafesushi.com/

Valentine’s Day 2017 @ Vuelo Mexican Grill

Looking for an affordable and tasty Mexican meal for this V-Day? Celebrate Valentine’s Day 2017 at Vuelo Mexican Grill located at 17641 Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The restaurant will offer 3 courses for 2 people for $20.

Here is the menu:

Appetizer (shared)
Select from Queso Fundido or Nachos Vuelo

2 Entrees
Select from Enchiladas, Vuelo Burrito, or Street Tacos

Dessert: Churros (shared)
With spicy chocolate dipping sauce & powdered sugar

For more information – contact Vuelo at (813) 972-4800.

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Vuelo Mexican Grill recently opened in New Tampa off Bruce B. Downs. The restaurant features fresh, gourmet Mexican cuisine with a menu prepared by Chef Mark Estee. Estee is a James Beard Semifinalist and has been featured on The Cooking Channel and The Food Network.

Vuelo regularly hosts a weekly Taco Tuesday and Sunday Brunch in addition to daily specials and a great happy hour.

Wyndham Clearwater Beach Grand Opening – 1/21

Wyndham Clearwater Beach will have their Grand Opening event this Saturday, January 21st, 2017 from 4PM to 11PM with plenty of entertainment for the public to enjoy. The new hotel resort is located at 100 Coronado Drive, Clearwater Beach 33767.

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Book a room at wyndhamgrandclearwater.com.

Schedule:

4PM – Food trucks open and entertainment begins
6PM – Live entertainment on both stages
8:30PM – Laser Show
9PM – Fireworks Show
9:30PM – Headliner on American Stage

Entertainment:

CL HighBall Cocktail Competition 2017 – 1/26

Local newspaper Creative Loafing will host a cocktail competition called HighBall 2017 on Thursday, January 26th, 2017 from 7PM to 10PM at Kozuba & Sons Distillery (a truly beautiful facility) in St. Petersburg.

The event will showcase local bartenders, distillers, and craft cocktail culture. Guests will enjoy more than 15 craft cocktail samples at the event. A portion of proceeds to benefit Current Initiatives and their projects, such as the Laundry Project, Hope For Homes, and Affordable Christmas.

General Admission Tickets cost $25 in advance and $40 at the door. VIP tickets cost $50 in advance and $80 at the door (if tickets are still available).

VIP guests will receive an hour of early entrance to the event, as well as a private VIP-area with exclusive food/drink perks. All participants will be able to vote for the “Tampa Bay’s Best Cocktail” contest.

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Buy tickets: http://www.cltampa.xorbia.com/highball

Sponsors and partners include Kozuba & Sons Distillery, Siesta Key RumTamiami Gin, & Ox and Fields Restaurant + Bar.

Participating bars: