Scenes from the Blind Tiger Café Soho / Ella Bing Haberdashery ribbon-cutting ceremony

by Joey deVilla on February 27, 2018

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On Monday morning, I had the pleasure of attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newest branch of the Blind Tiger Café and Ella Bing Haberdashery, two establishments that share a space in Tampa’s SoHo neighborhood.

Roberto Torres, outside the Blind Tiger Café in Ybor City.

This Blind Tiger is the third branch of Roberto Torres’ café (the other two branches are in Ybor and Seminole Heights), and like the other two, they serve fantastic coffee that they roast in-house (I’m especially fond of their nitro cold brew), tea from TeaBella, and Mother Kombucha in a wonderful setting. Unlike the other two branches, this one has food offerings, including some incredibly addictive guava-and-cheese pastries that I had to tear myself away from.

Here’s what Roberto had to say about the food in the Tampa Bay Times:

“We wanted to elevate our offerings at our newest location,” Torres says. “So we decided to do food. We hired 22-year-old chef Reilly Bierhaus, from Bloomington, Ind. He attended Tante Marie Culinary Academy in London. He graduated with a Cordon Bleu diploma and after graduation went to work at Duck & Waffle in the United Kingdom. He came back to the U.S. and wanted to find a challenge.”

That challenge is cool spins on traditional cafe fare: Bierhaus is making gluten-free muffins and vegan cookies and there are signature breakfast sandwiches, acai bowls, quinoa salad and celebrations of indigenous Tampa foods like guava and cheese pastries.

Brent Kraus and his bowties.

Ella Bing Haberdashery is the brick-and-mortar version of Brent Kraus’ store for gentlemen’s accessories, which include beautiful bowties — some made of cloth, some made of hand-carved wood — sunglasses (all made of wood and sold in cigar boxes), hats, socks, cufflinks and other accoutrements for the well-dressed, or those who aim to be.

The ideation workshop at the Dali Museum, April 2017. Click to see it at full size.

Now that the Blind Tiger/Ella Bing joint store is open, I can now talk about: I participated in an ideation workshop for it at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg last April. Facilitated by Nathan Schwagler, the founding co-director of the Dali’s Innovation Lab, it was a two-day workshop in which I and about 18 other locals helped brainstorm ideas and concepts for Roberto and Brent.

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The stores were packed with friends, well-wishers, media, chamber of commerce, and even governmental types that morning to have coffee, try on some bowties and sunglasses, and take part in the various opening ceremonies.

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Our local Congressperson Kathy Castor, representative for Florida’s 14th congressional district (“the fighting 14th!”) was there to take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony and present the businesses with an American flag that has flown over congress.

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Castor praised both Brent and Roberto for their hard work and its beautiful outcome, and pointed out that the Blind Tiger is just one example of what immigrants (Roberto came to the U.S. from Panama) can do. She also reminded the crowd that immigrants are twice as likely to start a business and are disproportionately involved in entrepreneurial activities.

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I had a chance to talk with Ms. Castor. I told her about my upcoming trip to D.C. to do an augmented reality programming workshop and tutorial at RWDevCon, my plans to tour around D.C., and to try the guava-cheese pastries. She was kind enough to pose with me for the photo above, which I’m including in the portfolio for my Green Card “re-up” interview next year.

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With the ceremonies concluded and a delicious Blind Tiger iced coffee in hand, it was time to get down to the second part of my mission: checking out Ella Bing’s wares and getting a pair of their wooden sunglasses. Ella Bing’s shades are handmade from different kinds of wood — bamboo, walnut, redwood, ebony, and zebrawood — and they stand out.

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I think it’s been long enough since Tucker Carlson stopped wearing bowties that they’re no longer ruined. It may be time for me to pick up a couple of Ella Bing’s gorgeous ties. And maybe some socks. And cufflinks. And a hat. I worry that I’m going to end up dropping a lot of money at this place.

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In the end, I went with a nice chocolate-colored pair of shades. I’m going to have to ask Brent what kind of wood these are made of. They package them in an old cigar box (an homage to one of Tampa’s original businesses), and while I took it, I opted to wear them out of the store (with the tag removed, of course). Shades this nice have to be worn!

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