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In today’s edition of the Tampa Bay Times, local hero Roberto Torres — owner of the Blind Tiger Cafés, Black & Denim Clothing Company, and CoWork Ybortalks about immigration, its clichés, the need to dispel the notion that immigration is bad, and how Tampa became his home. I’ve had the privilege of hanging out with Roberto, and he’s a wonderful guy and one of Tampa’s greatest human assets. I hope to hang out with him more!

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Here are some photos from Roberto Torres’ appearance at Café con Tampa, which happened on Friday, March 6th — a mere two months in the past, but it feels like a lifetime ago. He gave a talk titled Choosing Tampa as the destination to live, work, and play.

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Roberto is the founder of Blind Tiger Café, which started with a single shop in Ybor City, and has since expanded to 7 locations. Six of these locations operate under the Blind Tiger name, with the last one being Endeavr Coffee, which operates in the Embarc Collective startup accelerator center. Roberto also bought Cass Street Deli earlier this year.

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He’s a pillar of the community, always extending a helping hand whenever he can. Among his recent good deeds is participating in the Restaurant Workers Relief Program, which converts restaurants across the country into relief kitchens. Cass Street Deli provided meals to service industry workers who lost their jobs or had their hours cut.

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I’ve written a fair bit about Roberto in this blog — here are all the articles that mention his name.

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Back in January, I wrote:

Someday, perhaps a decade from now, when we’re all looking back at how far the Tampa Bay area has come, we’ll look back and remark at the key role that Café con Tampa played. Every Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. in the Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club, Tampa’s most active, engaged, involved, and well-dressed citizens gather to hear important topics given by interesting speakers while enjoying a delicious breakfast in beautiful surroundings.

(Again, this was just in January, but it feels like another life.)

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Back in the pre-pandemic era, every Friday morning at 8:00 a.m., some of Tampa Bay’s most engaged citizens come to the main room in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club to attend Café con Tampa, a weekly gathering where guest speakers talk about issues that the Bay and the world beyond. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government, and hosted local heroes Del Acosta,President of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, and Bill Carlson, Tampa City Council Member for South Tampa, and President of the communications agency Tucker/Hall.

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Café con Tampa’s in-person gatherings at Oxford Exchange may be on hold for the time being, but they still people coming to speak — online! Check out the Café con Tampa Facebook page and the Café con Tampa YouTube channel to see past and upcoming guests.

You might also want to check out my prior articles featuring Café con Tampa.

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Lanfranco Pescante’s Instagram post. He seems a little too eager to kill, and waaaay more concerned about the flag than the old man.

Crazy times like this often lead to rising tempers, and rising tempers sometimes lead to career-limiting moves on social media. Case in point: Lanfranco Pescante, co-owner of Tampa’s Nocturnal Hospitality Group (which owns Franklin Manor, Osteria, Mole y Abuela, Mision Lago Estate, and Shibui), went a little too far on Instagram. It’s one thing to defend the flag and old man who got hurt carrying it at a protest, and it’s another thing to go completely unhinged about it on social media and call for people to get shot:

Pescante wrote all this in an argument with the Instagram account @officialthebody, whose posts have been in support of protesters and pointing them to resources.

It didn’t work out well for him. Here’s what Carlos “Carlos Eats” Hernandez — one of my go-to guys for local news — posted soon after:

The Tampa Bay Times article is worth it, just for the new ironic twist that Pescante’s t-shirt in his file photo provides. It just begged for a caption:

Thanks to Roberto Torres for the find!

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Finally, a yoga shirt that suits me

by Joey deVilla on April 27, 2020

If you understand Spanish, you know what this means. If you don’t, it says “I bow to the divine in you, enlightened one.*”

* No, it doesn’t, idiota.

Thanks to Roberto Torres for the find!

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Kudos to Cass Street Deli for participating in The Restaurant Workers Relief Program, which converts restaurants across the country into relief kitchens. If you’re a service industry worker who’s lost their job or have their hours cut, you can pick up a dinner from Cass Street Deli from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. each day until at least May 11.

Here’s what Suzanne Crouch, Cass Street Deli’s executive chef has to say:

“I think it’s important for people to realize that they’re not forgotten and and even before the pandemic good food equals good mood and we’re just trying to keep that cycle going you know.”

Roberto Torres speaks at Café con Tampa, March 6, 2020.
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Roberto Torres, whom you probably know from his Blind Tiger Cafés, bought Cass Street Deli recently, and has this to say:

“It’s a flood with no water or a hurricane with no wind so we’re really trying to figure out how is it that we can utilize our skill set and turn our kitchen into an emergency or relief kitchen to help other people.”

Cass Street Deli is still open for regular business for curbside pick up or delivery within their radius. In addition, the restaurant is accepting donations that provide meals to first responders and front line workers.

I’m going to give them a donation. If you can, you should too!

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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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Scenes from our vacation, part 1: Going to Miami

by Joey deVilla on July 10, 2017

Before the vacation: The Blind Tiger Café in Ybor City


A day before our vacation began, I went down to Ybor City to meet with Roberto Torres, owner of iconic Tampa businesses Blind Tiger Café, Black & Denim Clothing Company, and Cowork Ybor, for lunch. We had lunch at La Tropicana Café and talked about all sorts of things, including opportunities to collaborate.

I met Roberto at the first Tampa Company Culture Meetup and later at a Dali Museum workshop where I and a number of local creatives helped brainstorm ideas for a local business. If there’s something happening in town that involves making Tampa Bay’s urban areas better places to work, live, and play (such as the recent Millennial Impact Forum, which he MC’d), chances are that he’s involved, and I want to get involved too.

If you’re in Ybor City or Seminole Heights (Toronto friends: imagine Parkdale just before the Drake Hotel opened, but with a nearby palm tree-lined river), make sure to visit Blind Tiger Café — I recommend the nitro cold brew. If you’re in South Tampa (Toronto friends: imagine a cross of Yorkville and College West), a branch will be opening there soon.

On our way: Traipsing down the Tamami Trail

We packed up the car and started out for Miami on the morning of Saturday, July 1st. The photo above is of us filling up near Naples, where our course changed from southward to eastward.

In southern Florida, the fast way to shoot between the west and east coasts is to take that part of Interstate 75 called “Alligator Alley”, which connects Naples to Fort Lauderdale. It crosses the everglades and offers little to see except swamp, swamp, and more swamp, and is meant to simply be traveled through as quickly as possible.

Then there’s the Tamami Trail, a two-lane highway built in 1928. This two-lane highway doesn’t offer Alligator Alley’s speed, but as a designated National Scenic Byway, it makes up for it in scenery and quirky roadside stops.

Among these quirky stops is the smallest post office in the U.S., located in Ochopee:

It may also be the post office in the U.S. with the most laid-back office hours:

We had lunch at Joanie’s Blue Crab Café, a local legend, and deservedly so. This place is known for its delicious down-home cooking and extremely friendly service, both of which we experienced there:

Anitra had the blackened catfish salad, while I had the soft-shell crab sandwich:

Joanie’s Blue Crab Café offers more than a feast for the mouth, but for the eyes as well:

Don’t worry, they also have toilets indoors. In fact, the men’s room is an art gallery in and of itself, featuring a delightful gallery of nude and motorcycle photos.

If you pass through this area, don’t hesitate to stop at Joanie’s Blue Crab Café — it’s worth it!

Here are the reviews:

 

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