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What's Brewing?

A new era for island?

By SUSAN THURSTON
Published August 1, 2003

Here's a combo that takes some digesting: sushi and smoothies.

But head over to Harbour Island and that's just what you'll find. Juice Craze, a newish smoothie shop at the Post Harbour apartments, has teamed up with Simply Sushi.

Shawn Kaplan opened the take-out and delivery sushi place last week. He shares the space with smoothie king Hector Nieves.

Kaplan, who moved to Tampa a year ago from Washington, D.C., sees big opportunity on Harbour Island, where he lives. Between the apartment and condo dwellers and downtown office workers, he figures there are lots of wasabi worshipers.

Kaplan, 26, joins the latest wave of business owners trying to make it on Harbour Island. Cafe Dufrain opened in February, followed by a bank, a dry cleaners and a tanning salon. Tuesday night, That's Amore served its first plate of pasta.

THIS TIME around, owners hope they stick. Harbour Island has struggled for years to find its retail niche, starting with the Shops of Harbour Island now called Knight's Point.

Gone are the Columbia and Cha Cha Coconuts. Same for Stallone's Italian market and Fancy's in the nearby Harbour Plaza. About all that remains: the Wyndham Harbour Island Hotel, Jackson's and a few other tiny businesses.

Back in the '80s and early '90s, when Harbour Island had more empty lots than people, business owners grumbled about being ahead of their time. Downtown slept while the suburbs sprang to life. Weeds and dirt ruled the waterfront. The Florida Aquarium, St. Pete Times Forum and Tampa Marriott Waterside appeared on paper, not land.

The timing certainly seems better for Harbour Island's success. Hundreds of condos, apartments and houses are gobbling up the 177-acre island, drawing wealthy, sophisticated residents who like the convenience of downtown and the awesome urban views.

CAFE DUFRAIN owner Andrew Bonnemort says the latest business surge is overdue. An island resident for two years, he mourned the loss of Stallone's and wanted to start a restaurant where locals could meet friends for coffee and a sandwich. (Think Panera Bread on the water.)

He named it after Tim Robbins' character in The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufrense (pronounced Dufrain).

"We want to make it a cool place where people can congregate," he says. "We want to make it fun."

His success will depend on people who live in the Post apartments, island employees and downtown workers. Since he opened, a few have called asking if they can get to the cafe on the yellow downtown trolley. (Answer: It stops within walking distance.)

Drawing customers from throughout South Tampa won't hurt, either, and will be a must for the more upscale restaurants, such as That's Amore and a seafood place opening next to Cafe Dufrain.

All three eateries, along with a future convenience store, recently got initial approval from the City Council to sell alcohol. Bonnemort plans to offer beer and wine later this month. He hopes that will boost the dinner crowd, which until now has been thin.

Not surprising for a small island, the parking isn't perfect. Customers can park in a garage a few steps away, but it's only free for an hour. After that you have to pay at a machine at the exit. Geez, if Ybor can offer three hours, you would think Harbour Island could give at least two.

I need more time to wash down the sushi with a smoothie.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 31, 2003, 08:49:34]

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