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Everybody's Business

A Grass Root's approach

Uncooked seeds and nuts are the stars on a restaurant's "live'' menu.

Published April 7, 2006

If it sprouts a tail, it's good eating to the folks at Grass Root Organic Restaurant and Culture Shop, which opened March 22 at 2702 N Florida Ave. in Tampa Heights.

In fact, it's as good as it gets. You see, there's vegetarian cuisine, then vegan, then raw, and finally live. As in, alive.

Nothing that can look you in the eye, mind you. But if you've ever eaten a sunflower seed or nut that's been soaking in water and has a sprout coming out of it, you've eaten live food.

"Raw foods create living bodies, and cooked foods create dying bodies,'' said Grass Root co-owner Sabrina Aird. "Once you heat food over 115 degrees, it destroys the enzymes necessary for proper digestion.'' Moreover, when a soaking seed or nut sprouts, its nutritional value goes up.

So uncooked and living, sprouted foods - mainly nuts and seeds - figure prominently on the Grass Root menu. As do vegetarian and vegan meatless food prepared without any sort of animal product dishes. Examples include the sprouted cereal (sprouted sunflower seeds or wheat berries blended with fruit, dates and spices), root sushi (brown rice, avocado, cucumber, carrots and grapefruit), and a vegetarian BLT.

The restaurant itself might prove to be a sprouting seed. Aird and her husband/business partner, Spencer Sterling, picked the site on the corner of Florida and Columbus Drive to bring their long simmering faith in Tampa Heights to a boil.

The couple have owned an old house in the neighborhood for 13 years, though they didn't live in it full time until they moved from Aird's native New York City last April.

As a former mortgage manager with Washington Mutual, Aird caught wind of Tampa Heights' reasonable real estate and urban renewal potential before a lot of people did. Now she owns a business and a home in Tampa's oldest neighborhood, an area clamoring for new businesses as its historic residential stock continues to regentrify.

This is Aird's first restaurant, though her family runs a vegetarian restaurant back home in Brooklyn. The 1,100-square-foot space inside a 1927 building that once housed a bakery is decorated with a tourist's collection of items from exotic and developing nations, all of which are for sale.

The Tampa Raw Food Meet Up Group also meets there the first Thursday of every month.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Grass Root's Web site is

KEEPING THE FAITH: Mike Merino knows Seminole Heights. He went to high school there, owned and renovated a home there, even drove a delivery route there.

And he knows what Seminole Heights needs. So he's planning to open Merino's Seminole Heights Deli, tentatively by July. He intends to occupy part of Larry's Automotive service building at 6430 N Florida Ave. and perhaps eventually expand his restaurant and buy the entire building.

It's not a done deal yet but, "I'm 90 percent sure this thing is going to happen,'' he said. He plans to offer sandwiches, soups, salads and hot entrees for dine in, take out and free neighborhood delivery.

The Tampa native grew up near Seminole Heights in Wellswood and attended Hillsborough High School. In 1975 he opened the first of his five restaurants, Merino's Salad Restaurant, downtown on Tampa Street. He also ran restaurants near the former Tampa Stadium and in the West Shore district.

He recently bought, renovated and sold a Seminole Heights house. He drives a delivery truck for Fed Ex and made deliveries in the neighborhood last year. In the meantime, he's working on making his latest restaurant a reality and "taking the neighborhood one step forward into being another South Tampa.''

MACKNIFICENT IMPORTS CLOSING: After a 3½-year run, Macknificent Imports Galleria is going out of business. Co-owner Patriva Mack said the shop's last day will be April 21.

In the meantime, the store's stock of handcrafted decor items from around the world is at clearance prices, some at cost, Mack said.

"We're just not getting the foot traffic we need to stay viable,'' she said of Macknificent's spot at Kennedy Boulevard and Himes Avenue.

Mack has no plans to open another store but said her sister and business partner Psalm Mack may sell Macknificent's unsold stock on the Internet.

Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call 226-3382, or e-mail

Aquarium bouquet

See anything fishy about this plant arrangement? That's a Siamese fighting fish swimming beneath the roots of a peace lily. Si Simond's Floral Boutique will deliver an aquarium bouquet or you can choose one at the store, 1401 S Howard Ave. Prices start at $55 and include fish food for daily feedings. Call 253-0306.


[Last modified April 6, 2006, 14:41:12]

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