Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Winn-Dixie giving away big money gift cards during tweet-up

A little promotion and holiday indulgence will go a long way for Winn-Dixie fans on Wednesday.

The grocery store is hosting a holiday tweet-up, but while you might see recommendations to pick up a few items at Winn-Dixie that happen to be on sale, you'll also get a chance to win $100 gift cards, according to the chain.

Here's how this works: Follow @WinnDixie and Florida bloggers/ "brand ambassadors" @ToniPatton and @LovesMyTwoBoys on Twitter to exchange holiday recipes, exchange holiday recipes and party hosting tips. Or you can use hashtag #WDHolidayTips and follow that conversation. They're also asking folks to RSVP via twtvite.

The tweetup will go from 9 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, and the $100 gift cards will be awarded every 12 minutes, for a total of $500 in gift cards.

It'll at least pay for your Christmas dinner, or restock the fridge after the family raids it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Meet the franchisee of sushi place How Do You Roll?

How Do You Roll? announced this month that the Austin, Texas, based chain wants to open in University Park as part of of Florida expansion. The chain has 10 locations in the U.S., including Gainesville and Sunrise. Photo provided 
Texas-based custom sushi shop called How Do You Roll? wants to come to University Park, and after we ran the announcement Dec. 11, I received a call from the restaurant's franchisee.

Better late than never, so I thought I'd at least pass along some more details thanks to the franchisee Chris Martin.

Martin lives in Fort Myers where he is a franchisee for Five Guys Burgers and Fries in that area. He said he wanted to do a new restaurant concept similar to How Do You Roll and found out that they already perfected the idea in Austin, so "I decided there was no reason to reinvent the wheel."

One of the things he likes about the chain is the branding and the warm atmosphere thanks to the employees.

"It's a comfortable atmosphere where you can spend some time at," Martin said. "The staff is really friendly, they're there to greet you at the door and guide you."

While he likes eating sushi from Publix in the evening, he knows it's been setting out for a few hours, and How Do You Roll gives a fresh alternative, he said, as well as giving people the option to use grilled chicken or beef instead of raw tuna.

Ideally, he wants to be near the new Mall at University Town Center when it opens Oct. 16, 2014, and is shooting for a fall 2014 opening himself.

"The University Parkway corridor is certainly one of the hottest parts in Florida as far as real estate now," Martin said. "There are lots of good spots around Tampa area and that's one of them."

Martin is also looking to open How Do You Roll in Estero at the Gulf Coast Town Center, in Naples at the Mercato shops and near University of South Florida's campus in Tampa.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Undercover Boss: Bradenton area Massage Heights employee receives $10,000

[Warning: this post contains spoilers. If you DVR’d this, turn away. If you missed Bradenton in "Undercover Boss" on Friday, you can read here and watch the Bradenton-only clips in lieu of fast forwarding.]

Bradenton was in the spotlight, at least for a few minutes, on national TV when “Undercover Boss” followed the journey of Massage Heights co-founder Shane Evans. The episode aired Friday on CBS.

Evans, disguised perhaps as an extra in “Hairspray,” visited four spas including one here in Manatee County. She met retreat director Tori Balzer, 21, who I talked to for a preview story that ran Friday. Above is a deleted scene provided by Undercover Boss with Tori and her boss.

Before I get into the meat of the segment, I have to point out how the location is introduced. The footage and the boss Evans calls it Bradenton, as the water tower is shown along with a shot of downtown and Twin Dolphin Marina in a blink-and-you-miss-it sequence.

Calling the area north of University Parkway as Bradenton is technically right. That’s what the post office recognizes with the 34239 ZIP code. I hear more people call it Sarasota though, but to set it apart from both cities, it’s University Park, named after the neighborhoods and developments that Benderson helped create around the area.

We hear Balzer say University Park, and the show’s news release says it, too. It’s just another example that nobody can agree what to call that area that’s not really Bradenton, Sarasota or Lakewood Ranch.

Now, to drop the cover off of the rest of the segment.

Compared to the rest of the episode, this one is relatively tame as the boss is doing basic backroom prep work. In Rockville, Md., she saw how she couldn’t massage all that well. In Houston, she was horrified that the company’s massage lotions weren’t being used on customers and in Jacksonville, her hands shook as she was attempting to do a facial.

Here in Manatee County, Balzer shared with Evans how she transferred to Florida from Michigan and became retreat director and didn’t receive the promised training, so she feels like she doesn’t know what she’s doing in all situations and has to call other retreat directors for help. 

Balzer appeared to have a good grasp on professionalism and customer service despite the struggles, encouraging Balzer to move along quickly with the prep work so they can help the massage therapists start on time and get guests checked in.

Checking guests out was a challenge though. The computer system crashed, which Balzer said happens too often, and customers had to wait longer than they should to pay and move on with their day. Good news is that Evans promised during the reveal that her company will invest in a brand new computer system for the retreat, and also said the systems do need updated.

As the lunch break starts, we meet Balzer’s boyfriend Alex who is picking them up for lunch. It turns out Alex used to work at Massage Heights for about two years and introduced Balzer to the company before they moved to Florida. Alex shares how they dated for three years, are going to get married and are considering going back to Michigan.

They ate at Square 1 Burgers & Bar in the same shopping center where some waterworks begin. Evans asked Balzer about her family and she becomes emotional, part homesick but really the thoughts are with her 43-year-old mother who is fighting health issues after being diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. 
She recently had heart surgery, Balzer said, and the cancer has been in remission for two years.

During the reveal, Balzer receives some great news. We also see Alex accompany Balzer at the reveal, which we typically don’t see boyfriends and spouses at these reveals in “Undercover Boss.” Balzer received some great marks from the boss.

“I was so impressed with you,” Evans told Balzer. “You were absolutely amazing.”

While setting in a Zen garden in Washington, D.C., Evans connects with Balzer’s family and her mother, and allows Balzer to transfer back to a Michigan Massage Heights, pay for expenses to get back home and to receive the proper training at corporate headquarters in San Antonio.

Oh yeah, the couple gets $10,000 to start a new life, and Balzer has some tears of joy.

 “I can’t wait to call my mom. I know she’s going cry. I know she wants me to have the experience, but I know she’s going  to be even more proud that I’m going to be coming home and that I can still stay with the company,” Balzer says to the camera.

How did other employees fare? One employee received $25,000 to pay off student loans, another employee inspired a new company hardship fund for employees and received $30,000 for being the first person to be part of the program. Another employee wanted to be a child psychologist because he was in child protective services when he was younger and was given $10,000 toward a college fund.

At the end, we find out that the family decided to stay in Florida, which isn’t a total surprise because I talked to Balzer on the phone from the University Park spa, but we didn’t know the rest of the story. She did get to go back to Michigan and visit her family since the episode aired in October. I hope in lieu of paying for expenses for moving back to Michigan that the company paid for her trip back to visit the family or provide help if they want a new home in Florida.

Scanning reader comments from my preview story, folks didn’t seem to be a fan of either Massage Heights or the episode itself. Some of the criticism included how the co-founder of a massage company never massaged anyone before, and wasn’t a licensed massage therapist and some thought she was self-centered instead of customer centered.

Several employees in the episode complained about low pay and being overworked, as they have one or two other part-time jobs to make ends meet. This is apparently a big issue in the massage therapist community. I received an email from a group called Licensed Massage Therapists Against Massage Envy and Like Franchises, with Massage Heights falling under that “like” category. The group also has a petition on Change.org.

The University Park Massage Heights was in the news previously for one of its employees. An employee, in 2010, who was terminated James Winters was charged for sexually battering a female customer. Winters entered a plea deal and was sentenced to 120 days in jail and two years of probation, which expired in March.
The employee was newly licensed at the time and the company did a background check on him, a former 

Massage Heights franchisee told the Herald at the time. His background check ought to have discovered a child abuse charge in 2009, which was later dropped.

What did you think of the episode and the company? Leave comments below.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bealls expands Leoma Lovegrove line

 The Leoma Lovegrove line is expanding at Bealls starting this month. Photos provided

I'm not an expert in ladies fashion, and barely passable for men's fashion, but I acknowledge that people follow Leoma Lovegrove and her Florida art.

So with that, Bealls Department Store, headquartered in Bradenton, announced that it is expanding the impressionist-expressionist painter's splashy, kitschy artwork into more products. You'll see her bright designs on Tervis tumblers, pillows, beach towels, koozies, handbags, children's apparel, luggage, and the list seems to go on.

The initial wave of merchandise will arrive in stores this month and the full line will come in January.

"Earlier this year we introduced the Leoma Lovegrove collection in our Ladies department with an assortment of fashion tops. Our customers responded with overwhelming enthusiasm, and we listened," said Lorna Nagler, president of Bealls in a in a news release.

Lovegrove lives on Matlatcha Island, a tiny piece of land between Pine Island and Cape Coral in Lee County and also likes to paint local life plus the local cat Fred, according to her clothing labels.

A sample shirt was sent to the Herald in a press skit, showing that the shirt retails for $36, is 100 percent polyester (it feels soft), and made in China. This particular shirt features flamingos with a sign that says "You've been Flocked." Ok, then.

I had reporter Janey Tate model the sample, and we found that because of the printing process on the shirt, as soon as the material is stretched, you will see white distressed lines that split the artwork. That might not be desirable for some shoppers while others will seek out that design.

For more information, visit www.leomalovegrove.com and www.beallsflorida.com.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bradenton's Joey D's Pizza expands to Sarasota

Joey D's Chicago Style Eatery & Pizzeria offer customers favorites like their Monsters of the Midway pizza, Cheesy Beef sub, Chilli-Cheese Fries and "Chicago Style" hot dog at their location at Cortez Road and 14th Street in Bradenton. The restaurant is now expanding to Sarasota off of Bee Ridge Road and I-75. File photo by Brian Blanco/Bradenton Herald

Longtime Bradenton deep-dish pizzeria Joey D's Chicago Style Eatery is now tossing pies in Sarasota.

The restaurant has been here since 2004, on the corner of Cortez and West 14th Street, operated by Chicago natives Bob and Maria Dennis, and Bob's brother Tommy Dennis. The restaurant moved here in 2004 after 10 years in Minneapolis.

Now, the Bradenton favorite is expanding, and announced via Facebook on Wednesday that they were going to have a soft opening later that night at their new location at 3811 Kenny Drive, off of Bee Ridge Road beside Interstate 75. The Sarasota location is also owned by Terry Gutowski, a Sarasota resident and native of Wausau, Wisc.

Joey D's is one of my favorites for making me miss visiting one of my favorite cities, Chicago, and being a hockey-loving establishment. Oh, and the food is great, too.

They named the restaurant after their hockey playing son Joey, who battled a rare disease called Cockayne Syndrome until he passed away at age 32. The effects of the genetic disease cause difficulty gaining weight, short stature, premature aging and impaired nervous system. He was only expected to survive until he was 12, but fought on for another 20 years.

I'll update with more information in Monday's paper. Any Bradenton Joey D's fans going to check out the Sarasota location? Let me know, and if you have, drop me a note in the comments.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ryder Bikes opens new store in University Park

Ryder Bike's mechanic Matt Holland smiles as he test rides a Trek Pure comfort bike around the store after some mechanical adjustments in the Cortez Road store. The owners, who have a shop in Sarasota, have opened a new store on University Parkway. File Photo by TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald

Ryder Bikes’ new location in the Market at University Town Center is now open.

Ryder Bikes, with locations at 1905 Cortez Road and in Burns Square in Sarasota, opened its third location on Friday at 5275 University Parkway, Unit 135. The locally owned shop documented the space's transformation into a bike store on its Facebook page, and after a mad dash, managed to open on Black Friday.

The full-service bike shop carries high-end road, hybrid and casual cruiser bikes, clothing and accessories and also organizes rides. The first store opened in 1972 in Bradenton and was acquired in 2007 by current owners Paul and Karen Tobio. Ryder was named one of America’s Best Bike Shops in 2013 rated by the National Bicycle Dealers Association.

When I first spoke with Paul Tobio in July when the lease was signed, he shared that he wanted to be in the University Park/Lakewood Ranch area for awhile:
"When we bought the store on Cortez Road in March of 2007, we actually live in Lakewood Ranch and our thought was opening a store in Lakewood Ranch," he said.
Instead they found an available site in Sarasota, two years after opening their Bradenton store.
Over that time, Tobio analyzed his customer's data and saw a good percentage of his customer base was driving from East Manatee to both his Sarasota store in the Burns Square neighborhood and to the Bradenton store at 1905 Cortez Road. The time to go ahead with the new store was right, he said.

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2013/07/03/4593759/ryder-bikes-coming-to-university.html#storylink=cpy

Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

For information, call 941-351-0000 or visit www.ryderbikes.com and Facebook.com/RyderBikesUniversityPark.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Top Bradenton, Manatee Job Success Stories of 2013

From left, futurist Jack Uldrich, Bradenton Area EDC President Sharon Hillstrom and EDC Chairman Jack Rice. Photo provided by  Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

The business community turned out Thursday night for the annual Bradenton Area Economic Development update and a night of back patting. There was a lot of well deserved pride in the room.

You've already heard about most of it, too, and probably read the success stories in the Bradenton Herald.

The keynote speaker Jack Uldrich, shown above, gave some simple but powerful advice on business trends: think exponentially. Uldrich, speaking at the event held at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto, specializes in forecasting trends, and gives himself the fancy title of futurist. Essentially, when looking at new and emerging technologies, think about and create adaptive uses for your industry to build disruptive technology. For instance, how to use nanotechnology to charge an electric car in minutes.

Here are some of the top stories on bringing jobs to Manatee County this year and those who have managed to think big and bring big jobs with them:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

PlayStation 4 could cost $553 in Kmart rent-to-own program

Kmart shoppers file into the Bradenton store at 
6 a.m. on Thanksgiving in 2011.
 (File Photo by Paul Videla/Bradenton Herald)
Kmart is going to start offering a rent-to-own program for merchandise in time for the holiday shopping season, making the retailer function like a Rent-A-Center or Aaron's.

Kmart announced that it is partnering with Whynot Leasing, LLC, to start a rent-to-own program nationwide starting Nov. 22 to let customers take home merchandise now and pay as they go, including doorbuster specials on Black Friday.

But yes, there is a catch. And despite the no-credit requirement, you're essentially being screened as if you're being checked for credit.
Thanks to interest charges, this means that $400 PlayStation 4 I wrote about in today's Herald, could cost $553, which also includes a balloon payment at the end of the lease.

Here are the details of the program:

  • Merchandise has to cost $150 
  • Eligible merchandise includes home appliances, mattresses, ready-to-assemble furniture, lawn and garden equipment, consumer electronics, seasonal toys, sporting goods and service plans. 
  • Merchandise is brand-new and not refurbished 
  • You must be 18 years old or older 
  • Have to make $1,000 or more a month 
  • Have a social security number or tax identification number when applying 
  • First payment made at store, then electronic monthly or bi-weekly payments 
  • After five months, lease can be bought out 
  • A balloon payment/lease premium is charged at the end of the lease 
About that interest--it's based on the price plus the length of the lease. Here's an example from a Kmart spokeswoman of how the charges could break down for a $400 product:

  • $400 (or a combination of items totaling $400) looks like 
  • 10 bi-weekly payments of $33 over 5 months = $330 
  • Balance owed PLUS Lease premium at the end of 5 months = $220 
  • Total cost to own = $553 
The lesson here is if you're impatient, it will cost you. And if you want to avoid excessive interest charges, make higher payments or more frequent payments.

Layaway option

Layaway is still offered without service fees at both Kmart and its sister store Sears for a limited time, but the waived fee promotion ends before the Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales. A non-refundable cancellation fee applies.

At Kmart, free holiday layaway is valid on new layaways through Nov. 23 and a 12-week layaway option is available for purchases $300 and more. Sears layaway has the same terms, except the 12-week layaway has to be for purchases $400 and more. After that, the fees will apply, and a deadline for layaways with seasonal merchandise (like ornaments, trees) are typically during the first week of December.

Holiday Hours

Kmart is opening earlier than most stores on Thanksgiving by opening at 6 a.m., and will not close until 11 p.m. on Black Friday. Sears will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving and close at 10 p.m. on Black Friday. The doorbuster deals will be available until 1 p.m. on Black Friday.

That's 41 hours straight of shopping at Kmart. Goodbye, Macy's Day Parade.

Manatee County Kmart and Sears locations

Kmart, 7350 Manatee Ave W, Bradenton

Kmart, 6126 U.S. 301, Ellenton

Sears, DeSoto Square Mall, 303 US 301 Blvd, Bradenton

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ellenton Premium Outlets Black Friday Deals

Stores at the Ellenton Premium Outlets will be open Thanksgiving night again this year to get a jump start on Black Friday specials. (2011 File photo/Bradenton Herald)

Stores at the Ellenton Premium Outlets are already rolling out their Black Friday deals, and I'm here to help guide you through some of the highlights.

As with last year, some stores are opening as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, which falls on Nov. 28 this year, and a smaller bunch at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., before the Midnight Madness begins. The outlets are located off of US 301 and 60th Ave. E at 5461 Factory Shops Blvd.

The best deals I've found so far include some freebies, cheap underwear, and heavily discounted jackets, boots and handbags.

For those looking for some fresh skivvies, Jockey is offering $10 door busters and HanesBrands is offering 50 percent off any one item. Le Creuser is giving away a free kitchen tool for the first 100 customers who buy something on Thanksgiving through 8 a.m. Black Friday, but who are they kidding -- those tools will be gone in the first two hours.

Wilson's Leather is giving customers 60 percent off the entire store plus 30 percent off your entire purchase, making winter jackets, wallets and iPhone cases an attractive option this season. U.S. Polo Assn., also has some great deals for polos under $10, sweaters for under $20 and sportshirts and blouses for under $16.

And finally for the feet, Naturalizer is giving 50 percent off boots on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

(For Ellenton Premium Outlet's Black Friday hours read this entry.)

Here are some of the offers posted by stores on the Ellenton Premium Outlets website. Many of the stores not listed here have specials running throughout the month and some into December:

Nov 27 - Dec 1
Take 25% off your entire purchase and take advantage of Doorbuster specials - select styles marked down*
*Cannot be combined with any other offer, coupon or promotion. See store for details.

Calvin Klein
Nov 28 - 29 (until 2am)
Take an additional 15% off 
2am-10am: Take an additional 10% off
Entire Store 10% - 60% off 

Dooney & Bourke
Nov 28
Exclusive Lexington Shopper $99 
Nov 29
50% off the entire store plus the Exclusive Lexington Shopper $99 

Fragrance Outlet
Nov 28 - Dec 1
Free Fragrance with any purchase of $50 or more 

Nov 28 - 29 (until 10 a.m.)
50% off ticketed price of any one item 
One offer per customer, one visit only. Not valid on Gift Card, internet or catalog purchases, previously purchased merchandise or in conjunction with a full Rewards Card or Birthday discount. Not redeemable for cash or cash back. Not valid in conjunction with HBI employee discount or in conjunction with any other coupon offer or promotion. Not redeemable for cash or cash back. Coupon cannot be doubled.

Nov 28 - Dec 1
$10 Door Buster Deals Plus, 40% off Entire Store*
*Door busters valid while supplies last and from available stock. 40% offer excludes clearance and Jockey bra styles 6701-6705. 

Le Creuset
Nov 28 - 29 (until 8 a.m.)
Save 30% Off Entire Purchase plus a Free Kitchen Tool for the first 100 customers who make a purchase* 
*Offer cannot be combined with any other discount or sale price. Some new items may be excluded from discount. Offer not valid towards purchase of gift cards. Free Kitchen Tool offer is available while quantities last.

Nov 28 - 29
All Handbags 50% off original price 
All Boots 50% off original price

Nov 28 - Dec 1
50% off entire store

Nov 27 - Dec 1
$20 gift card with your purchase of $100
All Reebok Footwear Buy one, get one for $19.99 Some exclusions may apply
50% off men's and women's sweats and fleece
$9.95 Men's Long Sleeve Tees
$9.95 Women's Body Wear Bra Tops and Tanks
50-60% off All Apparel Clearance
Buy one, get one Free on All Hats and Bags

Tommy Hilfiger and Tommy Hilfiger Kids
Nov 29 - Dec 1
40% - 60% off Entire Store all Weekend*
*See in store for full details.

U.S. Polo Assn.
Nov 28 (6 p.m.) - Nov 29 (1 p.m.)
Huge Selection of Men's and Women's Polo Shirts - $9.60
All Men's and Women's Sportshirts and Blouses - $15.99
All Men's and Women's Sweaters - Now $19.99
All Men's and Women's Outerwear - Now $23.99
Entire Store 20% - 75% Off 

Wilsons Leather
Nov 28 - 29
Take 60% Off the Entire Store Plus an Additional 30% Off Your Entire Purchase 

Black Friday 2013: 67 Ellenton outlet stores to open for Thanksgiving

Ellenton Premium Outlets returns with its Thanksgiving and Midnight Madness sales this year. (File photo/Bradenton Herald)

The newfangled tradition of Thanksgiving day sales and midnight sales return this holiday season, and as much fuss as people make about stores being open on turkey day, shoppers still turn out.

Ellenton Premium Outlets, 5461 Factory Shops Blvd., is capitalizing on Thanksgiving sales again with a good selection of stores opening at 8 p.m., 9 p.m., and 10 p.m. (Complete list below.) Those sales feed into the annual Midnight Madness frenzy for Black Friday, where stores will stay open until 10 p.m. The following day stores will open at 8 a.m. and close at 10 p.m., and on Sunday stores will have extended hours from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Fifty-one stores will be open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving, and 67 stores overall will be open before midnight this year so far -- more could be joining the list. The outlets had 76 stores open on Thanksgiving in 2012, and 55 stores in 2011.

The good news is that Starbucks, Hershey's Ice Cream, Kilwin's and Lindt Chocolate will be opening at 8 p.m. so shoppers can refuel between emptying their wallets.

Heck, why save the shopping rush for Thanksgiving? The outlets now have a Thanksgiving Eve sale on Nov. 27 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The outlets have some new additions for shoppers to peruse this year, too. Vera Bradley opened its third Florida outlet here in Ellenton last week, located on Alligator Court near Kenneth Cole. Crystal jewelry company Swarovski is also new, and Hot Topic will open Nov. 20.

(For Black Friday specials at the Ellenton Premium Outlets, check out this entry.)

After the football game and third serving of turkey, here are your early (late?) bird openings:

8 p.m.: Adidas, American Eagle Outfitters, Banana Republic, Bath & Body Works, Calvin Klein, The Children's Place, Coach, Coach Men's, Cole Haan, Converse, DKNY, Dooney & Bourke, Elizabeth Arden, Florsheim, Fossil, Go! Calendar & Games, Gymboree, Haggar Clothing Co., Hartstrings, Hershey's Ice Cream, Jockey, Jones New York, Justice, Kate Spade, New York, Kenneth Cole, Kilwin's Chocolate Fudge Ice Cream, Kitchen Collection, Lane Bryant, Le Creuset, Lindt Chocolate, Lucky Brand, Michael Kors, New York & Company, Nike, Nine West, Perry Ellis, Polo Ralph Lauren, Quiksilver, Rack Room Shoes, Samsonite, SeikoSkechers, Soma Intimates, Starbucks Coffee, Tommy Hilfiger, TravelPro, U.S. Polo Assn., VF, Vitamin World, Vittles, Zales.

9 p.m. Corningware, Corelle & More, Lacoste, Under Armour, Vans 

10 p.m. Bose, Brooks Brothers, The Cosmetic Company, Store Designer Fragrances & Cosmetic Co. - Lancome, Dr. Scholl's Shoes, Gap, Guess, HanesBrands, J.Crew, Naturalizer, Time Factory, Wilsons Leather 

Here are the rest of the holiday hours from Ellenton outlets:

Holiday HoursMon, Dec 2 - Mon, Dec 23Mon - Sat: 9am-9pm, Sun: 10am-7pm Christmas Eve: Tues, Dec 249am-8pm Christmas Day: Wed, Dec 25Closed After-Holiday Sales: Thu, Dec 26 - Thu, Jan 2Thu, Dec 26: 7am-9pmFri, Dec 27: 9am-9pmSat, Dec 28: 9am-9pmSun, Dec 29: 10am-7pmMon, Dec 30: 9am-9pm New Year's Eve: Tues, Dec 319am-6pm New Year's Day: Wed, Jan 110am-9pm

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

R.J. Gator's of Bradenton sets opening date

R.J. Gator's of Bradenton has an updated exterior as it gets ready to launch for its re-opening on Nov. 18 Photo by Charles Schelle/Bradenton Herald

R.J. Gator's Florida Sea Grill & Bar, one of the most anticipated restaurant revivals in Bradenton in a long time, will be ready to open on Nov. 18.

The return of the restaurant is certainly creating buzz in the community, owner Mike Parry said Tuesday while inside the restaurant. The restaurant, 6100 Cortez Road, is now hiring and already has more than 300 applicants for 75 open jobs, he said. (No job interviews will be done this Friday or on Sundays.)

Parry, along with his wife Darla, and kids, are making a go of the restaurant. I detailed their journey in July. Parry is the original proprietor of the restaurant and acquired the rights to open up R.J. Gator's once again. The only other surviving R.J. Gator's are in The Villages and Hurst, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth.

Here is some background on Parry and Gator's from my July post:

"I always dreamed of having it back," says Mike Parry, the original proprietor of the Bradenton location. "I was never able to live it down. I honestly haven't gone two days without running into someone who was a guest, someone who worked here that said 'I miss R. J. Gator's.' I'm thinking it could possibly be a bigger hit than what it was before with this second coming."
The Jupiter-based chain started in 1986 with locations primarily on Florida's Treasure Coast. Through expansion, locations included several along the Gulf Coast, as well as in North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania and Louisiana with a total of about 30 restaurants. But the company went into bankruptcy and closed all corporate-owned restaurants in 2008.

During a visit to the restaurant Tuesday, a lot of work had been done to the restaurant, most notably to the exterior. At the same time,  the Parrys have a lot more work to do to get the dining room ready for opening day.

During a visit to the restaurant Tuesday, a lot of work has been done to the space, most notably the exterior. At the same time, the Parrys have a long way to go to get the dining room ready for opening da
The exterior now has a nice Everglade-type green replacing the faded coral blue. Workers were preparing two large postcard placards for the front of the building with one saying "Bradenton" and the other "Everglades."

Inside is still mainly dark, but progress can be seen on the bar, which had to be rebuilt after vandals broke through the ceiling above while the restaurant was vacant. The seating, lighting and accessories are still being worked on, and Parry is in the midst of getting his 21 HDTVs in order to hang.

The restaurant will keep its fans updated now that Gator's has a Facebook fan page. The page was just launched Sunday night and has more than 400 fans as of Wednesday afternoon. Visit R.J. Gator's of Bradenton on Facebook here.

What are you most looking forward to about R.J. Gator's re-opening? Leave your comments below.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hot Topic to open store at Ellenton Premium Outlets

Hot Topic, the popular rock and pop culture store for teens and young adults, is set to open a store at Ellenton Premium Outlets on Nov. 20.

The space inside the outlet center is already being transformed it into a Hot Topic. You'll find plenty of rock and alternative pop culture merchandise in Hot Topic, whether it's a Mumford & Sons tee, or 20th anniversary hoodies for the Nightmare Before Christmas.

The Ellenton Hot Topic will be only the second Hot Topic outlet store in Florida, according to the company's website. 

Hot Topic also has a location inside the DeSoto Square Mall, where Natasha Denofa is a manager. Denofa will transfer to the Ellenton location as store manager, and the DeSoto location will remain open, she said.

The outlet store will have a larger clearance section and will be in a larger space than the DeSoto store, she said, but will carry all the familiar merchandise shoppers will find at Hot Topic.

Monday, October 21, 2013

SRQ Air Canada flights going rouge

Air Canada rouge will be offered seasonally at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport starting this season. Photo courtesy of Air Canada

Flights from Sarasota-Bradenton to Toronto will be looking a little different when Air Canada will switch its service to its new Air Canada rouge brand.

The Canadian air carrier launched the lowercase flag July 1 as more of a hip, trendier version of Air Canada, carrying about 140 passengers on its A319 in Sarasota-Bradenton.

The carrier will make the switch at Sarasota-Bradenton International airport this season, said Mark Stuckey, vice president of special projects and development at SRQ. Essentially, Rouge takes out the first class cabin to add 20 more seats to fit in more passengers. The cabins have new seats and interior, too.

The in-flight entertainment will be the most noticeable difference. Rouge is offering an in-flight streaming wireless entertainment system called player for $5 unlimited service per flight that can be accessed through a smartphone and tablet app. Forgot your iPad or don't have one? Rent one for $10. Premium members get additional services for free or at a discounted price.

Air Canada rouge winter/spring daily flights are between SRQ and Toronto for now. The airport is also in talks with Calgary-based carrier WestJet for flights to other Canadian cities including Montreal, Stuckey said.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Starbucks Rewards adds Teavana benefits

Starbucks is expanding its rewards programs to allow people to redeem points for bottled water, juices in addition to food and coffee. Above, the display case  of food at the East Manatee Starbucks off of S.R. 64 and Interstate 75. CHARLES SCHELLE/Bradenton Herald

The over-caffeinated Manatee County residents will have some reasons to rejoice with Starbucks added benefits the Seattle-based company announced today.

Starbucks Rewards, the chain's loyalty program, sent an email to members today announcing they are beefing up its redemption items. Here's the skinny from Starbucks:

"• You can now redeem your rewards for bottled drinks, including Evolution Fresh™ juices, as well as for handcrafted beverages, brewed coffee and food items* at participating Starbucks® stores.
 • Rewards are also redeemable at participating Teavana® specialty tea stores for beverages or loose-leaf tea.
• In addition to your free birthday reward, you now get a 15% off coupon** at StarbucksStore.com to make your special day even better."

It's great to hear that you can grab a juice or water to rehydrate and an extra birthday coupon is savvy to buy that touristy mug you wanted at the airport (guilty).

The benefit to watch for local residents is the Teavana offer. Starbucks closed on a deal earlier this year to buy the tea store for a cool $620 million, and the stores are coming to more locations. Teavana has locations in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Brandon including Taubman's malls International Plaza plus Mall at Millenia in Orlando. You'll find loose leaf teas brewed on the spot and the tins of tealeaves for sell, but the stores are also savvy at selling the high-end loose leaf teapots.

The Mall at University Town Center certainly fits the Teavana profile being in similar upscale malls. The Mall at UTC, being leased by Michigan-based Taubman, is due to open Oct. 16, 2014.

I reached out to Teavana for comment to see if they are ready to announce coming to the mall. We'll find out soon enough even if the store declines.

If Teavana does come to the mall, at least you'll rack up enough points by then at the numerous Starbucks in Manatee-Sarasota to earn a free tea.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Department of Housing and Urban Development has linked to parody HUDNews tweets since 2011

Since July 2011, nearly every U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development news release has contained a link to the @HUDNews Twitter account, but the account is a parody. The account also appears to have been active since Sept. 18. Screenshot via Twitter

Update 7:10 p.m.: It appears that I caught the attention of the parody account, but nothing from HUD so far.

@HUDNews sent out a reply to me at 6:39 p.m., though the timestamp before I signed in showed at 3:39 p.m., possibly meaning that the person behind this is on the West Coast.

The first @HUDNews reply read:  " you all witness to affirmative action in action!"
The second tweet was Bradenton Housing Authority related probably just to get my attention, and it just doesn't make any sense at all given the situation here:

"Way to get whitie Bradenton Housing Authority! Keep suing the crackers. Just tell the dumb cops you were seeking reparations for slavery!"

Earlier: After diving into the challenges and dysfunction of the Bradenton Housing Authority, I didn't think it could get any worse until I visited the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development online newsroom.

The federal agency provides millions of dollars to the Bradenton non-profit to offer affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods. Poverty is not a situation to poke fun at, but someone who has an ax to grind against HUD thought it would be hilarious to make fun of  people who need help.

Since July 14, 2011, nearly every HUD news release includes a closing pitch line to tell the public and the news media to follow HUD on Twitter @HUDNews. The problem is that HUD's verified Twitter account is @HUDgov. It's not just that the parody account is linked in hundreds of news releases over the past two years, it's that it's spelled out to tell people to visit HUDNews:

HUDgov's latest tweet on Oct. 1 said that the account would be inactive for awhile because of the federal government shutdown and that they wouldn't be answering questions either. 

The parody account is full of racist tweets and photos. What's more interesting is that the Twitter account appears to be created on Sept. 18 and has only sent 70 tweets, making it seem like maybe this is a hack job and not some intern who thought he or she would be funny or get back at the boss or Congress.

The first tweet on Sept. 18, the day before HUD seized documents at Bradenton Housing Authority offices, told people to get a free HUD attorney and sue mean white people to get money. Let me be clear that I doubt the two are connected. It's just weird that the dates are close, but probably more weird that this was near the deadline of the Oct. 1 federal government shutdown.

The National Weather Service's Anchorage, Alaska, office was a bit more cheeky when someone there sent out a coded message that read "Please Pay Us." The HUD one isn't even a cruel prank. It's just downright disrespectful.

Most tweets sought to stereotype residents living in housing authority neighborhoods including one of a picture of black people with arrows drawn accompanied by the tweet:

 "Another chaotic scene erupted at the Taylor Services when the crowd waiting for Section 8 housing vouchers got rowdy. " 

I put out a call to HUD spokesman Jerry Brown in hopes for an explanation, but I'm sure he has more things to worry about and questions to answer about what's happening in Washington and perhaps in Bradenton, too. 

I'm eagerly awaiting a news release from HUD or the Office of Inspector General to tell us the result of the raid on the Bradenton Housing Authority. Until then, it appears that both HUD and BHA have some embarrassment to deal with.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bradenton Evie's opens on 53rd Avenue

Evie's Tavern & Grill is now open at 3561 53rd Ave W. Photo by Charles Schelle/Bradenton Herald
Despite "Coming Soon" on the marquee, Evie's Tavern & Grill is now open at 3561 53rd Ave. W, in Bradenton.
The bar and grill opened Thursday for business and throughout opening weekend is offering 25 percent off of food. If you can't make it out opening weekend, Evie's offers 50-cent jumbo wings on Tuesdays, $8 18-inch pizza on Wednesdays and $5 burgers on Thursdays.
Owner Michael Evanoff told me in August that he's gearing the bar and grill toward staff at area businesses and the college students at SCF and IMG Academy:
"We're focusing on more of a family atmosphere, trying to get people from IMG, the high school and college to come to this location," Evanoff told the Herald.

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2013/08/22/4674708/evies-tavern-to-open-bradenton.html#storylink=cpy
You'll find sandwiches, burgers, wraps and pizza on the menu, a couple pool tables and plenty of screens to catch the game. The full-service liquor bar features 19 taps with a rotation of craft brews. One relatively uncommon brew spotted on tap Friday is Duke's Cold Nose Brown Ale by Bold City Brewery in Jacksonville.
Evie's will be open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sundays-Tuesdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, he said. The popular happy hour from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. also will come to the Bradenton location featuring $2 Bud and Bud Light bottles. The location also offers take-out orders through a separate entrance.
The original Evie's started in 1997 on Bee Ridge Road with a golf driving range, expanding to a car wash, mini-golf course and more. This will mark Evie's seventh location and the third in Manatee County. Other Manatee Evie's includes Evie's Pizzeria on University, 5897 Whitfield Ave., and Evie's Tavern in Ellenton, 5955 Factory Shops Blvd., near the Ellenton Premium Outlets.
And to put a longstanding mispronunciation to rest by some, it's Evv-vie's and not Eee-vie's, thanks to the owner's last name Evanoff. Count me among the guilty.

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2013/08/22/4674708/evies-tavern-to-open-bradenton.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2013/08/22/4674708/evies-tavern-to-open-bradenton.html#storylink=cpy

Monday, September 16, 2013

PDQ chicken joint could come to Manatee pretty darn quick.

It’s no secret that PDQ will be coming to Manatee County. Where and when the Tampa-based restaurant will open here is the secret. Kind of.

PDQ, which stands for People Dedicated to Quality, wants to have multiple locations in the Manatee-Sarasota area, said PDQ spokesman Jeff Kamis during a test run of the newly opened PDQ in South Sarasota, 5164 S. Tamiami Trail.

The chicken chain nearly bought the former Checkers building , 505 1st St., that was put up for sale by Manatee County Schools, but backed out early in the process due to access issues. That parcel has since been sold to Route 32 Investments, a mystery of its own for the time being.

Ten acres is a lot for a fast-casual chicken joint. The Sarasota site is so small in comparison, the site is measured in square feet (66,989). Maybe they’ll go ahead and put a chicken coop behind it with all that space (kidding!).

For now, PDQ’s parent company MVP Holdings is non-committal about what is going in East Manatee. Kamis previously told me out of the possibilities, which includes PDQ and Lee Roy Selmon’s, could make way for a new retail concept. He didn’t have anything new to offer last week either. I doubt a Lee Roy Selmon's could open there given one is located off of the University Parkway exit.

But with the restaurant sniffing around, it was worth making the drive to see what PDQ is all about. And if you’re one of those foodies who like to be in the know, go ahead and take the drive down to Sarasota if you haven’t been to a PDQ north of the Sunshine Skyway.

During a visit with a colleague, we partook in a friends/family event that helps restaurants give out food to provide a stress test to get ready for a grand opening.

Serving chicken sandwiches and chicken tenders in a fast food setting inevitably brings up Chick-fil-a comparisons. Kamis said that’s not entirely accurate. Chick-fil-a is built on drive-thru service, while PDQ markets itself as fast-casual, similar to Chipotle and Panera Bread.

You will find a drive-thru at PDQ, but no speaker box. Just drive up and talk to someone face-to-face to put in your order and have your food delivered.

Another difference is the food prep. Your basic choices are grilled or fried chicken sandwiches, tenders or salads, in addition to sides and shakes. The chicken is battered as you order it, and the sauces are made from scratch each day.

What I noticed driving to PDQ is how large the place is from the road. This doesn’t look like an everyday fast-food restaurant with the large windows, misters blowing on the patio and comfortable seating.
The amount of windows in the restaurant is more noticeable during sunsets. Once the sun goes down, the dining room gets dark, but more of like for intimate dinner dining—you can still see your food. They won’t flick a switch and make the place bright as can be.

Hand washing is an interesting touch. The sink is located outside of the restrooms for all to use. I kind of like that because it will publicly shame all those who didn’t wash their hands because you can see who walks by the sink coming out of the restroom.

Oh, the food. The chicken is juicy and the sandwiches are built from the top-down. The toppings are on the bottom and the chicken is on top. One employee explained to me that it’s designed that way to hold the chicken in better. He was right, and I immediately thought why nobody else does this. I’ve been a victim of chicken slippage at other restaurants. The lettuce gets soaked by the juices, maybe the mayonnaise aides, but as I squeeze the bun, the chicken slips out. I haven’t had that experience at PDQ yet.

The fries are similar to the Steak ‘n Shake string fries, but were a tad soggy instead of crisp and dry. This might be due to the kitchen having to endlessly churn out food for the masses who showed up for the event. The green and sweet tea were a bit off, too, during that visit. A visit to a St. Pete PDQ recently yielded much better taste on the sweet tea.

During another visit, I decided to opt for the crispy chicken salad. It’s a standard salad with cucumber, but I wish I was asked what kind of sauce I wanted. The default sauce is the honey mustard for the salad. Having seven home-made sauces should be emphasized for each of the menu items, really, and not just the chicken tenders. I wanted to try the Buffalo Bleu, but the honey mustard did a fine job as a substitution by default. The Sweet Heat is a good one to try on sandwiches, too. It’s kind of like a sweet-and-sour sauce without the sour.

Until PDQ comes to Manatee, which is only a matter of time, Sarasota would be the closest option for me. And judging by the crowds at the Sarasota location, I could imagine that a new location would be coming pretty darn quick.

PDQ, 5164 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, is open seven days a week, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. For more, visit eatpdq.com.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Gator a-go-go

Certain restaurants need a hook to bring in tourists through the doors while needing the locals to funnel through to keep the cash registers ringing through the summer.

One of the best hooks for restaurants in Florida is an Everglades or gator theme. A recent story I wrote on the revival of the local R.J. Gator's Florida Sea Grill & Bar showed that formula works. The restaurant only closed its doors because of bad corporate structure that also tied the Bradenton restaurant as collateral to a Sarasota location that closed its doors. Linger Lodge in East Manatee has this concept down, still attracting people who want a taste of Old Florida, and even getting national recognition on Travel Channel for the food and concept.

So, digging through the restaurant photos I was sure to find some other gator-themed restaurants. I submit to you, Florida Crackers.

This Bradenton Herald archive photo shows owner Jim White on Aug. 16, 1990 with "Al" the alligator who appears to have consumed a giant hoagie that got stuck.

Much like R.J. Gator's, this restaurant plays up for an Old Florida theme, especially with the Florida Cracker name, a nod to the cows and cowboys of old. Plus each restaurant has their own gator mascot. R.J. Gator's gator, Big Jake, is more realistic, looking like a work of taxidermy even though it's a large plastic replica. Big Jake hangs inside the restaurant and isn't to be confused with the cartoon character that serves as its mascot.

Al? He looks like a mix between a papier mache project and a friend for E.T. And that snout looks like it could hook horns with a steer.

I couldn't find anything in our newsroom library or online about this restaurant, or Al. Contribute below if you remember something about Florida Crackers.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Wonders of Wagon Ho

I'm humbled by the response for little ole' Wagon Ho. 

We decided to share the story with the "If you grew up in Bradenton, FL, you remember" Facebook group, and it resulted in 145 likes from the group, another 80 Recommends on the site and a deluge of Facebook comments that provided some insight on the restaurant. The column was the second most-read story on Bradenton.com Wednesday, too.

I'm also surprised how much people can go back and forth over whether the restaurant turned into an Arby's, and the consensus appears to be no.

Here's one gem that shed some light via Facebook from a former Wagon Ho employee:

Joyce Alderman Fulghum I was one of the first employees when WAGON HO opened. the big guy on top was Big Paul. I was there from start to finish. It was never arbys ...The dodge place took over the lot with the wagon then tore it down when remodeled, it was my understanding Paul was sold or donated to someone.
A letter via email from Pastor Bill Straitwell gave a fascinating look at the construction of Wagon Ho, plus an inspiration to find of photo of Kenny Rogers Roasters, which blows my mind that there was one in Bradenton. I don't know if I've ever seen one in person. My exposure to the restaurant was limited to an episode of Seinfeld.

Here's Pastor Bill on the Wagon:

Hello Chuck,
My wife and I have lived in the Bradenton area for the past 23 years, and our first house in the area was in Bayshore Gardens, which is not too far from the old Wagon Ho.  While we have never been inside the building, I can speculate what the inside looked like.  The Conestoga portion of the building was built by Seaman Corp. located on Whitfield Ave.  I worked as a supervisor there when I first moved into the area.  Seaman is no longer there, but their headquarters in Wooster, Ohio. Seaman built large buildings shaped somewhat like the Wagon Ho, but considerably larger in size.  Many of the buildings were built for the military at the start of the Gulf War. Hopefully I have added some insight into your fine article.  (Did you know that across the street was a Kenny Rogers Roasters Restaurant, which featured roasted and delicious chicken?)  I believe it was roughly by the present day Hooter’s. Blessings, Pastor Bill Straitwell