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.