Bodega and cantina bringing variety to downtown area
Published: Sunday, August 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 6:36 p.m.
Owners of existing downtown businesses are bringing more variety to the neighborhood this fall with the opening this past week of a New York-style bodega — a corner store with a little bit of everything — and plans for a Brazilian tapas restaurant.
The owners of The Top restaurant and other nearby businesses opened the Pop-A-Top Corner Store and Downtown Bodega on Monday in the old Soul Train clothing store at 2 E. University Ave., while the owners of 101 Downtown plan to open Samba Cantina Brazilian Tapas Bar in about six weeks in the old Ichiban Sushi site at 15 SE First Ave.
Other changes downtown include: Randy Batista Photography moving out while Philadelphia-based branding agency 160over90 moves in Sept. 1; the July closing of Havana's Downtown Cigars in the retail space on the first floor of the Hampton Inn building; while a small Alabama-based chain called Five Bar plans to open in October in the former Lasso's Steakhouse site at 104 S. Main St.
The downtown economic cycle typically sees struggling businesses close during the summer lull and new businesses open for the fall semester. However, the number of closed businesses is less than in other recent years, and Ryan Prodesky of 101 Management Group said that might be because of more customers coming downtown.
"I think the climate's changed a bit where people are more willing to come downtown and support their local restaurants," said Prodesky, vice president of marketing. "We see a lot of visitors from the west side, from Haile and areas like that, so there's been a lot of good local support and a lot of support from the business community coming out as well."
101 Management is the group behind downtown businesses 101 Downtown, Simons nightclub, Cellar 12 and Gainesville Catering, as well as the restaurant 101 Cantina north of the UF campus.
The group is shooting for a late September or early October opening of Samba Cantina. Prodesky described it as 101's take on a Brazilian churascaria, where instead of cutting meat from a skewer at the table they will serve smaller, more affordable portions.
He said the 101 group sees potential in continuing growth downtown with the expansion of Innovation Square between downtown and campus. "We're excited that downtown is transforming into an arts, entertainment and restaurant district, which is why we continue to do projects in the downtown area," he said.
Pop-A-Top is owned by Scott Shillington and Hal Mendez, who also own The Top, The Atlantic Nightspot and The Wooly event space in the Main Street block north of University Avenue.
Pop-A-Top features sandwiches and salads from The Wooly, baked goods from The Top, coffee, soft-serve vegan ice cream, craft beer, wine and liquor, about a dozen brands of root beer, Mexican cane syrup sodas and regular sodas, snacks, newspapers, pinatas, toilet paper, sunblock, guitar strings and drum sticks, frozen dinners, motor oil and cigarettes, among other items. Patrons can eat at the counters by the window or in the back.
Andrew Seward, who manages the store with Geoff Humphreys, said the owners got the inspiration for the store during a trip to Brooklyn.
"They basically fell in love with the bodegas up there — the New York corner stores — and they brought the idea back to Gainesville," Seward said.
Downtown business and property owner Billy Scheel said sales are up at the several downtown restaurants he has a hand in, including Vello's and Mark's Prime. He and his brother, Lee Scheel, closed the cigar shop after a year because he said Lee wanted to return to the construction business now that it's picking up again and the store was just breaking even.
Scheel said he is now trying to find a tenant to fill the spot and is negotiating with a business interested in filling the former Glamour On the Go location, also under the Hampton Inn.