Tampa Bay As An International Dining Destination

Apr 23, 2019

These are exciting times for eating out in Tampa Bay. Our cuisine is getting better and more varied and starting to draw national attention.


Florida Matters hosted a taping in front of a live audience earlier this year at the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs at USF St. Petersburg. The topic: Tampa Bay as an international dining destination.

We aired highlights from the panel discussion and audience Q&A on WUSF 89.7 and are re-visiting that episode this week.

Host Robin Sussingham spoke with panelists about how much the dining scene has changed in the past few decades. It has grown to include cuisines from almost every continent, with independent restaurants often favored over chains.

Guests include: 

Laura Reiley, former restaurant critic with the Tampa Bay Times. Reiley recently started a new position with the Washington Post.

"15 years ago, this area was a proving ground for chain concepts. We had just the right demographics of slightly gastronomically-timid, older white people. We were like, 'If it plays in Peoria,' we were Peoria.

"And I think it's remarkable how that's not the case now, how demographically we've changed and how much we've broadened."

Janet Keeler, journalism instructor at USF St. Petersburg and former Tampa Bay Times food editor.

"Shout out to the millenials who want to try new things. That's changed a lot of the way we eat and what's going on out there. They are looking for stories, and I think the story of Outback, the story of Applebee's, the story of Chili's -- not that interesting.

"So these smaller independent restaurants, they have a story. The chef has a story, they (millenials) read about his or her story and so that's of interest to them and I think that's helped the growth of independent restaurants."

Emmanuel Roux, owner of Gateau O'Chocolat Bakery and the 15th Street Agri-hood/Eco Village, an organic, educational farm in downtown St. Petersburg. Roux has owned several restaurants in the Tampa Bay Area over the years.

"I definitely think that French is on the wane because the idea of a formal French meal is something that millenials are not interested in anymore -- or they may be, but on a special occasion. The idea of three or four or five courses is gone.

"Now people want to have a beer from a particular brewery and a Cuban sandwich from down the street.  And the person next to you will be ordering dim sum or Korean barbeque.

"I think people want an experience, and having people coming from many different parts of the country, parts of the world, you have that 'stew' that is taking place here that is very interesting and exciting but is changing the way we eat."

Hear an extended version of the discussion in which panelists talk about local restaurants putting a "Florida spin" on their cuisine on the Florida Matters podcast.