Loco for Local in St. Pete

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What Does it Mean to Support Local
and be a Foodie Publisher?

[Note: This Op / Ed piece will also be a policy statement. We will define what "local" and "foodie" mean for this publication and how we decide on what to cover.]

St. Petersburgers are surely passionate for supporting local businesses ... and just saying no to chains.

Earlier this year, plans were revealed for a Dunkin’ Donuts Drive-thru to go into the old Verizon store location at 913 1st Ave North, across from Engine No.9.

Locals wouldn't have it and the St. Pete Development Review Commission shot it down.

Yay! Another victory for the Keep St. Petersburg Local movement.

Aside from a couple of Starbucks and Subways, you wouldn't normally find any national restaurant chains or franchises in downtown St. Pete. That might be changing with all of the new condos and apartments wanting to fill their retail space with chains, like the fairly new Simple Greek located in the Camden Pier District Building, formerly Aer.

We spoke to Olga Bof, founder of Keep St. Petersburg Local, and she told us that they are still seeking legislation in the city to support local over formula businesses.

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We definitely support this, but we also sometimes have to make exceptions since we are covering "Foodies News".

In some of our reporting of new restaurants opening, and reviews we've published, we've occasionally included a "chain" and franchise here and there.

The reactions were mixed, but sometimes intense.

Some people celebrated the foodie-ness of it all, and others virtually spat in our face.

It seems the word "chain" is an extremely bad word.

The negative reactions can be over-the-top, and sometimes people like to compare St. Pete to another city that we are implied to be better than since we unofficially don't allow national chains in downtown.

For example, in the previously mentioned Dunkin’ Donuts Drive-thru episode, "Please don’t Fort Lauderdale St. Petersburg," was one of the rallying cries.

Recently, in a discussion in our Facebook Group, when it was revealed that The Hive (2349 Central Ave) closed and a Starbucks would be opening in the space, one of the comments was, "We're getting more like Miami every day."

(There's an anti-gentrification issue at play in St. Pete as well, but thankfully, that is outside the scope of this publication.)

When we published our review of Maple Street Biscuit Co., and posted it in our group, one person immediately commented, "It's a chain!", and then promptly left the group in a big huff. (There were many more positive comments than negative. There always are.)

Trust me. Maple Street Biscuit Co. ain't no Dunkin’ Donuts.

Maple Street started in Jacksonville FL, has 27 stores, (including 5 under construction), 14 in Florida, and 13 in other states—5 in TN, 4 in GA, 3 in SC, and 1 in NC. Five of these are under construction. You can see it on their website here.

So, Maple Street doesn't qualify for membership in KSPL, but they do qualify for a write-up on StPetersburgFoodies.com.

Read further to find out why.

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The last beat I'd ever want to cover is politics. Unfortunately, that's what this feels like with the extreme militantness of it all regarding the hatred of "chains" that are incorrectly lumped in with national chains that dish out frozen, microwaved crap.

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What are St. Petersburg Foodies' Guidelines as a Food Publisher Covering the Local Scene?

So, we started to think, "What are our guidelines? What do we support?"

We definitely support local. Heck, we're local entrepreneurs ourselves.

We are also a member of Keep St. Petersburg Local. They have a great article that describes what IS and what ISN'T local - Do You Know What an Independent Business Really Is?

Their article explains that when they say "support local", it really means support the local independent businesses, and defines what an independent business is for the purposes of their campaign and membership activities.

Basically, ownership is local (at least 50%), business is registered in FL, located in the city of St. Petersburg with no headquarters outside of Pinellas county, makes it's own decisions at the local level, and pays its own bills at the local level.

In the KSPL article, it does say that this excludes franchises, but doesn't address local "chains". Big national chains are already excluded based on the previous guidelines.

Keep St. Petersburg Local's guidelines come from the American Independent Business Alliance. Interestingly, AMIBA goes deeper, and describes where there may be gray areas, and how you can make choices about them. (These choices relate to the local level for "buy local" organizations, like KSPL.)

As far as chains, AMIBA suggests that the number of outlets should be in the "single digits".

Let's clarify something before we go further.

The AMIBA is a national organization that helps organize and guide buy local campaigns and organizations at the local level. They define several things, but also state that these are guidelines and suggestions, and that the local organization can refine them for their own purposes.

For example, they state; "Your definition of the geographic area considered “local” should be a group decision based on multiple factors. We’ll gladly offer guidance upon request;".

For KSPL, they have chosen St. Petersburg as being local, rather than the Tampa Bay area, for example. (That's mostly what we do as well.) This is just to demonstrate that there is room to adjust to a certain extent.

Can a "Chain" Be a Local Independent Business?

In case you missed it above, the answer is yes.

To qualify, the headquarters would need to be local—how YOU define local within reason.

KSPL decided that local = St. Pete. This is what works for their mission.

St. Petersburg Foodies has decided that local = Florida when it comes to a "local chain" headquarters that has a store inside of our St. Pete Area of coverage. This is what works for our mission.

(Our St. Pete Area of Coverage includes: St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, and Gulfport. We may make an exception for different reasons, for example, reporting on Nueva Cantina opening a Tampa store. The owners and original store are in St. Pete, and this is news that is our duty to report. The local food news side of our business can sometimes overrule that narrower local side.)

Getting back to a local chain, let's take Hawker's Asian Street Fare for example. They are based in the Orlando area, have seven locations, all in Florida, with one in downtown St. Pete.

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In addition to our mission of supporting local, we also have a duty to report on the foodies scene in St. Pete, and that could never exclude Hawker's.

Their food is amazing, and we know many people personally, that love going there.

Google Hawker's St. Pete and you will find articles in The Tampa Bay Times, Biz Journals, Creative Loafing—almost all local. (CL feels local, but guess what? They're actually based in Atlanta.) Hawker's is also listed on the Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater site. There's no reason they shouldn't be on StPetersburgFoodies.com either.

Is There Such a Thing as a Local Franchise?

Maybe. Usually not.

Here's what AMIBA says:

If you opt to allow any franchises to be listed in any of your organization or campaign materials, we recommend strongly it be in a “locally-owned franchises” category, distinct from independent businesses. Make sure your board and staff know your policy to ensure consistency and share this page with them so they can speak knowledgeably on the topic - from the article - Should Franchises or Buying Coops Be Part of “Buy Local” Initiatives?

So, franchises are mostly out, but there can be exceptions.

We made an exception when we covered MidiCi Neopolitan Pizza Company, which is a franchise.

They wouldn't qualify for KSPL, so why do the qualify for St. Pete Foodies coverage?

One reason is that they can make local decisions to do things different at their location. Currently, they are the only location in Florida that has table wait service. Other outlets only have counter service. Decision-making ability at the local level is one of the qualifiers.

More importantly, is that the quality and freshness of their food is top notch, and we wouldn't be doing our jobs if we neglected to tell our readers about them.

The same goes for Maple Street Biscuit Co. They use superior ingredients that are fresh, and go way beyond average with their recipes and preparations. They have such a following that they had a line around the block when they opened. What a huge dereliction of our foodies duties if we didn't inform you about them.

What is a Foodie?

A foodie is a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and who eats food not out of hunger but due to their interest or hobby. The terms "gastronome", "gourmand" and "epicure" define the same thing, i.e. a person who enjoys food for pleasure. - Lots more on Wikipedia.

Let me take this moment to express my utter disdain for Checker's and Rally's trademarked tagline: "Fast Foodies Know The Deal". There's nothing to be considered foodie about fast food.

There's a somewhat funny lament about the overuse and/or misuse of the word foodie from The Washington Post in 2016, "Stop calling yourself a ‘foodie’". (I think the author is serious, but I found the article quite amusing.)

In The Washington Post article, restaurateur Elbert Cuenca is quoted as follows, "It has come to the point of being bastardized. The word ‘foodie,’ which is nothing more than a modern-day casual substitute for ‘gourmet,’"

He helps make one of the points of this piece. If there is a St. Pete eatery that we think has gourmet quality food, and they are not a large national chain, it is likely that we will cover it.

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Sundial St. Pete Restaurants

Sundial has some interesting examples of local vs. not local, and St. Pete Foodies qualifying and not qualifying for a review.

Ruth's Chris Steak House doesn't qualify for either. They have over 100 locations in the US, Canada, and Mexico. In our opinion, the food is good, but not great. We've had good experiences, and so-so visits. Either way, it doesn't matter. They are a huge chain. We don't cover that.

Sea Salt doesn't qualify for KSPL as they are based in Naples with St. Pete being their second location, but they do qualify for SPF coverage as they serve gourmet (foodie worthy) quality food.

Locale Market is listed on the membership list of Keep St. Petersburg Local's website. They are owned by the Mina Group, which is in San Francisco. However, they have a local partner that qualifies them, and they are definitely foodie-worthy.

St. Pete Loves Kahwa Coffee

I've been in downtown St. Pete for 9½ years, living across the street from Kahwa South on 2nd Ave South, and have never met anyone that doesn't love Kahwa.

Admittedly, this is obviously completely anecdotal. However, when we've had online discussions about "chains", Kahwa seems to be exempt from the scorn of the villagers. For the record, I love Kahwa too. I just don't get there that often unless I want to be asked why I didn't use the coffee maker that Lori got me for Christmas in 2013.

Kahwa started in downtown St. Pete in 2006, and they have a wonderful success story that now has them in Tampa, Bradenton, Sarasota, Belleair Bluffs, and Miami Beach.

I thought "chains" were bad?

I guess Kahwa gets a pass since they are headquartered here, they are nice people, and have a great product and service.

I wonder if there are any "buy local" organizations in the other cities they are in, and if the locals there scorn them like some St. Petersburgers do to other regional chains that are not headquartered here, but have a location here.

The point is that there are inconsistencies in the often harsh judgments that some businesses are subjected to, and others are not. There are gray areas, and they need to be given a little leeway.

Some people need to be de-programmed from going berserk and pushing the red button as soon as they perceive something as a "chain"—at least if they want to consider themselves a foodie.

Is it so bad for a business to have more than one location?

For us, the answer is no.

Local, independent businesses always have our interest and support, and we patronize them and write about them the most.

However, we are also reporting on, and reviewing foodie-worthy eats, and we know we have a large portion of readers seeking information in this area, and we won't let them down.

Loco for Local in St. Pete
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Defining what "local" and "foodie" mean for this publication and how we decide on what to cover

DISCLAIMER: Kevin, Lori, Abby, & Haley do not dine anonymously (this would be impossible) and we sometimes get free food (though never expected). However, we dine with the locals and we support our own. You will always get honesty in a respectful manner.
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