By Hayley Salem
Local flavors took center stage last week with ribbon-cuttings for five new restaurants at Tampa International Airport: Columbia Restaurant Café, Green Iguana, Shula’s Bar & Grill, Cigar City Brewing, and First Flight, a wine bar by Mise En Place.
“It takes a team to make great things happen, and we have a great team from our mayor to our board of directors and all the men and women who come out here every day to make this the 6th most loved airport in the world,” said CEO Joe Lopano before a tasting tour on Wednesday. “And now with these new concepts, we’re providing our guests with world class Tampa service and style.”
Tampa’s “foodie” Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who serves on the airport’s board of directors and established the city’s weekly “Food Truck Fiesta” downtown said the “Tampa grown” and “Tampa owned” businesses add a new dimension to the traveling experience at the airport and represent the community’s diversity.
“We truly have turned a page,” he said. “This is the building of the next generation of TIA. I couldn’t be more excited about it because it’s also the next generation of this great city. Our future is very bright. This airport is a big part of it.”
At First Flight, a European-style wine bar in the main terminal, Mise en Place owner Maryann Ferenc treated guests to a wine tasting and sampling of such menu items as a selection of bruschetta with Serrano ham with dried figs and blue cheese, roasted mushrooms with truffled cheese, and red pepper hummus.
Richard Gonzmart, owner of the Columbia Café at Airside E, said it was especially thrilling for him to have a location at the airport because the Wright Brothers’ first flight and the opening of his family’s iconic Ybor City restaurant share the same anniversary: Dec. 17, 1903.
“Here we are today, still making bean soup the same way we used to,” he said at the ribbon-cutting, where guests indulged in empanadas, Cuban sandwiches, sangria, guava turnovers and other Spanish fare.
At the Green Iguana at Airside A, the ribbon-cutting celebration featured a variety of mini-burgers displayed against a backdrop of palm trees, a neon sign, thatched roof, and, of course, an iguana.
Don Shula, restaurateur and former Miami Dolphins head coach, made an appearance in Airside C for the ribbon cutting of Shula’s Bar & Grill.
“We have a restaurant in Tampa. We’ve always enjoyed the business and support we’ve gotten from the Tampa area,” he said. “To open here in the airport in a beautiful surrounding… I’m just so happy and proud of the way this turned out.”
The interior design includes iconic photos of Tampa and St. Petersburg. "It's wonderful. It's beautiful. The presentation is fabulous," said Karen Carey, who stopped to eat at Shula's on Wednesday after arriving from Albany, New York for a visit to the area. "It's fine dining. Fine dining."
Next door, Joey Redner, founder and owner of Cigar City Brewing, unveiled Tony Jannus Pale Ale, a beer brewed and sold only at the airport and named after the pilot who made the first scheduled commercial flight in the world in between Tampa and St. Petersburg.
"It gives me great pleasure to know that visitors flying into the Tampa Bay area have access to not just an American made beer or even a Florida beer," Redner said. "But a beer made in the City of Tampa."