New bay area restaurant openings are harbingers of broader economic growth

Growth in upscale, casual and fast-food eateries

TAMPA - Michael and Lysa Bozel are investing a lot of time and money turning an  old Nebraska Avenue Bungalow into a restaurant they hope will be a gathering spot for the fast gentrifying Seminole Heights district of Tampa.

"A lot of young professionals are moving into the area, fixing up the area. The houses are beautiful down here. It's very eclectic with a lot of people working at home" said Michael Bozel.

The Bozels will join an explosion of restaurants that have recently opened in the Seminole Heights district, some of which are considered among the Bay Area's most cutting edge, they include Domani's, Mermaid Tavern, The Refinery, Rooster and the Till, Ella's Folk Art Cafe and more.

But it's not just trendy independents. Orlando based Darden Restaurants is  building a new Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse on Westshore Blvd.   

And the fabled Bern's Steakhouse has partnered in a 35 million dollar deluxe hotel, restaurant, bar, bakery and spa across the street. Where are people finding the money to dine out?

"During the recession people were obviously watching their pocket books a little more cautiously.  Now the economists from the National Restaurant association are saying they're seeing some of that pent up demand ease up a little bit," said Margie Manning of the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

In an industry that employs nearly 900,000 people in Florida, Manning cites a report  predicting Florida Restaurant sales will reach 34 and a half billion dollars this year, growing by 4.5%- faster than the national average.

That's a sign of an improving economy, but also a driver, as empty homes and storefronts are put to productive use and jobs open up all along the economic ladder.

"You're going to find that some of the most talented employees will command a pretty good salary" said Manning.

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