All the coffeels: The Blind Tiger's SoHo cafe is a love letter to Tampa

"It was the only way that we could do it," according to owner Roberto Torres.

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click to enlarge The speakeasy-inspired Blind Tiger opened in the SoHo neighborhood of Tampa two weeks or so ago. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
The speakeasy-inspired Blind Tiger opened in the SoHo neighborhood of Tampa two weeks or so ago.

Developing the latest Blind Tiger was like penning a love letter to Tampa. At least that’s how owner Roberto Torres describes it.

On a wall inside the new coffee shop at 934 S. Howard Ave., Tampa creative agency Pep Rally Inc. is behind the mural of a blindfolded tiger mid-pounce. Another mural on the floor — a map that takes guests from South Tampa to Town ’N' Country as they walk toward the order counter — was done by Robert Horning of Tampa Murals. And the menu pays homage to Blind Tiger’s home base as well, featuring items like guava and cheese turnovers and local beer on tap.

According to Torres, he and the crew took their time and put a great deal of effort into making the SoHo location, which opened two weeks or so ago, more about Tampa than themselves.

“It was the only way that we could do it,” Torres said, “so that we can hopefully, one day, become that destination, that staple — like, ‘Oh, yeah. If you’re gonna go, go to this place.’ Especially here.”

Blind Tiger SoHo is part of the mixed-use Morrison development, a newbie in its own right. Torres was interested in launching a cafe on the building’s ground floor — a strategic site not far from a Starbucks — for a couple of reasons, but the multitude of businesses in the neighborhood, especially south of Swann Avenue, was particularly enticing.

“North of Swann, you have tons of bars and restaurants. You can go and grab a glass of wine or a beer, but you’re competing probably with the college crowd or other types of people or venues. But south of Swann is a little bit more refined. It’s a little bit more eclectic, so that’s the reason we decided to do this right away,” he said.

click to enlarge Next door, Ella Bing's signature is bow ties. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
Next door, Ella Bing's signature is bow ties.

However, the love letter needed a signature element of his speakeasy-inspired coffee shop. (I mean, if there’s no collaborative mashup of caffeine and retail, did the SoHo cafe even happen?) Torres looked to someone whom he’s kept tabs on through the years, and whose area-made products were on hand at his original, closet-size Black & Denim boutique in Ybor City: Ella Bing owner Brent Kraus.

Brent has sold handmade cloth and wooden bow ties primarily online with his parents, Lisa and David, since 2012. Looking to rent the right property for their small brick-and-mortar haberdashery in South Tampa, he jumped at the opportunity to debut within a shared 1,700-square-foot space alongside The Blind Tiger. A grand opening celebration for the duo kicks off at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 26.

Ella Bing is stocked with an unmistakable line of bow ties and other accessories men want to wear — and, well, might not know how to wear. The company, started as a way to bring the family closer together after Brent’s brother Matthew passed away from suicide, also donates 10 percent of its sales to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay for suicide prevention awareness.

“This area is fantastic,” Brent said, adding that the haberdashery is a nice change, as it allows Ella Bing to interact with customers directly. “Lots of walking, foot traffic. Being connected to the coffee shop’s obviously great for us, just for traffic we wouldn’t normally get.”

click to enlarge How cool is this floor mural at the latest Blind Tiger? Tampa Murals pulled off a map of Cigar City. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
How cool is this floor mural at the latest Blind Tiger? Tampa Murals pulled off a map of Cigar City.

With elder outposts in Ybor and Seminole Heights, SoHo is the fourth Blind Tiger cafe — if you count its mini location at downtown Tampa’s Inside the Box. It’s the first shop with a kitchen, too, which supports a small food menu of pastries, quinoa salad, sandwiches and acai bowls.

“This is really the model we would like to explore going forward when we’re thinking of expansion — this idea that we can be a neighborhood cafe, that we have a little bit more room,” Torres said.

Mum about specifics, he says The Blind Tiger — which roasts its coffee at The Lab, a collaborative roastery with Zeal Coffee Roasters in North Hyde Park that was recently renovated with new flooring, seating and AC — is in the process of scoping out a few sites for the next cafe. Folks who’ve ever had a conversation with Torres, though, know how bullish he is about Cigar City; if he has it his way, he tells CL, he’ll open 15 more Blind Tigers before expanding elsewhere.

Tampa isn’t explicitly worked into The Blind Tiger’s branding, no. But the owner says he wanted guests stopping into the SoHo location, both residents and out-of-towners, to know they’re patronizing a hometown coffee shop.

“We really take pride in being here,” Torres said. “When we started Black & Denim, we could’ve easily moved to New York or Dallas or Chicago and tried to make it somewhere else, but there was something here. We saw a gap in the market, and we said we wanna do it ourselves. Sometimes people gravitate to that. Somehow, somewhere, I would like to think that we’re inspiring other people to kinda go after their dreams and do stuff as well. And that’s why we wanted to create this space here, because there is this sense of community.”

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