The yellow ticket for the Obama rally said doors opened at 7 a.m. It wasn’t long before the line had wrapped its way around several blocks of Ybor City last Friday. As 8,500 people passed through security and into Centennial Park, redheaded real-life leprechaun (and Best of the Bay winner) Dave Diggler advertised breakfast in front of the James Joyce Irish Pub.
“Brrrreeeeakfast!” he shouted over the crowds, his voice gritty.
Normally, James Joyce doesn’t open until 11 a.m. and caters to the lunch, dinner and late-night crowd. But for President Obama’s visit Friday, they opened at 7:30 a.m. James Joyce manager Brad Barnett arrived for work that morning closer to 5 a.m. than his usual 10:30 a.m.
“The Secret Service weren’t really thrilled with us opening for breakfast,” Barnett said. He had been asked to shut down and was warned that a security checkpoint was going to be set up right outside his door, but he saw that as a plus. And in fact his was an ideal location, with Diggler outside waving his ‘breakfast’ sign and a captive clientele in the squads manning the metal detectors, who came in to order omelets and breakfast sandwiches.
Breakfast was simple: “Eggs, bacon, potatoes, sausage,” Barnett said. And no coffee, just juice and booze. The tab was cheap: a pile of bacon, eggs, and potatoes cost just $3.50. Families with kids and groups of college students were among the customers who noshed on the hot food, many washing it down with a frothy Guinness.
"We served a lot of breakfast and liquor,” Barnett said. “A lot of car bombs and Grey Goose.” At barely 10 a.m., two women stood by as Diggler mixed their Appletinis. It’s not often you see the masses grabbing drinks before noon on a weekday.
“We went to the James Joyce and didn’t expect them to be open, but I thought they did really well,” said Tom Keating, president and CEO of the Ybor Chamber of Commerce. For Keating, it was great to see so many in Ybor City on a Friday morning. “I myself started in line almost where I drive into work on Palm Avenue heading east,” Keating said. “I walked around the whole end of the district.”
Keating also noted that nearby La Tropicana, Tre Amici, and Sunday’s Deli fared well from the rally crowd. “La Tropicana usually takes a hit from big events like that, but he did really well,” Keating said. “I got to see folks from all over. I’m really glad they had it here.”
For the James Joyce Irish Pub, the experiment with breakfast was a success. “I can’t give specific numbers but it was very beneficial,” Barnett said. “But it was quite a bit of money.” The rush was so lucrative, in fact, that James Joyce is talking about making breakfast a permanent feature. “It would be great for all the college students and business people,” Barnett said. “We are kicking around the idea now.”