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Cafe Hey

by Hilton Kean Jones on August 30, 2008

in Florida, Food

Emerging neighborhoods, artists, & businesses

Our nation’s forefathers–don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a political rant!–were very concerned about what they termed the “tyranny of the majority.” (Wiki: “The phrase originated with Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1835, 1840) and was further popularized by John Stuart Mill…Federalist Papers frequently refer to the concept…“)

It’s this well-grounded fear of our founding fathers that finds voice in the wag who says, “democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for supper.” This is indeed one of the hazards of a democracy, which is why we have a republic instead of a pure democracy. In a republic, ideally, a small group of elected representatives can make more considered, non-partisan decisions that protect the interests of minorities than a pure democracy might make.

Similarly, when it comes to business, what is most dangerous is the “tyranny of the big.” The restaurants and bookstores I write about are not Denny’s or Borders. I try to foster the small and independent because I believe they are what’s interesting and are what create the real social and economic health of the community.

It is absolutely true that Denny’s and Borders have their place. So too, Amazon–I buy and sell on Amazon a lot. But the good thing about ‘”Big” (their standardization, their safety, their volume and scope) is also the bad thing about “Big” (same ol’-same ol’, not edgy at all, no obscure or highly specialized items).

I lived for a short while in New Orleans and have always visited there whenever I can. There may be a few Starbucks in New Orleans, but almost no one goes. Instead, they go to locally owned CC’s, or a PJ’s (which is my preference of the two), a locally owned brand of coffee that’s been around for 30 years, thanks to locals who support their own. But PG’s isn’t the only local coffee scene in New Orleans; there’s any number from the well-known tourist destination, Cafe Du Monde, through the Neutral Ground Coffee House, on to my favorite haunt many a morning, Rue de la Course.

If you’re interested in more information on New Orleans coffee houses, there’s an excellent blog just on coffee in New Orleans that’s a real delight: New Orleans Coffee Culture. For those of you who don’t know what the term, “Neutral Ground,” means (as referred to in the name of the shop mentioned above), it’s the median in the middle of the street in New Orleans. There are different theories as to the origin of the term. One is that it was where the duels were held back in the early days. Another, quoting here from The Big Easy Dictionary, is that “Legend has it that the neutral ground got its name from early New Orleans when the French and Spanish could do business between sections of the city standing on the ‘neutral ground.’”

Now, before we transition back to Tampa, let’s do a little pulling-together of concepts right now. When we go to enjoy New Orleans coffee, do we go to a Starbucks? No! We go to the small, the independent, something with character and history. Left unchecked, without the leavening of the small and independent, the Big can destroy history, independence, beauty, and character. It almost always siphons off capital from the local economy. Therefore…

Cafe Hey

…let’s support our own. A good example is a tiny coffee shop/snackery in Tampa a friend took me to several weeks ago: Cafe Hey (1540 N. Franklin Ave., Tampa, FL 33602; 813-221-5150). It is co-owned by S. Cheong Choi and Anne and Christopher Vela (Chris is a young, local architect). Here’s an article about the three co-owners that gives insight into their motivation and history together at Plant High School.

A good article on the cafe, similar to the West Tampa blog I linked to in my NoHo Bistro post, is this one in the Tampa Heights blog. Tampa Heights is a section of Tampa that has gone, almost overnight, from once undesirable to, now, almost unaffordable. It has absolutely great dwellings and a location that is prime for a post-gasoline world. It is within short, easy cycling distance from downtown and has an attractive view of the city skyline and the river. This article talks about the various establishments who have taken the chance on opening in Tampa Heights.

Cafe Hey is one of these small independently and locally owned commercial endeavors that are key to making the Tampa Heights community thrive. The Cafe, itself, supports “local” in that it serves coffee from Sweetwater Organic Coffee Roasters in Gainesville and Tampa’s Naviera Coffee Mills. Locally grown talent is nurtured, as well, in Cafe Hey’s Open Mic Night, every Thursday.

The whole New Urbanism concept (or at least the application of it I prefer, which applies the principles to existing areas, avoiding outlying green areas) is that of many, self-sufficient, walkable, small “towns” (neighborhoods) within the larger city.

Keeping these small business afloat by giving them our custom (3a) is what will make this transition to the new lifestyle work. If you still drive to work, rather than take the easy way out of hitting a drive-through, quickly park and run in to Cafe Hey to get your breakfast coffee or light lunch. Or, maybe go there on a weekend (they’re open on Saturday and Sunday, as well as Tuesday through Friday–for details on hours see this Yelp listing).


Cafe Hey on Urbanspoon

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob September 1, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Hey! We love Cafe Hey! You are so right, we need more fine independant places like this, not just in Tampa, but in Florida! Alas, if WE don’t support them, they won’t come.


Andy September 9, 2008 at 8:07 am

Ok, yes we should all support local establishments and fight against the big business take over of the unique and creative. Sure that’s a reason to go there. But this blog never mentions how amazing the food actually is at Cafe Hey! I’ve waited so long for a place that serves simple, fresh, and delicious salads, soups, and sandwiches – and now Cafe Hey is here! The salads have huge chunks of fresh veggies and homemade dressings, the soups are made fresh every day with the same big chunks of yumminess, and the sandwiches are simple yet creative and delicious. Tack that on with being greeted by a super nice and hip staff in a chill environment, and you’ll become addicted, like me. Thanks Cafe Hey! My life in Tampa is now a lot less like a life in Tampa.


Jeremy September 26, 2008 at 6:18 pm

I’ve been friends with the Cafe Hey owners since high school or longer (Cheong and I go all the way back to the 4th grade!), and I love what they’ve down with their little corner of downtown Tampa. It really is one of the best places in town to hang out and have a great sandwich or cup of coffee (or, in my case, an iced tea).


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