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Mullins: New deli to test diners on parking garage use

Published:   |   Updated: June 23, 2013 at 08:39 AM

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Restaurant row along Boy Scout Boulevard is getting crowded enough to test one key question I have for Tampa residents, and I'm dying to find the answer: Will people park in a parking garage to go to lunch or dinner?

What if the food is really killer and the parking is free? Is a simple elevator ride too much of a burden?

McAlister's Deli is about to answer this question. Tampa-based developer Brayton Knotts has acquired the franchise rights to the fast-growing chain and plans a slew of locations across town, starting with a spot at 4410 W. Boy Scout that shares a front driveway with the deliriously upscale Eddie V's seafood restaurant. (Eddie V's relies on valet.)

Knotts walked me through the construction site a little while ago and noted a few things that regularly drive West Shore-area workers nuts. There are few midrange or fast-food options in the area. Yes, there are the food courts at WestShore Plaza and International Plaza. But every day at lunch, there are lines out the door at places like Chipotle.

Knotts has run his numbers well. A former General Electric executive, he's traveled all over the world: Chicago, Shanghai, Hong Kong, São Paulo, Monterrey, Singapore, Europe, and on and on. He left GE a few years ago to go into the family business of running restaurants, and after a national search, he picked Tampa because of its demographics, and the West Shore district to jump-start his projects.

"This is a young market, with growing affluence, access to the water, pro sports teams, anything you want to do," Knotts said. "It's perfect for this concept."

Knowing parking in a garage is relatively new for people lunching or going to dinner, Knotts has a simple plan: Plaster the property with signs. The restaurant is on the first floor of the garage, so signs will be placed on top of the huge parking deck facing Boy Scout - in two directions. Signs in the parking garage will say free, free, free. Signs pointing toward the elevator. Signs pointing from there to the front door. If you can read, you can find his restaurant.

There's a McAlister's near the University of South Florida, but Knotts' locations will be much larger and more elaborate. There are huge sandwiches, including New Orleans-style muffalettas, meal-size potatoes loaded with toppings, and a signature sweet tea.

I'm guessing Knotts will see a rush of business. Here's why: The total number of office workers in West Shore is coming back to pre-recession levels north of 95,000 and there's a residential housing boom, with 650 units under construction and an additional 1,066 under contract. That includes well-hidden but luxury apartment complexes like the Millennium behind McAlister's.

This is why Panera and Lime Fresh opened nearby, and why you'll soon see an Olive Garden, Pei Wei and Longhorn Steak House within a mile.

The new McAlister's should open by the end of July.

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Other retail, restaurant and trend news around town:

? Minions, minions everywhere. The quirky little cartoon workers are starting to pop up everywhere. On Chiquita banana stickers. On Cheetos bags. All over the place as kids count down to the Most Important Day Ever, July 3, when "Despicable Me 2" opens in theaters.

If this sounds odd, here's your primer: Minions are the loveable, yellow, goggle-wearing henchmen to Gru, the villain-turned-hero of the "Despicable Me" franchise. They babble. They love weapons. They love food, karaoke, vibrating easy chairs and pounding on each other ­- and kids adore them. So look for millions of minion-loving kids in theaters in July and at Halloween.

? Last week I wrote about a great new gadget that uses ultrasound to measure the level of propane inside a tank before your grill goes "foomp" and runs out.

Fred Ennis wrote in to offer another, much cheaper method.

Pour a cup of hot water down the shady side of your tank. (If you can find a shady side this time of year.) Wait a few seconds and then feel the side of the tank. The propane will rapidly cool the metal wall, so feel for a line separating warm and cold, and voila, that's your propane level.

Thanks, Fred!

? Chick-fil-A is getting into the salad business. The company that lays claim to inventing the chicken sandwich just launched a trio of meal-size salads, including a Market Salad, Asian Salad, Cobb Salad, as well as a chicken wrap. Thus Chick-fil-A fires yet another volley against one of its main rivals, McDonald's, which has long and successfully sold meal salads.

Something to note, the Chick-fil-A Asian Salad weighs in at 330 calories, but also has 1,090 milligrams of sodium. The USDA recommends a daily intake of less than 2,400 milligrams.

? Netflix just introduced a slew of new kids shows for the summer, but odds are rising that homes with a Verizon FiOS connection may experience some glitches.

In a tussle that would fascinate networking nerds and telecom lawyers, Verizon is squabbling with a major broadband provider, Cogent Communications, that helps link Netflix to Verizon and, ultimately, to you.

Cogent executives say Verizon isn't installing enough hardware to handle the traffic of a bazillion people simultaneously streaming Netflix TV shows and movies.

Verizon executives responded that they regularly deal well with "peer" companies, but Cogent is pushing more data into Verizon's system than vice versa. (Fully nuanced statement here: vz.to/191fB9t) Yes, there are "net neutrality" rules that require Internet companies to treat all data the same, but there's the twist. Private contracts between data "peers" aren't regulated that way, so there's no burden on Verizon to give Netflix-related companies more hardware than anyone else.

Of course, Verizon offers a rival streaming media service and has the RedBox online service ­- but that wouldn't have anything to do with this, right? Right.

? A Starbucks iced Hazelnut Macchiato may have 230 calories and 34 carbs, but you might need to look that up online before placing your order ­- until June 25, that is.

That's when Starbucks is scheduled to post nutritional information at all its company-owned and licensed U.S. locations. Whether or not this is a good thing, that's up to you.

rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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