Southwest Florida Roundup
Meals and Wheels: Auto Dealership Dining
Auto dealership dining evolves beyond vending machine fare.
Typically, dining options at an automobile dealership are limited to free coffee and doughnuts in the morning and soft drinks and snacks from a vending machine in the afternoon. But while you’re waiting for your car to be repaired at Brandon Honda or Sun Toyota in Holiday in Pasco County, your choices can include an egg white frittata with spinach or French toast for breakfast and a turkey pesto club sandwich with French fries and minestrone soup for lunch.
John Marazzi, managing partner of the two Morgan Auto Group dealerships, wanted better and healthier food options for customers while they shopped or waited for service.
Last December, the dealerships hired Earl Weiss, a chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, to create menus and set up cafes at both locations. Weiss previously was executive chef at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key near Key West and, most recently, general manager of the Timber Pines Country Club in Spring Hill.
Most of the menu items at the cafes, which are open to the public, cost $6 to $8, although a recent “daily special” of carved-to-order roast beef was $12.95.
Marazzi is pleased with the results.
“Since we built our cafes, we’ve seen increases in customer loyalty, retention and increased vehicle sales,” he says. “It is the single best facility investment we have ever made.”
Business News from Southwest Florida:
- Haywood L. Brown has been hired from Duke University Medical Center, where he held various leadership positions, to be the University of South Florida’s new vice president for diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity. He will also fill the roles of associate dean for diversity at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine and chief diversity officer for USF Health.
- Former Tampa Electric CEO Gordon Gillette has been hired as CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County, a non-profit educational agency.
- Juawana Williams was named Pasco Economic Development Council’s vice president of operations.
- Wauchula State Bank has named J.W. “Jake” Crews IV as CEO and chairman. Meanwhile, Donna McKown was named president, and J.W. “Bill” Crews Jr. became vice chairman.
BABCOCK RANCH — The solarpowered town has installed an upto- 40-megawatt-hour batterystorage system to be linked with FPL’s 74.5-megawatt Babcock Ranch solar plant.
BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners approved tax breaks to two companies that they say will employ 75 by 2026. Interconnect Cable and Technology will get up to $30,000, and an unidentified logistics company is approved to receive an incentives package worth more than $800,000.
DADE CITY — Tampa Electric has proposed building a 55-megawatt solar energy farm in northeast Pasco County.
DESOTO COUNTY — FPL’s Wildflower Solar Energy Center is now operational. The 74.5-megawatt power plant is big enough to power 15,000 homes.
FORT MYERS — ShopRunner, an e-commerce shopping network, has signed up Chico’s FAS, which includes Chico’s, Soma and White House Black Market.
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY — The Everyday Entrepreneur Venture Fund has given $250,000 to Hillsborough Community College to support and mentor HCC students who want to start a business.
LAKELAND — BayCare Health System and Publix Super Markets plan to open 22 walk-in care kiosks this year inside Publix stores. The kiosks enable shoppers to communicate, via video, with physicians about basic health problems.
LEE COUNTY — Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare is seeking approval to build a 100-bed hospital in Lee County. Home sales in the Bonita Springs- Estero area increased 1% in 2017, and the median price dipped slightly from $302,000 to $295,000.
NEW PORT RICHEY — A $19.3-million independent-living retirement community is planned for Pasco County. The project, to be called Trinity Independent Senior Living, will include 117 homes.
PASCO COUNTY — Welbilt, a commercial food-service equipment maker, plans to hire 110 and add 42,000 square feet of laboratory and test-kitchen space to its Pasco facility. The company will get $650,000 in county incentives.
PINELLAS PARK — Seattle-based developer Vitus has purchased Oceanside Estates, a low-income senior housing complex, for $11.2 million. Vitus plans to spend $3.6 million renovating the 104-unit property.
SARASOTA — Sarasota Bradenton International Airport is getting a new welcome and information center.
ST. PETERSBURG — The city and Duke Energy are partnering to install LED bulbs in each of the city’s 31,000 streetlights, which had been illuminated with less energy-efficient incandescent bulbs. The LED lights are projected to save the city $240,000 a year. Mayor Rick Kriseman is backing the purchase of a 350-foot-long, LED-lit fabric sculpture that would hover near the approach to the city’s under-construction pier. The sculpture, by internationally known artist Janet Echelman, would cost $3 million. International Touring Apps, which helps travelers book tours, announced it’s opening a headquarters in St. Petersburg. The tech startup, which produces the app called Tourme, has been operating out of a co-working space downtown.
TAMPA — The University of South Florida plans to build a $40-million football complex. The Tampa Bay Wave business accelerator won $100,000 from the Nielsen Foundation to support startups owned by women, veterans, minorities and LGBT entrepreneurs.
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