Even before social media became a big thing, I had received criticism about my dining reviews not being “real” or that they are “pay for play” only. The fact is that when restaurants — or any businesses — advertise with us regularly, I do make sure we do a full-length dining or business feature story about those advertisers once each year.

Gary Nager Editorial

The vast majority of the restaurant stories we publish, however, are much smaller pieces — many (but not all of which are) in our “Nibbles & Bites” column near the back of every issue — that focus mainly on new openings, eateries that close and other dining news, whether they advertise with us or not.

That has never been more true than over the course of the past year, as the places to eat and drink have opened at the KRATE Container Park at The Grove. Although it’s been hard for even yours truly to keep up with all of those openings since Provisions Coffee & Kitchen opened last year, pretty much every restaurant that has opened at the KRATEs already has been featured in these pages. And, I have been proud to be the first to provide information about so many of these new places — all of which are mom & pop-owned, not chains. I also can’t explain just how excited I was about the Grand Opening event at the KRATEs on June 4 and not just because The Grove itself spends some money with us.

The bottom line is that even if you have read every one of our stories, you can’t really get a feel for how unique KRATE is or how hard the people who have opened in the container park have worked to get open and serve you without actually visiting them. 

Yes, I know some locals have posted unkind comments about some of the prices, slow service, the lack of shaded seating, the widely varying open hours and the parking at the KRATEs, but developer Mark Gold’s crown jewel of his complete revamping and expansion of The Grove is still really in its experimental phase, as many of the KRATE business owners are running their own businesses for the first time.

And, while each KRATE does have its own operating hours, pretty much all of them are open every weekend by no later than noon, so if you still haven’t checked them out and don’t want to be disappointed that the KRATE you were most excited to visit isn’t open on a Wednesday afternoon, I suggest planning to spend a weekend afternoon exploring all of the unique non-chain options you won’t find on S.R. 56, Dale Mabry or any major thoroughfare in the Tampa Bay area.

For those complaining about service issues, please recognize these facts: 1) many of the KRATEs are still brand new and learning how best to serve their greater-than-expected numbers of customers and 2) there is a serious labor shortage across this great country of ours. So, most KRATE owners and their families are providing the cooking and customer service themselves. Even the KRATEs that have been open for months are dealing with labor issues.

And, thankfully, since the whole shebang is opening during Florida’s hottest months, both the developer and the KRATE owners have started adding more outdoor seating with umbrellas (the tiki huts near the KRATE stage area are pretty cool-looking) for shade, since the air conditioned space inside even the larger repurposed shipping containers is still pretty limited. 

As for parking, as someone who recently had both knees replaced, not being able to park in the spaces directly in front of the KRATEs has definitely been an inconvenience, but a large parking lot between the south end of the container park and Outback Steak House was nearing completion as 8,000+ people descended upon the KRATE Grand Opening event on June 4. And, until that lot is open to the public, there are still plenty of pretty close spaces between the KRATEs and The Grove’s big box stores like Cost Plus World Market and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

As for the pricing of your favorite KRATE food and beverage items, I’m sure you’re aware that everything you’re buying at your local grocery store costs more now than it did even a year ago. I also hope you’ll take into consideration how much time, blood, sweat, tears and money has gone into getting the KRATEs open and that these owners are trying to recoup what they’ve shelled out — some for as much as three years, thanks to the pandemic.

The fact is that not every KRATE business open today or opening soon will still be in business six months, a year or more from now. One oft-quoted stat is that 95% of all new businesses don’t survive their first 1-5 years in business. But, I hope that this non-chain-starved community will support those who have worked so hard to bring you so many new and unique dining and shopping options.

So, please get out and visit the KRATEs and sample the Blush Wine Room, Tacos El Patron, Palani’s Hawai’i Noodles, Katie Beth’s Boutique and all the rest for yourself. 

Oh, and feel free to tell them I sent you, because, as of today, not one of them is advertising with us.

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