With rents sky-high & limited space available here, New Tampa entrepreneurs are finding success & happiness at the new container park in Wesley Chapel.

For entrepreneurs, finding a place to start a new business in New Tampa can be tricky. Space can be limited. Prices are high. New development is scarce.

At the new KRATE at The Grove container park in Wesley Chapel, however, the plan was to lure those entrepreneurs in with a flashy concept — a park filled with converted shipping containers with bright murals painted on the side — and a less expensive entry point, with some container rents beginning at roughly $1,500 a month.

After a wildly successful opening day, the container park continues to boom for many of its owners, including a group of current and former New Tampa residents.

Here are a few of them:

Nimesh & Felicia Desai, Blush Wine Room 

The Blush Wine Room has been an idea the Desais have been planning for the last five years, but finding the perfect location had been a major chore.

The 14-year Live Oak Preserve residents scoured Bruce B. Downs Blvd. in the hopes of finding a launching pad for their hip and trendy concept.

It was a call from from Bernadette Blauvelt, the owner of B Creative Painting Studio at The Village at Grove in Wesley Chapel, that turned their attention to the container park.

“She said ‘You have to come take a look,’” Felicia says. 

So they did. Although they had considered trying to get in a space at the The Village at Hunter’s Lake town center, the day after meeting with developer Mark Gold in late 2019, they signed a lease.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Covid-19 ended up wiping out her small business, two cafés in office buildings. 

But now, nearly three years later, the Blush Wine Room is one of the KRATEs’ hottest spots. The weekends are non-stop packed, as the bar’s offering of wine, wine tastings, wine-based cocktails (many served in pouches for those walking around), and a menu that includes homemade meatballs, truffle fries, cheese boards and a variety of chips and dips are in high demand. 

“It’s been crazy,” says Felicia, “But we love it. I have no complaints.”

Chris Ferraro & Brooke Wahlquist, Higher Flour 

The tenant list at the KRATEs is filled with entrepreneurs who had been looking for a decent entry point into a physical location to sell their dreams.

Chris and Brooke, who are engaged and live in Richmond Place, came up with a concept that combined his passion for holistic medicine (Delta 8 THC, in this case) and her baking skills to make delicious gourmet edibles.

However, their efforts to find a landlord willing to rent out space for their Higher Flour store stalled, due to the stigma still associated with CBD, even though it’s legal in 30 states, including Florida.

“We were actually denied from 12 other locations,” Chris says. “I had pretty much given up all hope of opening this awesome idea that we had.”

The very last place on his list was KRATE at the Grove which, at the time, was only a concept. Chris says his initial inquiry was rejected, but he pleaded for a meeting with Gold, who liked the idea once Chris explained to him that it wasn’t going to be a smoke shop.

Since opening on June 4, Chris says Higher Flour has been “killing it.” The success has already inspired him to consider adding more locations.

The store sells five different flavors of cookies, from the traditional chocolate chip to Ube, which is a purple yam popular in Filipino deserts. Each cookie has 25 mg of Delta 8 THC, roughly the same as you’d get in a gummy, although everyone’s mileage varies, Chris says.

“Thank God for Mark Gold,” says Chris, whose previous business, LitFit, specialized in online sales of pashminas and was successful until Covid-19 hit. He added that Gold’s green light “changed the entire course of my family’s history.”

Luis & Olimar Ledezma, Mojo Grill Latin Infusion 

Luis was the longtime general manager at the Wendy’s on BBD, and then managed the Inside The Box Café at Armature Works from 2018-20 until they raised the rent and forced him to look elsewhere.

Luis says at that moment, Olimar, a senior manager for a car insurance company, “challenged me” to start something. With his management skills, her talent as a chef (learned from culinary classes she took in Spain) and their experiences eating different cuisines while traveling around the world, it was time to take the plunge and “stop working for somebody else.”

So after reading about the container concept in the Neighborhood News in 2019, Luis wasted little time signing up for the chance to run his own business.

“It was a no-brainer deal,” he said. “The KRATE was a great concept.”

Olimar designed the menu at Mojo Grill. The result has been dishes like the Argentinian-inspired Chimichurri steak, the Uruguayan-inspired Choripan sandwich, Cuban-inspired nachos and a variety of other tasty Latin dishes. Drinks, too — Olimar makes a killer homemade sangria.

Like almost every restaurant container at KRATE, business has been hopping. The container is almost never empty and the weekends are a madhouse. 

“When you work hard and put your concept out there and deliver good flavors, people will come back,” Luis said.

This is “definitely” something Luis says he could not have pulled off in New Tampa. While living in Live oak Preserve for 10 years, he saw enough small restaurants turn over to discourage him.

“It would be much harder to become known without spending much more money,” he says. “I wouldn’t take that risk in an expensive brick-and-mortar. This is perfect.”

Sheila & Osman Haque, Life Essentials Refillery  

Sheila’s career in the zero-waste and better living business started on a boat, where she and her three daughters noticed trash floating in the water. That inspired her to start EmbraceLessWasteUSA.com, a website devoted to zero-waste, American-made products.

Haque, who lives in Cory Lake Isles, completed the Pasco Economic Development Council (EDC) business incubator program, and although she could use the EDC container on occasion to sell her products, she wanted her own store.

She put herself on the waiting list at the KRATEs while pursuing other opportunities. After passing on a few overpriced, high-rent options, Sheila says Life Essentials Refillery was ready to commit to a Trinity location.

Luckily, KRATE called and said there was an opening. “We were getting build-out pricing (in Trinity),” Sheila says. While she may be paying more per square foot at the smaller KRATE, she says, “the foot traffic is worth it.”

At Life Essentials Refillery, the Haques sell eco-friendly, healthy and locally-sourced items. In fact, Sheila says everything in the store is sourced from small American businesses.

Items like spices, herbs, teas and coffee are popular, as well as less toxic versions of things like detergent, soap and sunblock. But, because they also have a full kitchen, they are also able to sell food. You can bring in your own container and fill it with pasta, beans and candies, and there’s a gluten-free section to choose from as well. 

And if you want to make your own nutbutter, Sheila can help you do that, too.

“The interest so far is better than I expected,” Sheila says. “We’ve met people that come from Sarasota and Gainesville because there’s nothing like this close by.”

All of these KRATE businesses have their own websites and social media presences, as well as their own open hours, but for a complete listing of and more information about all of the KRATE businesses, visit KrateatTheGrove.com.

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