Chamber explores ways to boost city restaurants

By Anthony Clark | The Gainesville Sun

Innovation Gainesville is not just about software and biomedical companies. The blueprint for Alachua County’s economic development efforts includes restaurants as contributing to the qualify of life.

That was the message the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce had for 25 restaurant owners and managers at a meeting co-hosted by the North Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association at the Chamber office Monday.

“A large part of who we are recruiting are your customers,” said Deborah Bowie, vice president of Chamber development. “You play a vital part because vibrant restaurant scenes are a good indicator of whether people live here, stay here and come back here.”

The Chamber has been exploring ways to better tailor its services for specific industries following meetings with people in manufacturing and information technology.

President and CEO Tim Giuliani said that includes aligning what they do for industries through small business development, the Entrepreneurial Resource Center, public policy, economic development and international trade.

Kamal Latham, vice president of public policy, said the Chamber wants to make it easier for members to do business. That includes trying to lower the cost of doing business by advocating for lower utility rates.

He said electric rates through Gainesville Regional Utilities will rise for businesses an average of more than 10 percent starting Tuesday to pay for fuel from the new biomass plant.

“We want to understand how these policies, particularly in the area of utilities, how is this affecting you because we’re very concerned about not just recruiting new businesses but what is the health and viability of our existing businesses.”

The local chapter of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association was resurrected in 2010 and is trying to get more involved in local politics, said chapter President Shawn Shepherd, a partner in both Vellos Brickstreet Grill and Wahoo Seafood Grill.

Shepherd said that as the owner of restaurants, he was opposing a proposal coming Thursday before the City Commission that would allow food trucks to do business more often.

Association Vice President Diego Ibanez of Emiliano’s Cafe, who is also chairman of the Downtown Owners and Tenants Association, said he is pushing to extend liquor licenses to allow outdoor sales in adjacent parking lots for events such as Cinco de Mayo.

“I don’t see much representation for our industry,” he said. “We’re letting ordinary citizens who don’t understand the trials and tribulations of our industry make these decisions for us because they’re the ones who are voicing their opinions.”

Restaurant owners suggested that the Chamber make its summer Restaurant Week event bigger and promote it outside of the area.



Virginia MacKoul

Virginia is a graduate from the University of Florida's College of Design Construction and Planning with a degree in Sustainability and the Built Environment, and a minor in Urban Regional Planning. Virginia joined the Front Street team in 2011, as an intern. Upon graduation, Virginia joined the Front Street team full-time as the Director of Client Services. Ms. MacKoul’s addition furthers Front Street’s continued growth and expansion within Gainesville and other North Central Florida markets. She was promoted to Director of Marketing in 2014 and now manages the firm’s team of interns and oversees all marketing and branding activity. Virginia was born in Boston and moved to Lee County, Florida in 1997. Virginia graduated her high school's International Baccalaureate program and started at the University of Florida with a focus on Architecture. Virginia shares Front Street's passion of giving back to the community and those in need. Virginia's hobbies include photography, cooking, football, movies, music, and spending time with her dog, Brinkley.

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