Recently Suwannee Refugee sat down with Veronica Villines, owner of the Independent Tampa.

How did you choose Tampa as a second site for The Independent?
My former husband John Vellines and I opened up the Independent in downtown St Petersburg in April 2005. At that time St Petersburg had no specialty beer bars, so the place took off immediately. Shortly thereafter, we began looking for a second location, and were looking for locations in Tampa, Sarasota and Orlando as possibilities. John was running the bar and I was a full time attorney. I wanted to get out of the legal business and run the second location. Tampa was the best option being so close to St. Petersburg.

Why Seminole/Tampa Heights as the location as there are probably more profitable locations around Tampa?
The obvious option for the location for a bar in Tampa was of course South Tampa. However, I was bothered by the fact that South Tampa businesses had major issues with the residents regarding noise and parking. The area also has more of a younger, rowdier crowd than we normally cater to. I have alot of friends in Seminole Heights who are beer brewers and beer “geeks”. They kept telling us about how the area was starving for a neighborhood bar serving up craft beers. How could I argue with that? We found a perfect location, and voila! The neighborhood supports the business, and we are also getting alot of traffic from people coming to Seminole Heights as a destination (to check out The Independent, Refinery, and Ella’s Folks Art Cafe.

You have a large and eclectic beer selection. How did you choose only beer and not liquor or wine?
We lived in Munich Germany in the late 1990?s where we were immersed in the beer garden culture. After that, John was in the beer business (sales and marketing) in New York City working for a Belgian beer company, and then he sold craft beer when we moved to Florida. Therefore, we wanted to capitalize on his knowledge and enthusiasm for beer. I am also a wine lover, so we do have a selection of quality wines at both bars. We are not interested in selling liquor. I think it would distract from the main attraction, which is the BEER!

You food selection is also eclectic. What was your thoughts behind that?
I had never been in the restaurant business other than as a server (the St Petersburg Independent does not serve food), so I did not want to get in over my head. However, our semi remote location in Tampa dictates that we offer some food to our customers. When designing the menu, I wanted to keep it simple, focusing on quality, and I wanted the food to go with beer. The first things that came to mind were soft pretzels, cheese plates, bratwurst, etc. The sandwiches have evolved based on my staff input as well as the customers’ input. We get alot of compliments on the food, and our lunch business is picking up, so I think it is working out well. We just started doing beer dinners which I think we will do quarterly. Our last one was with Cigar City – featured five of their beers and we served up four courses specifically designed to compliment the beer.

What can you tell our readers about the Independent that they don’t already know?
Our mantra “Bieres, Vins, Music, Thought” means that we promote Independent beers (international and craft beer), Independent wines (small non-commerical vineyards), Independent music (ecclectic music such as Indie, jazz, world, bluegrass and alt country) and Independent thought – we have tried to create an atmosphere promotes conversation.

There are so many weekly and monthly events happening at the Independent Tampa site, like dart tournaments, first Saturday Jazz, and third Sunday Bluegrass to name a few.

Written by Suwannee Refugee

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