ChappellRoberts is just a small walk away from The Blind Tiger Cafe in Ybor City, but that isn’t the only reason the staff here enjoys frequenting the establishment. The coffee is amazing and wakes you right up with its great flavors, the pastry options are seemingly endless, and the atmosphere created by the staff is unique. Everything about the cafe makes it the perfect place to stop in for a quick pick-me-up. Seeing as we constantly make coffee runs, I felt it only right to get to know the business a bit better as well as the man behind the magic, Roberto Torres, president and owner of Blind Tiger Cafe.
Why do you think entrepreneurship is on the rise? Why is Tampa a good place for it?
Entrepreneurship is becoming more prevalent because an appreciation for craftsmanship and a support of dedication is more prevalent. It leads to these brick and mortar shops and this “shop local” mentality and I think it all stemmed from the recession. Tampa is perfect for this kind of mentality because of the critical mass of people. There are so many people here who can appreciate the message and cross pollinate that very easily to, say, St. Pete or Ocala.
Influential entrepreneurs and business owners in Tampa are not only successful, but young, why do you think that is?
Tampa is a city that is half-built; there’s more opportunity here. People crave experiences and Tampa allows for that. People nowadays want to go to these local shops and brick and mortar one-of-a-kind places for the experience. The experience is a destination and word-of-mouth helps fuel getting to that destination. Shopping locally is completely different than the mall – it’s more special.
How has Standup Tampa helped you and other entrepreneurs?
Standup Tampa is huge; it gives perspective and helps me weave my story into the narrative of Tampa Bay’s story. It helps me learn big business processes and adjust to fit my needs. It’s invaluable.
Can you touch on the history of the Blind Tiger Cafe a bit?
The Blind Tiger Cafe started in November of 2014 as kind of an experiment for Black and Denim – I wanted to see if beverages and retail spaces could coexist. The opportunity for a Seminole Heights location happened about a year after that and it stemmed mostly from Instagram. We asked our followers what they thought of this cafe idea and got really great responses. We opened the first location two months later and we are now working on opening our fifth spot in SoHo.
What are some future endeavors for the cafe?
In addition to the SoHo location, we’re evaluating the logistics of opening up in St. Pete. We’re also working on opening two airport locations. These ventures would essentially double our staff so we are taking every precaution to not dilute the culture here. In addition to these, I’m trying to pitch a podcast to NPR. It’s called Cafe Tampa Bay and will be centered around the question: “Why Tampa?”. I was inspired by Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It’ll be simple: people, stories, coffee. We’ll talk to Tampa movers and shakers around the city about why you would stick around, or even come back. There will be a video element to go along with the podcast that’ll be shot by Diamond View Studios.
What makes Blind Tiger different from other “craft” coffee shops in Tampa Bay?
I believe above all else that we have a commitment to legendary customer service. We like to disarm our customers with a smile; we want to strive for that dopamine effect with our products. There’s this great song by the Gravediggaz that talks about a “mental death” being different from a physical one. We’re here to bring our customers back to life mentally, in a sense, with our customer service and products. Always motivating our employees beyond compensation is huge; we want to give them the tools to be successful. Lastly, I feel like we’re competing with fast food or gas station coffee, not other local roasters or coffee shops.
If you could describe Blind Tiger and its culture in three words, what would they be?
Hard work, kindness, and fun. Always, always have fun.
What are some of your hobbies/what do you do on your down time?
Oh man, I would say I’m a big taco enthusiast and little bit of a shoe enthusiast too. I also enjoy watching and learning about Formula 1 racing cars – it’s the most expensive sport in the world. The cars are fast and complicated machines and I find that interesting. The crazy technology that goes into them is studied and adapted into some consumer cars which is fascinating to me.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
You really do need to have a sense of pride for whatever it is you are doing – you need to ask yourself ‘why do you like this?’. Whenever you find what it is you are passionate about, you need to own it. If you want to be a plumber, you need to be the best plumber you can be. It doesn’t sound easy but that’s what it takes. You also need to connect with people. Being open and making connections anywhere and everywhere is important. Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and walking into an abyss, you need to be prepared.