So many restaurants, so little time

Published on: May 12, 2011

Penny Fletcher Photo

Penny Fletcher Photo


RIVERVIEW— When the first communities of Summerfield were built in 1984 new residents were promised a grocery store within a few months.

It took almost 20 years to fulfill that promise.

I moved into Summerfield in 2003 just as Summerfield Plaza was being built on the northeast corner of U.S. 301 and Big Bend Road, anchored by Publix supermarket. That was the first time any retail was built on that intersection.

Having moved in to the community in March, I remember that I had to shop in Apollo Beach, Sun City Center or Riverview, all of which are about the same distance from my home. The only businesses that pre-dated my arrival were in Summerfield Square (now Summerfield Shoppes), where the Chevron gas and convenience store, Cherry’s (which has since moved to Apollo Beach) a dry cleaner’s and It’s Kidz Time child care center had already located inside the community of Summerfield — well to the east of U.S. 301.

Although most of the business spots in that plaza (on the corner of Summerfield Boulevard and Big Bend Road) were still empty, a few people recognized the area would soon be booming with residents and that meant potential customers.

Diana Barrett was a forward thinker when she opened Its Kidz Time. “There were only two child care centers anywhere out here,” Diana said in an interview last week. “Including mine when I opened. People were afraid to open up out here. They didn’t think it would ever build up like it has.”

Diana’s father was the original owner of the dry cleaning store in Summerfield Square.

“We could see what was coming,” she said.

Diana said she is very glad so many new businesses have finally recognized the potential in the area. “It’s so good to be able to support our neighbors without having to go to Brandon and other towns for things,” she said.

But following those few openings in 2001, not much else happened.

As I said earlier, it took the neighborhood almost 20 years to get the grocery store residents were promised when they first moved in.

But then, all at once, construction of shops and services seemed to be everywhere. Perhaps it was encouraged by the other developments that followed Summerfield, including South Fork, Panther Trace, Rivercrest, Ayersworth, Belmont and the others now lining U.S. 301 between Gibsonton and State Road 672 that leads to Balm.

Within six short years, not only has Summerfield Plaza (anchored by Publix) been completed, but all four corners of Big Bend Road and U.S. 301 have become some of the busiest plazas in the county.

Where once I had to meet the people I interviewed for coffee in one of the three communities mentioned above, now there are coffee houses and restaurants of every kind imaginable right on the Big Bend-301 corner.

There are also plenty of martial arts studios and a hardware store and several shops that sell items for and service automobiles. UPS services; urgent care centers; dentists and doctors.

What has happened to our quiet corner?

Sometimes it takes almost a half an hour to go the one and a half miles from Summerfield Boulevard (in the center of the community) to U.S. 301. Usually that lasts from just before 7 a.m. until almost 9 and then things calm down.

The good things, however, overpower the bad.

Things we never imagined have been brought to our doorstep.

Not just the recent addition of Sam’s Club and Walgreen’s pharmacy, but about three weeks ago, a Dollar Tree store opened next to Beall’s and for several years now, Publix has had competition from a Sweetbay supermarket in the plaza across the street, and competition is good for the wallets and pocketbooks in the area.

Four major wireless companies are situated within a mile of each other too – in four separate plazas – several hair salons, nail salons and now, also an Anytime Fitness center.

The biggest change, however, has been in the number of different places to eat. Where once our family had to drive to Brandon (or one of the fancier places on the beach in Ruskin and Apollo Beach) to dine out, now we have 35 choices right on (or within a block approaching) the four corners of Big Bend Road and U.S. 301.

Being familiar with both Tampa and Brandon, I cannot think of one corner that has that many eateries at one intersection.

And they’re so varied. Why now you can eat everything from good old fashioned home-style American to Chinese or Mexican; have drinks with your meals or find foods to accommodate special diets.

Over the weekend, I decided to count them. It was a fun project, suggesting new places for the grandkids and I to go!

For just under a year, the Big Bend Professional Center, just east of Summerfield Plaza, has sported its own Starbucks. And sometime in the last five years, that plaza has also seen the opening of Papa Johns; carry-out sushi from Publix; China Taste; Subway and McDonalds.

On the northwest corner of Big Bend and U.S. 301, look quick or you’ll miss Don Julio’s authentic Mexican fare, operating in a small building next to the Citgo Food Mart just north of Summerfield Square.

Then, as you enter Summerfield Square you’ll find Cici’s Pizza; Pitas Republic; Rita’s Ice Custard; Linksters Taproom (no food, but a full bar); Qdoba’s Mexican Grill, and inside the Hess station next door there’s more than just the regular convenience store fare because on one side there’s a Dunkin Donuts and on the other a Blimpie Subs.

Heading around the orange cones and barrels to the southwest side of the intersection, I pulled into the longest strip of restaurants at that intersection using the new entry road just to the west of Burger King (to avoid the problems at the main Lincoln Road entrance that is still awaiting its traffic light) and started to count the dining choices there. Thinking back to the years we residents of the area had to drive to Apollo Beach for a hamburger I was simply blown away by the signs, one after another, lining the highway.

I was sorry to see the Seafood restaurant there had recently closed because (I think) they had the only deviled crabs between Ruskin and Tampa (please let me know if you sell them at your place)… but The Village Inn, Sonic and Applebee’s were packed as usual. Farther down in that Plaza on its southernmost side is The Alley, with its Alley Katz grill, family-style restaurant and pub.

Right across the street from The Alley at the entrance to the Shoppes at South Bend is Beef O’Brady’s, and in the strip mall behind that are East Coast Pizza, Tasty Dinner Solutions and the Little Habana Cuban Café.

I was sorry to see that Sumatra Coffee (next door to Tasty Dinner Solutions) has closed its doors.

Leaving that plaza and heading back into Summerfield, I turned behind Auto Zone into the plaza anchored by Sweetbay supermarket and found Panera Bread; Little Caesar’s pizza and Five Guys Burgers and Fries; but alas, Smoothie King has recently closed as well, making a total of three closures in that area in the last few months.

All the others, however, seemed alive with business; cars out front, people seated at tables- and that meant jobs, jobs, jobs.

Heading home, I realized I had missed counting the restaurants in Summerfield Shoppes (at Chevron) nearest to my house. Not wanting to leave any choices out, I went in and found Mulligan’s Pub (where Cherry’s used to be); China Fun and Sushi. Then I checked out the new pizza place Diana Barrett had told me about: Pizza Frank and Freddie’s that opened just a month ago.

With so many choices of restaurants and fast food in the area, two grocery stores and a host of other relatively new businesses, medical facilities and retail shops and services those of us living in the new developments along the U.S. 301 corridor can do one of two things: Complain about the heavy traffic, or enjoy all the wonderful new things that have been brought right to our doors.

All I could think of was so many restaurants, so little time! They all looked so good I wanted to sample them all.