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Saturday, Sep 23, 2017
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Romney gaffe makes Buddy Brew a political hotspot

TAMPA - Politics was about the last thing Susan and David Ward expected would make their small Tampa coffee shop nationally famous. They're fixated on roasting the perfect batch of beans, right there in the sitting area of the small Kennedy Avenue café – balancing the natural flavors locked in beans that grew in different regions of the world. They hand-pour hot water over fresh-ground beans because the flavor is nicer. How then did Buddy Brew become known as one of Florida's political hotspots– hosting events with some of the most important Republican politicians? Accidently, Susan says.
It started in April 2010 when Mark Sharpe, a neighbor and Hillsborough County commissioner, became a frequent customer, and picked the place to host informal, weekly gatherings. He soon set up a makeshift studio for Webcasts about politics and policy. Soon, the Webcast grew popular and a dozen or more people were showing up for Sharpe's confabs. Then last year, officials for the Mitt Romney campaign were scouting Tampa for sites during the Republican primary, and discovered Sharpe's affinity for Buddy Brew. Romney stopped at Buddy Brew for a meeting and photo op with local residents in June last year – with reporters from all over the world in tow. Then, right there at a table in the coffee shop, Romney made a political gaffe, joking that he himself was "out of work." Because of Romney's wealth, the comment became a widely repeated sound bite and minipolitical scandal. "Every media outlet in the world picked that up," Susan said. "And they ran a photo of Romney with our logo right there behind him." Two months later, Tim Pawlenty's campaign came by Buddy Brew for its own confab, with up-and-comer Will Weatherford introducing Pawlenty. Now, Susan admits, people around Tampa assume they're some kind of Republican power-brokers. So, did the Wards ever plan to be political in their brewing? "Not at all," Susan says, laughing. "We've never been that political about anything like this." Still, they don't mind the extra customer traffic that comes with notoriety, Susan said, and they will probably cater some coffee to events during the convention. "We'll probably get a lot of foot traffic with all the extra people downtown."

rmullins@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7919 Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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