TAMPA — The restaurant generating the biggest buzz among trendy diners in town is Rooster & the Till, the cozy new spot opened last month on Florida Avenue by chef Ferrell Alvarez and business partner Ty Rodriguez.
The 37-seat restaurant is quickly becoming known for using local ingredients in creative ways. One plate combines seared pork belly with peppercorn honey, corn bread and pickled apple.
Not on the menu at Rooster & the Till: Rooster. (The closest thing is chicken liver.) And there’s not a farmer’s till to be found in the dining room or outside.
This isn’t Burger King, Pizza Hut or Taco Bell, where literal meanings are designed to grab passing eyeballs.
Naming a restaurant has changed dramatically in the past two decades, including in the Tampa area. Once, it was standard to attach plainspoken handles like Bern’s Steak House, Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish and Big Tim’s Bar-B-Q, to set the table visually for who owned the restaurant and indicate what kind of food to expect. During the past decade, it became fashionable to keep a customer guessing with a clever name that’s a play on words, includes parts of the address or hints at a hidden meaning.
“You should give your restaurant name some thoughtful consideration because it will help convey your message to a targeted audience,” author Ronald Lee writes in the 2005 book “The Everything Guide to Starting and Running a Restaurant.”
So where did the name Rooster & the Till come from?
“Ty always had a thing for roosters,” Alvarez said. “Rooster hats, rooster shirts. He has a rooster infatuation.”
Rodriguez said the bird signifies a new start, like the way a rooster lets you know a new day is dawning. Also, roosters and hens run wild in Ybor City, where both men spent time when they were younger. The word “Till” is a symbol for the close ties the restaurant keeps with local farmers and a metaphor for the new culinary ground they hope to plow.
Even the ampersand has meaning. To be consistent with their brand and logo, they use an ampersand on the menu as a substitute for the word “and.”
“I like things that push the envelope and grab your attention,” Alvarez said.
Down the avenue from Rooster, at The Refinery, owners Greg and Michelle Baker plan to deploy an ampersand in the name of their next restaurant, Fodder & Shine, though there was a bit of a conflict about doing so. When they named The Refinery, Greg Baker didn’t want a “The” at the front end. For the upcoming restaurant, it was Michelle who dug in her heels.
“So many restaurants were coming out with it in the name,” Michelle Baker said, citing places like Cask & Larder in Orlando. “But we liked Fodder & Shine.”
The new name is a combination of secondary meanings, with Fodder being another way of saying food and Shine being a reference to moonshine. Only not the beverage. The dictionary’s second definition refers to moonshine as “informal foolish talk or thought; nonsense.”
It was the dictionary’s second meaning for refinery that led to the first restaurant’s name: “An establishment for refining something.” The goal was to convey that the restaurant is a place where basic ingredients are refined into something special.
Not everyone gets the pun. The Refinery staff occasionally fields phone calls from people inquiring about whether they refine precious metals. But it’s better than fielding lawsuits. Their other more playful idea for a name, The French Laundromat, would likely have brought trademark trouble from culinary hero Thomas Keller, chef at The French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley.
When it came time to open a restaurant in South Tampa, Roger Perry wanted to evoke the spirit of Katzinger’s Delicatessen, his favorite sandwich shop when he lived in Columbus, Ohio. As he and his wife, Suzanne, researched other famous delis, like Katz’s Deli in New York, the letter Z kept catching their attention.
He had deployed double Z’s to name Petzazz, a chain of 31 pet supply stores in the Midwest he owned and later sold. So when consultants brought a list of about 60 ideas for the Perrys to consider, all had to have Z in their name. They chose Datz Delicatessen & Foodie’s Market. The name was tweaked to just Datz as their concept evolved into less of a deli and more of a restaurant.
The Perrys liked Datz because the name was simple and punchy. And unique. Or so they thought.
“We didn’t know it when we named the restaurant, but there is a Datz family that lives in our neighborhood,” Roger Perry said. “On opening day they came in and introduced themselves; they were from New York. They weren’t mad. We gave them Datz hats and T-shirts. I told them if we got any complaints, we’d send people to them.”
Some names imprint a sense of place as well as a hint of the restaurant’s concept.
Edison Food + Drink Lab in Tampa was among a long list of names. Ultimately chef Jeannie Pierola and brand operations manager Melissa Judge settled on the name because of the proximity of the Kennedy Boulevard restaurant to the cross street of Edison Avenue.
“We thought it really fit with the inventive comfort-food cuisine Jeannie had in mind, because of [Thomas] Edison being a very famous inventor, of course,” Judge said.
Cigar City Brew Pub in Carrollwood got its name from Cigar City Brewing, which founder Joey Redner chose because he wanted to pay tribute to Tampa’s cigar factory heyday. Beyond the brand, each variety of beer the brewery produces includes some reference to Tampa in the name.
“Any time you use a local term for something, it makes someone curious,” Redner said. “People are inquisitive. Then when they learn what the meaning is, they can tell someone, ‘Did you know they’re called Cigar City because ...’”
Chef and owner Curtis Beebe picked Pearl in the Grove for his farmhouse restaurant because of the location in rural Dade City, and because a Southern friend suggested a more rustic spot instead of a high-traffic location that once was a fast-food building.
“A friend with a Tennessee preacher’s voice said to me, ‘Well, Curtis, you wouldn’t want to be casting your pearls before swine.’ It just sort of stuck,” Beebe said.
Z Grille, Zack and Jennifer Gross’ restaurant, partly refers to a city — just not the one they’re in.
Gross said he moved to Pass-a-Grille after relocating from San Diego, but plans fell through to open Z Grille on Eight Avenue there. He later created a burrito spot named Zurritos on Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg. When Z Grille opened on Second Street South, they kept the Pass-a-Grille reference.
Names are important to the couple. Their daughter’s name, Zen, is a combination of Zack and Jennifer.
Some identities are birthed from necessity. When Jorge and Madelin Gonzalez bought Arco-Iris Restaurant on Columbus Drive in Tampa, they were too strapped for money to change the name, which means “rainbow” in Spanish. Daughter Jeanette Llauger said that by the time the couple could afford to change it, everyone knew the name, so they had to keep it.
“Some people think my mom’s name is Iris,” she said.
A lack of money is what shaped the sign outside Bern’s Steak House. Husband and wife partners Bern and Gert Laxer bought Beer Haven on South Howard Avenue in 1956. The cost of a new sign kept them from naming it Bern and Gert’s Steak House. Instead, they cannibalized the Beer Haven sign and used the existing letters to make a sign that read “Bern’s.” It became Bern’s Steak House because the phone company wouldn’t allow businesses to use single first-name listings.
In Brandon, Ty Mathis and his wife, Lacey, were trying to evoke their favorite beer halls in Germany as well as her love of wine when they named their Bloomingdale Avenue gastro pub The Stein & Vine. (Note the ampersand. And the The.)
His original idea, back when the former beer distributor had it in mind to create a brewing supply store, was to name it Hoppy Hopperton’s Hoptorium. It was the first of many puns.
“She wanted to do Frank & Steins and serve German food, but there already is a place named that,” Mathis said.
Culture and cleverness combined when Cheong Choi bestowed Café Hey on his North Franklin Street restaurant in Tampa. Hey is a word for happiness in Cantonese. The word is used in the context of a wish for “double happiness” for Chinese newlyweds.
The script version of Hey is incorporated into the Cafe Hey logo of a coffee cup and saucer with rising steam. There was debate about whether to put Hey first or last.
“I think rhythmically it’s a bit nicer having Hey after Café,” Choi said.
When Lynn Pham used the word bamboozle in her downtown Tampa restaurant’s name, she intended it to be culturally significant and yet playfully provocative. The Bamboozle Cafe includes the word bamboo as a tip off to the menu’s Vietnamese spring rolls, salads and Vietnamese pho soup. But there’s a hidden message.
“I wanted to draw first-timers and ease them into healthy dining,” Pham said. “I came up with Bamboozle because I wanted to playfully bamboozle you into healthy eating.”
She recognizes that bamboozle means to deceive by underhanded methods or to confuse and frustrate.
“What better way to con someone than for something good?” she said. “It makes me work 10 times harder so that when I use a name like that it isn’t going to kick me in the you-know-what.”