DUNEDIN — For those who enter this city’s downtown on the Pinellas Trail, the boxcar is a familiar site. The former CSX rail car, stationed beside the trail, has housed small shops and cafes through the years.
Last month, the owners of Casa Tina restaurant gave the Dunedin fixture a new start. With fresh paint and an menu of locally grown food, Tina and Javier Avila opened the Orange Crate Cafe on Sept. 27, and they say a steady crowd has followed.
It’s the Avilas’ third business venture in downtown Dunedin. The first two — Mexican eatery Casa Tina, and brick-oven pizza spot Pan y Vino — have been successful. Tina Avila calls her latest venture the city’s first coffee house, and she aims to make it authentically Dunedin.
“We’re trying to protect our uniqueness here, and one way to do that is for the people that own the business to be very vested in it,” she said.
The aim at Orange Crate Cafe is to offer as many local products as possible, whether that means incorporating local produce into the cafe’s deli items or asking St. Petersburg-based Kahwa Coffee to supply the coffee beans.
“We want to source the ingredients from the local growers, and then turn them into food … instead of getting them from California or Mexico,” Avila said.
The Avilas are coordinating with Bree Cheatham, who runs Dunedin Harvest Food and Garden Co-op, a network of local food producers who supply herbs, honey and other ingredients.
The boxcar is beside the Dunedin History Center and next to the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, which once was a rail line that brought citrus to Dunedin, where a major orange juice concentrate plant stood.
“It has history,” Avila said. “What we wanted to do, by calling it the Orange Crate Café, was bring the history back to it.”
The Avilas first set up shop in Dunedin in 1991 with Casa Tina, an authentic Mexican restaurant heavy on colorful Mexican folk art and vegetarian-friendly menu items — a rarity in the Tampa Bay area at the time. Within 15 years the 16-table restaurant on Main Street routinely was packed with diners.
“We had a huge waiting list,” she said. “We had requests for groups of 30, 40 people, which we had to turn away because we couldn’t possibly seat 30 people on a Friday night when we already had a line out the door. We kind of felt that it was a no-brainer to expand.”
They were able to snatch up a spot next door that was twice the size, but they also kept the original space and opened Pan y Vino there. Now they’re expanding Casa Tina again. Eventually, the Avilas hope to build a mixed-use development across from the boxcar.
“I just feel there’s a lot of opportunity still in Dunedin,” Avila said. “There are a lot of unfilled niches that need to be filled. Rather than go to another city and start another Casa Tina’s, I believe it’s better to make your town strong as you can by filling those niches first.”