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Coffee, tea or jeans? New retail concept coming to Ybor

Buddy Brew Coffee and TeBella Tea are opening their first locations in Ybor City — sort of.

Founder of Black & Denim jeans and serial entrepreneur Roberto Torres will lease space on Seventh Avenue for a new kind of retail project, a combination coffee-tea shop with upper-end denim for sale in the back and a co-work space on the side for other plucky start-ups to get their footing.

The project will take up two spaces on Ybor City’s main drag, at 1903 and 1901 E. Seventh Ave., and take the name “The Blind Tiger Cafe.”

“This harkens back to Prohibition days,” Torres said. “When bars could not sell alcohol legally, they would tell people, ‘Hey, I have a blind tiger inside. It will cost you a nickle to see, but you’ll get a free drink.’ But everyone was in on the joke.”

As an entrepreneur, Torres could win an award for Most Moving Performance in Tampa. Years ago, he operated from a co-work office space on Armenia Avenue to launch the Black & Denim jeans company, selling authentic, American-made jeans in the James Dean style of cut.

After a Kickstarter campaign raised funds, he opened a micro-sized space in Ybor City with a closet-sized retail shop. He quickly outgrew that space and moved operations in another retailer’s space on Channelside Drive as a kind of in-house brand. Now, his new project will return to Ybor City, nearly across the street from his first Ybor space. His model in many ways is the Oxford Exchange combination coffee-tea-retail-restaurant operation. Buddy Brew will provide the coffee, and is training a set of baristas for the space, and TeBella is providing a similar product-training service.

That coffee-tea space will take up about 1,600 square feet of the total space, with the co-work space taking another 1,400.

Though the exact schedule could change, Torres should sign the lease within the next week, then begin an anticipated 3-week remodeling phase before opening, hopefully in the last week of September.

Meanwhile, Torres is getting momentum on the purely denim jeans front. The company recently passed $125,000 in sales, and he’s gone through a training program run by Macy’s for new suppliers. Prices vary, but jeans typically sell for $139 a pair and T-shirts for $28 to $38.

If all goes according to plan, Black & Denim jeans will be in Macy’s top 10 markets sometime in the fourth quarter of this year. That likely won’t include Tampa area stores, but it will be in Macy’s larger footprint stores that have more space to experiment with new brands.

Perhaps, Torres said, their co-work space will give another entrepreneur the chance to get a footing and take off the same way he did.

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