EAST TAMPA -
Firecrackers popped and the costumed "lions" danced and swayed in colorful, joyous syncopation to the drum beat.
Outstretched hands pushed red envelopes stuffed with dollar bills into wide open jaws, securing good luck from the lions that symbolize joy and happiness.
One lion accepted a head of lettuce held forth by Mayor Bob Buckhorn as more than 40 people watched the performance of the traditional Chinese lion dance. It is an event used for thousands of years to dedicate temples, buildings and new businesses.
Standing in front of the Yummy House, the lion shredded the lettuce leaves to the right and left and in the middle, spreading prosperity.
The grand opening for the Chinese restaurant, at 2620 E. Hillsborough Ave., is a departure from the usual fast-food restaurants that line this east/west corridor.
With an upscale design and décor, it is meant to be different, said Tony Leung, co-owner with his wife Connie of Sanwa Growers. They developed the project and are leasing the site to John Zhao, who owns another Yummy House on Waters Avenue.
The Leungs have been loyal diners at the Waters Avenue location for at least 10 years and are Zhao's friends. Tony Leung said he had confidence that Zhao knew how to make the new location a success.
In a few months a second eatery — Country Pumpkin Café — will open next door, also operated by Zhao. It will serve Southern-style breakfasts and lunches and also can handle overflow from Yummy House.
The restaurants will use fresh produce and other products sold at Sanwa and its farmers' market.
It's a prime location for the neighborhood but also as a draw from outside East Tampa and Seminole Heights because of the interstates, Tony Leung said. "Everybody is 20 minutes away," he said.
In the past five years that stretch of East Hillsborough, east of 22nd Street, has been the focus of city efforts to encourage investment along the perimeters of the East Tampa special tax district.
In 2006 a $40 million public and private partnership built Meridian Pointe Apartments, an affordable housing complex directly behind Yummy House. Fifth-Third Bank also opened in front of the apartments and is now next door to the restaurant.
"We are changing the dynamics of East Tampa," said Buckhorn. "The growth that has taken place in the past five years is only going to continue. We are making a difference."
Yummy House is at
2620 E. Hillsborough Ave.