Tamara’s to focus on catering and food trucks

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This story is the final part of a limited series discussing changes in Apalachicola's restaurant scene. To read the overview story for the series, click here.

The origins of Tamara’s Cafe, closing its doors this month, date back more than 20 years with the arrival in Apalachicola of Tamara Saurez, the woman whose name will now grace Tamara’s On the Go, her son-in-law’s mobile food operation.

Saurez had been an investigative journalist in her native Valenzuela, married an American and emigrated here, had two children and lived in Atlanta before moving to Apalachicola.

It would be a few years before Tamara’s Cafe Floridita would be born, as she partnered first with a woman to open Tamara’s Cocina (”Tamara Cooks”) at the corner of Commerce Street and Avenue D, where the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce is now.

After a split with her business partner, Saurez moved to Harry A’s on St. George Island, where she ran the kitchen.

When a new owner bought the building, she moved back to the corner in Apalachicola where she had been, and her Cafe Floridita was born, a collection of Spanish cuisine spiced with Tamara’s engaging personality, making it a popular, sophisticated spot.

Enter daughter Marisa Getter, married to Danny Itzkovitz, moving down from Atlanta, with their eye on further advancing the fortunes of mom’s established restaurant beyond a modest mom-and-mom operation.

By Sept. 2002, the couple had bought the restaurant from Saurez, and she would then choose to slow down the bustle by opening a small, breakfast-and-lunch, talk with friends, read the newspaper or emails, admire the art and jewelry, much of it hers, cafe called Cafe Con Leche on Water Street. She would operate in the newly opened High Cotton Building on Water Street for several years, before her death two years ago.

Itzkovitz operated Tamara’s Cafe on Avenue E until 2008 when the restaurant moved to the former Prudential offices at Avenue D and Market Street.

There the sit-down restaurant flourished for 14 years, a favorite of locals and visitors alike. One hallmark was after Hurricane Michael, when Itzkovitz led an effort by the Garys and other local restaurateurs to serve food outside in a darkened town, an effort that included a visit from then-governor Rick Scott.

Ten years ago, the restaurant took over the site of what was once Buzzett’s Five and Dime years ago, and created Tapas.

“There had been the big market crash, and nobody was spending for dinner, the disposable income from the realtors was gone,” said Itzkovitz. “So we opened up Tapas at a lower price point.

“We single handedly started the live music scene in Apalachicola,” he said, ticking off such early musicians as Sonic Boom and the John Sutton Band.

“It was a great thing,” he said, heralding the growth that came later at the Apalachicola Ice Company and Bowery Station, which is now the site of High Five Dive Bar.

“The more the merrier,” Itzkovitz said. “We could get bigger and better acts and could fill both nights. Everybody in Apalachicola liked to work together.”

Itzkovitz said he was unable to agree on terms with landlord Patrick Ferguson when the lease was set to expire. Ferguson, who rents office space upstairs and is in the process of putting in short-term rentals, has not announced plans for the first floor space.

Because Tamara’s was able to serve liquor with a “pouring license” because the majority of its sales were food, it is less likely a free-standing bar would come into Tapas with an independent liquor license.

“He didn't want loud music under where he's trying to put in Airbnbs,” Itzkovitz said.

Itzkovitz continues to be in the process of moving his food service equipment to a catering kitchen he now leases at 801 Highway 98 in Apalachicola, from American Legion Post 106.

He said that it won’t be a restaurant but will be open for bridal parties and other event tastings.

He also has invested in three mobile units, the original black one that has stayed busy with catering events. This led to his purchasing a second, bigger, yellow unit from Lorne Whaley, who used to operate Up Grit Creek out of it. Itzkovitz also has a license for a hot dog cart, which he uses at special events. 

Itzkovitz said he’s at work now putting his second truck in the vacant private lot at Water Street and Avenue E, next to the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and the Arts.

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