This article is sponsored by Nestle
Ferrell Alvarez was already a successful chef on the Tampa food scene when he decided to open his own eatery with business partner Ty Rodriguez. He was dealing in fresh concepts and local sourcing long before it became the hot trend, so that was a natural evolution for Rooster & The Till, his Seminole Heights restaurant. Rooster & The Till will celebrate its two year anniversary in December. It’s a mecca for Tampa foodies, and Alvarez recently shared what it’s all about and why it’s so popular.READ MORE: Local Puppies Making Their Debut At The Puppy Bowl XVIII
How did you get started in the restaurant business and how did your career evolve in Tampa?
I started washing dishes when I was 15 in northern Kentucky and worked there until I was 19. I graduated from high school, went to the Cincinnati Culinary Arts Academy, and came to Tampa in 1999 or 2000. I’ve been working in this area ever since. I started at Saddlebrook Resort and worked my way up to the rank of Sous Chef Tournant. Then I was hired by Marty Blitz at Mise en Place. He’s quite the legend around here in Tampa. I was there over seven years and worked my way up to Chef de Cuisine. They hired a new general manager, Ty Rodriquez, who brought the restaurant to great heights. We took over Cafe Dufrain and that took off. Then we opened Rooster & The Till.
What was your inspiration for the concept and menu for Rooster & The Till?
After working at the last place, I saw there were a lot of restrictions and a desire to be a formula restaurant. We didn’t want that. We wanted to do what we wanted to do, with a small plate concept that didn’t pigeon hole people into one main course. We didn’t put anything “safe” on the menu. None of the wine is a popular label, and there are no corporate soda brands. That was out of the box at the time for Tampa. We wanted to do everything independently, to the beat of our own drummer, from the music we play to the way we dress.
You locally source your food and also used reclaimed materials for the restaurant itself. What inspired that idea?
As far as the look of the restaurant, at the time money wasn’t abundant but we were pretty stylistic. We wanted really great features, so we had to find ways to pull that off. We looked into building a wall out of reclaimed wood, and that turned into sourcing fences in the immediate area. It took two and a half weeks of sitting on buckets and taking apart fences. We had a picture of a rooster on railroad tracks from Ybor City, so we took that to an imagery company, blew it up and it’s now an image in the middle of the wood. We used many local artisans. We sourced a local bartender to make the bar by hand, and a local guy took the tables we wanted, wrapped them in zinc, and distressed them.
Local sourcing of food has always been in our principles and philosophies. Even years ago, as a chef I wanted the freshest food I could get, and that means local by default. I built relationships, got in touch with local farmers and purveyors, and bought direct. We don’t deal with broadband suppliers. You’ll never see a truck pull up and drop off those things. We go to the local market here and buy from farms and gardens. We’re pretty proud of that.READ MORE: Mulberry Man Fatally Shot On Sunday Evening
How did you chose the Seminole Heights section of Tampa as the location for Rooster & The Till?
Seminole Heights is four miles north of downtown and close to Ybor City. It’s a great location, with old bungalow houses dating back 100 years. It’s got an up and coming food and art scene, but unlike south Tampa, it’s still affordable for families. People here tend to be a bit more open-minded, with an old school neighbor mentality where they look out for each other. Good things don’t have to be fancy or pretentious. We live here, and we felt this was a better demographic to receive what we have to offer.
What do you think about the current Tampa restaurant scene?
It’s booming right now. Every scene is at a blooming stage here, from restaurants to art to music.
Are there any special challenges in the Tampa area?
Yes, especially when dealing with the city of Tampa. A lot of things haven’t been done yet in certain areas, so trying to figure it out is very challenging, especially for small, independent restaurants that don’t have deep pockets. It puts longevity on the process, which costs money and makes it hard to weather the storm. Fortunately we figured it out.
How did people react to the Rooster & The Till concept?
We opened up like gangbusters, pushing two to three hour waits. I think that’s because we’ve been in Tampa for 13 years, and we’ve had the opportunity to build a rapport with people and give them a lot of positive belief in us. We plan to stay the course and stay grounded, and so far it seems to be a good path that we’re on.MORE NEWS: Over $23,000 Raised From Betty White Challenge At Humane Society of Tampa Bay
Barbara Nefer is a freelance writer covering all things Orlando Her work can be found on Examiner.com.