Tampa, FL: Spotlight Stokes Fans’ Hunger

Food Network's Guy Fieri talks with customers during the 2011 filming of "Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives" at the Taco Bus in Tampa. photo JEFF HOUCK/STAFF
By JEFF HOUCK | The Tampa Tribune
Food Network's Guy Fieri talks with customers during the 2011 filming of "Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives" at the Taco Bus in Tampa. photo JEFF HOUCK/STAFF
TAMPA – Two weeks ago, Chris Rose hired three new kitchen workers for his EATS American Grill on South Dale Mabry Highway.

He is preparing for an onslaught.

On Monday night, the Cooking Channel’s spicy foods show “Heat Seekers” will introduce America to Rose’s off-the-menu 5 Pepper Sauce, previously known only through word of mouth from those who tried the mouth-bomb of jalapeno, habanero, Scotch bonnet, Thai and ghost peppers on their Midwest BLT sandwich.

The show’s producers and stars, Aaron Sanchez and Roger Mooking, warned Rose to be prepared for a flood of new customers. One airing could boost foot traffic up to 60 percent, they said. The Bay-area episode also will include Crabby Bill’s in Indian Rocks Beach and Nitally’s Thai-Mex Cuisine in St. Petersburg.

In the past six months, the area has become a darling of food and travel cable channels. Owners of restaurants featured on such programs as “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” on Food Network and “Man v. Food Nation” on the Travel Channel say business skyrocketed after the national spotlight shined on them.

Later this year, the Cooking Channel show “Eat Street” is expected to do the same for the area’s growing food truck community, which includes the popular Fire Monkey, Taco Bus and Wicked ‘Wiches vehicles.

For Rose, preparing for the expected flood of spice aficionados included a frantic search for ingredients to make additional 5 Pepper Sauce. He exhausted the local grower who usually supplies him in season with ghost peppers. He had to tap resources in California and South America that still are growing peppers hot enough to torture the taste buds.

“We’re going to get so much exposure,” Rose said. “I’ve told my staff that we have one shot to introduce EATS American Grill to them……

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