Food writer and The Frugalista Life blogger Alexandria Jones is dedicated to shining a spotlight on Black-owned restaurants in Tampa. She made waves in February 2020 when she released the documentary, A Soulful Taste: Exploring Tampa Bay’s Black-Owned Food Scene. The short film consisted of interviews with Black restauranteurs in the city.
Jones’ contribution is particularly important as we need people doing this work outside of well known food cities like New York City and Los Angeles. Black-owned restaurants are thriving in Tampa and throughout the country.
It is critical that our businesses are visible and supported–even if that means showcasing them when the mainstream media does not. It was a pleasure to speak with Alexandria Jones about her experience as a Black food writer in Tampa and her commitment to disrupting the lack of representation in the food media world.
Interview with Tampa Food Writer Alexandria Jones
Tell me a little about yourself. Where does your passion for food come from?
I grew up in Orlando and I came to Tampa in 2007 when I started undergrad. I didn’t start actually getting interested in food until I met my boyfriend in 2013. When my family comes to visit, I don’t want to take them to the chains. You can get the same thing at Chili’s in Orlando that you can in Tampa.
When I decided to get my master’s degree in Digital Journalism, I added on a certificate in Food Writing and Photography. The certificate heightened my passion for food. My final project for graduate school was a study on Seminole Heights. It is home to popular restaurants like Xtreme Tacos and King of the Coop.
In 2017, I started writing about food for a local weekly newspaper [Creative Loafing Tampa]. I started as an intern and they asked me to stay on as a [freelance Food & Drink Editorial Writer]. It has been a wild ride since 2017. Tampa’s food scene has really grown in the 14 years I’ve been here.
I know you are a foodie, but do you cook?
I can’t cook, but I can follow a recipe. I might be able to make a couple tweaks, but I usually will do the same recipe every time. I was really good at Blue Apron because they give you all the ingredients and the directions.
Baking is another thing altogether. There is a science to it. You miss one thing and the entire thing is ruined. I just did some cookies, the break and bake cookies you get from the grocery store. I was very proud of them. They were golden brown, not burnt. I’m not at the level of making them from scratch yet.
My boyfriend is a better cook than I am. He has his signature dishes that people ask him for. After making a recipe a couple times, he can put his own spin on it. He has gotten recipes from his grandmother in North Carolina, and his macaroni is OMG! For Thanksgiving, instead of turkey, he made duck. It came out really well.
As far as food is concerned, I leave most of the cooking to him. Just ask me to write about the stuff. [Laughs.]
Alexandria Jones’ Move Into Tampa Food Writing
When did you know you wanted to be a food writer?
When I was applying for graduate school, I saw that my school had a fairly new Food Writing and Photography program. I like food and I had already been posting food pictures on Instagram. But my food pictures were horrible. They had filters on them–it was bad.
So I applied for the program and I got in. In Spring 2017, I was looking for an internship with a publication. I had read Creative Loafing [Tampa] in college off and on. I emailed them and asked about internships. I don’t remember who I emailed but I asked if they could pass [my inquiry] along to the food editor. I was nervous, but I ended up getting a position there.
The internship was fun. I would go to the office once or twice a week and I have been writing food for them for like three years now.
In addition to freelancing for Creative Loafing, you also have your own food and lifestyle blog. What inspired you to start The Frugalista Life?
Pretty much all through college, I would know all the celebrity gossip. Everyone would be like “Alex, I heard [such and such]…what happened?” So they were like, you need to start a blog. I started a Tumblr and then started working on The Frugalista Life in late 2017.
At the time I was taking a class where we were learning web design, but I had bought my domain name back in 2014. I was sitting on it. My boyfriend gave me a deadline to put the blog out or forget about doing it. I repurposed the content that I had written for other websites and put it on my site. That way, once I launched the blog people could go on there and start reading. I officially launched it in February 2018. It’s been fun. I have had a lot of stuff happen for me through my blog.
Making an Impact on the Tampa Food Scene
What types of opportunities have come from your blog?
I had already had the blog out for three months when I was sitting at Grimaldi’s at a food tasting for Tampa media. One woman, a local TV producer, said she would love to have me on her show so I took her up on her offer. [In the segment] we talked about where you can find vintage clothes. My props were actual shoes from my closet! Everyone from my job watched it. My boss was like, “I didn’t know you had that many shoes!”
On another occasion, an opportunity came from a story I wrote for Creative Loafing. It was about my summer bucket list. I wrote about wanting to ride an airboat in Naples, Florida. An airboat is a boat with a fan in the back. You can fit six to ten people in it, and there is a person maneuvering the boat. You use it to look at gators [in the Everglades].
The people from the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau saw my story and invited me out for a visit. It was my first sponsored trip, a whole weekend away. I drove the two hours to Naples. I went on an airboat tour and saw some gators. I saw their zoo and held a baby alligator named Casper. I wrote about the trip on my blog.
Tampa Filmmaker Alexandria Jones’ Documentary, A Soulful Taste
The content that caught my eye was your documentary, A Soulful Taste: Exploring Tampa Bay’s Black-Owned Food Scene. It is a short film in which you interview Black restauranteurs in Tampa. Can you talk about your background in video production and digital journalism? What inspired you to make this film?
I have a BA in Broadcast News and a MA in Digital Journalism from the University of South Florida. My first time ever editing video was in undergrad and I ended up liking it. My initial goal was to be in front of the camera, but being behind it is where the real fun is. As far as digital journalism, it’s just another layer to my skill set. I’d already written for a couple other websites prior to going back to school and I knew I wanted a blog. I figured, why not go back and learn what it takes to write on my own website.
2020 was really good for me. I I started working on A Soulful Taste in November 2019 and debuted it in February 2020. The idea stemmed from my boyfriend. When we travel somewhere, he always looks for the Black-owned food spots. For my birthday in 2019, we went to Miami and nearly everywhere we ate was Black-owned.
Before the release of the documentary, I was on TV again with the same producer and morning news show when I talked about vintage clothes. I emailed her my idea and we made it happen.
[The attention really escalated] with the [George Floyd] protests. Everyone was making a point to support Black-owned businesses. I did a podcast, some interviews, and was featured in Thrillist.
The film was released in February 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic. How have Tampa’s Black-owned restaurants fared during the pandemic?
It’s been good for them but also a challenge. I wrote a story for Creative Loafing about how they were dealing with it in early summer. It has been a challenge as Black-owned restaurants have more difficulty with accessing money, but there has been more support from customers.
We had Black Restaurant Week the day after Thanksgiving, so a lot of restaurants were included on that list in Tampa and throughout the state [of Florida]. I am just glad that they are making money. I want them to stay open.
Tampa’s Black-Owned Restaurant Scene
There was a lot of talk in the documentary about the importance of social media and marketing in the restaurant industry. Do you think that Black-owned restaurants leverage social media enough?
The media isn’t covering them enough. I am a Black food writer and I write for a white publication. Any time I’ve ever pitched a Black-owned restaurant, eatery, or business, I have never had a problem [getting the green light]. I was writing about Black owned spots in 2018, before it was a thing.
One of the restaurants I interviewed in the documentary, Ya Boy’s BBQ, unfortunately closed. [The owner] James would reach out to news stations like, “Hey we’re here!”, but nobody [from the media] would visit. A lot of these eateries are super popular with Black people but they get no coverage.
I’m a Black food writer and the media landscape here in Tampa is majority white. I have been to plenty of media dinners. There have been plenty of instances where I have been the only Black woman–or only Black person period–at the event. My boyfriend and I have an inside joke we tell each other when something like that happens.
There is a deeper issue here. Look at the ratio of celebrity male to female chefs, of celebrity Black male chefs to Black woman chefs. The lack of representation does not make sense, especially given that pretty much every food known in America has some roots in the influence of enslaved people.
A lot of the restaurateurs in the documentary talked about branching out beyond soul food and BBQ restaurants. What do you think about this?
There is a Black owned donut shop here. Jon’s Gourmet Nutrition does more healthy food, vegan and vegetarian. At Loving Hut they do vegan food. You have that. COPA is a wine bar in St. Petersburg and they do tapas.
Listen, we can do anything. Anything. That is probably what is so good about Black food in general. Most Black food came from the scraps that the slave master didn’t want, and we came up with whole cuisines.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture [in DC] covers Black American cuisines by region. It is interesting to see how Southern foods were adapted when Black people migrated to different places like Seattle, Washington or even LA.
We have a lot of fun with food.
Supporting Tampa Restaurants
How do you think that the Black-owned food scene can grow in Tampa?
I am excited to see the Black food scene grow in Tampa. I want to see it get more press, for the restaurants to get their name out there.
At the same time, part of me likes that there are a lot of Black-owned restaurants that are popular with Black people. They feel for us, by us. I don’t want that to be compromised.
What are a few Black-owned restaurants you would recommend to people visiting Tampa?
Cask Social in South Tampa. You gotta get the chicken and waffles and a grouper dish. I tried some of their new stuff. They had carrot cake, an andouille sausage stack, and the french toast was amazing. I have never not had a good time at Cask.
[Another spot is] Ava’s Lowcountry Cuisine. The owner is from South Carolina. Her shrimp and grits…amazing. Definitely get the shrimp and grits. She just told me she has some new stuff, so I have to go out to her restaurant again.
There’s another place I always shout out: 7th + Grove. All of their cocktails and food are named after songs. They just opened a new location at Sparkman Wharf, located outside downtown Tampa. They’ve done so much in the short time they’ve been open. Basically anything you get from one of those places you’ll enjoy.
Final Questions for Tampa Food Writer Alexandria Jones
What is your dream foodie destination?
New Orleans. You got to go to Cafe Du Monde for beignets even though it’s not Black owned. Morrow’s is also a great Black owned restaurant there. I had their chicken and waffles.
Another place I want to visit would be LA. With the Great Migration, a lot of Black people who live in California have roots in Louisiana. Morgan Jerkins, a writer I became obsessed with when she traced Beyoncé’s maternal lineage, wrote a book called Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots.
[Jenkins] talks so much about Black culture on Twitter. I love it. I’m always learning something new.
Who do you look up to in the food world, particularly with regards to people in media and food writing?
I had to read Marcus Samuelsson’s biography for my food writing class so I became more interested in him after that. I appreciate that he opened a Red Rooster location in Overtown, a Black area in Miami. I’m going to go there next time I’m in the city.
Carla Hall, mostly due to her hair and how happy she always is on the shows. Other non-food people I thoroughly enjoy are Elaine Welteroth, former Editor-In-Chief of Teen Vogue and Soledad O’Brien. If you are Black and in the media, I stan for you.
Are you working on any projects now that you would like to share?
I’m just writing food stuff that is local to this area. The last big thing I did as far as food writing goes was about Black Restaurant Week in Florida. That was a really big thing because it was the first year that it was here in the state. It was just exciting. I put the first story out, and the other media followed.
Follow Tampa Food Writer Alexandria Jones on Instagram @alleyomalleycat and support her blog here.