Oscura Cafe & Bar serves up craft culture to Downtown Bradenton

As evidenced by the ongoing “revitalization” of new storefronts populating the 13th street and 6th Avenue west corner in downtown Bradenton, native Bradentonians Keith Nasewicz and Ben Greene of Oscura Cafe and Bar are hoping to make Oscura the hub of local, craft culture.

“I think we’re trying to create a cultural outlet for people here, something for the artists, and the musicians, and the people who are interested in that,” said Nasewicz. “We want to be the flagship for it and see where it grows, and hopefully we’re trying to get this street really developed and turned into the ‘mecca’ of trend and art and music for 13th street in Bradenton.”

Nasewicz and Greene’s journey towards building their own “mecca” in Bradenton began years before in 2005, as the two Manatee High School students would orbit the now-closed V Town Surf and Skate III skateboard shop where Greene worked. The two cite the V Town’s casual meeting spot atmosphere as a precursor to what is now Oscura.

Oscura Cafe and Bar (Photo: Alex Buono)

The two spent years apart as Nasewicz went off to college to study psychology, briefly flirting with becoming a psychologist before pursuing a photography career that rekindled his creativity. Greene’s post-high school years were spent traveling nationwide with a touring “metal-core” band at 19, where his curiosity in the music business inspired him to start his own music label.

Coffee being prepared at Oscura Cafe and Bar. (Photo: Alex M Buono)
Oscura prepares various menu items, including a Cuban sandwich. ( Photo: Alex M Buono)
Oscura Cafe and Bar. (Photo: Alex M Buono)

After his time in the music business, Greene’s interest in business grew into becoming a full-fledged serial entrepreneur in recent years, where he launched several startups locally. Nasewicz meanwhile was burning out on the heavy traveling of his photography career, where he later transitioned to launching tech startups of his own centered around application development.

According to Nasewicz, it was around this time Greene approached him about starting a business in Bradenton.

“Growing up, I mean, you would hear it so often your friends saying, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to get out of Bradenton, Bradenton’s lame, there’s nothing to do here,’ when in reality there’s so much opportunity here,” Greene said. “We have some of the best beaches in the world, we still have that small-town feel, everybody’s friendly, everybody’s cool here. And so coming back to that as an adult and seeing its potential was exciting,” Greene added.

In conceptualizing their vision for what would become eventually become Oscura as their business, Nasewicz and Greene knew that they wanted to start a cultural trend for other businesses in the area to blossom.

“When we did our research we found that a meeting place, something like this, where there’s more of a curated experience; whether it’s the high quality of the coffee or the food or the drinks that we offer, things like that, and it developed more into a coffee shop as the primary focus,” Nasewicz said.

When trying to figure out what they would eventually name this new business, the idea of coffee as a ‘dark matter’ that gives energy that “binds the universe” became a prominent theme. Greene credits Nasewicz with the trending idea of changing the language, where they discovered the Latin translation of dark matter as “materia obscura.”

Oscura Cafe and Bar owner Keith Nasewicz chats with customers. (Photo: Alex M Buono)

Formerly the location of Foster Drugs and Surgical Supplies that bookended the 13th street west corner for over fifty years, Oscura’s bright white exterior storefront and DIY aesthetic was self-financed and designed by Greene and Nasewicz themselves. According to Greene, Nasewicz’s preoccupation with interior design has been evident since the beginning of their friendship.

“He will straight up be reading an interior design catalog when we’re playing Call of Duty or just goofin’ off,” Greene said. ” He’s just so into that and so good at it.”

The exterior of Oscura Cafe and Bar on 13 Street and 6th Avenue West (Photo: Alex M Buono)
Oscura’s ornamental DIY design features vintage box cameras and a variety of vegetation. (Photo: Alex M Buono)

Oscura’s DIY aesthetic also influence their approach to their ever-changing menu. Greene and Nasewicz do not have formal culinary training but credit their research in traveling to the cities on the forefront of contemporary restaurant and coffee culture. From experimenting with the coffee soda to new tasting and pairing menus as well serving beer and wine trivia nights for the over 21 crowds during the evening, Greene and Nasewicz explained that Oscura’s goal of being the craft destination for Bradenton includes a plethora of upcoming events.

“We want to develop our own market in our area, something new for the craft person to get plugged in with,” Greene said. “We’re definitely trying to shake things up, get people excited.”

A lunchtime business meeting held at Oscura (Photo: Alex M Buono)

In looking towards future expansion, including an outdoor wine and beer garden, to partnerships with local breweries for Oscura-brand beer and friendly city flea market on Feb. 23, Greene and Nasewicz praise their longtime friendship and their connection to the local business community for Oscura’s continued success.

“If you’re looking to start a business, surround yourself with the people who have the experiences and have the strengths, and realize you have weaknesses that you need those people as a team to help you with,” Nasewicz said. “And work with your community, don’t fight them. That’s a big part of it.”

For more on Oscura Cafe and Bar’s list of events and updates, visit Oscuracafe.com.

Cafe Oscura owners Keith Nasewicz and Ben Greene. (Photo: Alex M Buono)


At Drago’s, Fernando Drago’s Passion is Serving his Community

Fernando Drago has led many different professional lives.

He’s worked as a carpenter, construction worker, and an oyster shucker.

For the last three years, Drago’s latest incarnation has been the Chef and Owner of Drago’s Cuban Café in Downtown Bradenton, where the restaurant was reviewed in 2017 by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.  The restaurant is known for its unique take on the Cuban sandwich amongst other dishes, that combine Drago’s diverse Italian and Cuban heritage.

For Drago, his love of cooking started with his family when he was just four years old watching his father, also a chef, cook in various restaurants in the New York Metropolitan area.

“My parents were dancing and cooking, but cooking was the big thing,” Drago said.

Six months after Drago and his wife, Ronda, opened the doors to Drago’s in Downtown Bradenton in Jan. 2014, Drago was diagnosed with bladder cancer. In not wanting to alarm his patrons or family, the couple decided to keep his diagnosis secret.
“I just never talked about it for the first year,” Ronda explained. “And then the second year when we had another scare, I had to at that point. I needed my family and my friends at that time,” she added.

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Drago thrives on interacting with his customers. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

According to the American Cancer Society as of 2018, incident rates have decreased while mortality rates have stabilized. The National Cancer Institute states that the current 5-year survival rate for patients is 77 percent, according to studies conducted from 2007-2013.

Drago continued to work throughout his diagnosis, and claims that in battling his cancer, the fight was another formative experience in his professional life.

“I’m proud to have made it through all that, proving to myself that I’m blessed,” Drago said. “It’s toughened me up, build character. That’s all it is,” he added.

For more information on Drago’s, click here.

The Prospects of Housing Bradenton’s Homeless in 2018

According to the Point in Time census survey conducted this year by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, the total number of homeless persons has declined from 474 in 2016, to 328 persons this past year. Despite this decrease in the number of homeless people in town, the City of Bradenton’s community redevelopment plan is a top priority for Bradenton officials heading into 2018.

(Avery Burke, senior specialist of homeless outreach for Centerstone Behavioral Hospital in Bradenton, Florida, describes his journey to homeless outreach in Bradenton, Florida on Dec. 12, 2017. Information Source: Alex M Buono)

Avery Burke (see video above) is the senior specialist in Homeless Outreach for Centerstone Behavioral Hospital’s access center located in Bradenton, Florida. For Burke, a lifelong resident of Bradenton, coming into the awareness of the scale and size of Bradenton’s homeless population was a revelation he didn’t have until he started his professional journey.
 
“Once the door was open, it was like a mind-opening experience,” said Burke. “I didn’t notice all of this was there.”
 
According to the recommendations of the City of Bradenton’s Community Development Block Grant Program Consolidated Action Plan for the years 2017 to 2021, a stated goal for transitional housing is a city-subsidized program overseen by a non-profit with experience in transitional housing. The recent increase in population growth of residents in Bradenton and Manatee Counties as reported in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2016, make the efforts for transitional and long-term housing of the homeless all the more urgent.
 
“We researched how we can do more affordable stuff,” Burke said. He continued, “You have the push on tiny homes, tiny home communities, all of the smaller; style one and two-person homes that can be built more affordably.”
 
In recent years, the downtown area of Bradenton has been undergoing an urban renaissance with the expansion of the Village of the Arts (VOTA) and the creation of the Bradenton Riverwalk. In 2013, the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority (DDA) proposed the multi-year urban revitalization project entitled “The Village Tapestry.” In June of 2015, the DDA stated that the goal for the Village of the Arts expansion was to acquire properties for mixed-used redevelopment that are, “targeted to a mix of Millennials, Boomers, and creative professionals who want to live, work, create, and play in an Urban Environment.”
 
Professor James Wright, co-author of Poor and Homeless in the Sunshine State: Down and Out in Theme Park Nation and the Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Florida, says this type of housing focus is not new to the state.
 
“The absurdity and the tragedy is that the state has been through four decades of housing and population growth yet almost no attention has been paid to housing the poor. So, while there is lots of housing, there is very little affordable housing,” Burke said.
 
Wright added, “And what little there is, is threatened by gentrification and ‘revitalization’ efforts.”
 
The multiple projects for downtown revitalization have faced some pushback in the recent years, most volubly during a June 2015 city council vote, in which the council consolidated its control over the various community redevelopment agencies because some community members appealed to the council for more community involvement.

(Artist Mark Burrow describes the transformation of the Village of the Arts in Bradenton, Florida on Dec. 12, 2017. Information Source: Alex M Buono)

One newcomer to the Village of the Arts neighborhood, Mark Burrow (see video above), owner of the Art Junkies gallery and a longtime Sarasota resident and artist, cautioned that the City of Bradenton might be losing focus due to the multiple projects. “We’re still not done here. This (VOTA) has been almost twenty years in the making, and we’re still not connected to the Riverwalk.” Burrow added, “So starting new projects, great, but kinda focus on one at a time.”
To Avery Burke, the solution to house the homeless population in Bradenton is reaching out to those landlords and building owners willing to help. “It’s finding that person that has a heart and is willing to help in putting in as many people as they can.”
 
For more information on Centerstone’s mental health services, click here.
 
For more information on the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, click here.