New restaurant keeps it real

Driving down Fowler Avenue on a seemingly ordinary night, I spotted something through my peripherals. At first I wasn’t sure if I read the sign correctly: HipHopSodaShop. Upon further investigation, I knew I had just stumbled onto something incredible – a brand new franchise that merges hip-hop with online gaming.

To appreciate something innovative, one must understand its origins. HipHopSodaShop started as the result of a contest sponsored by Bank of America to create a “great business plan.”

Jamar McNeil and Bryan Peters came up with the concept of a family-style, hip-hop themed restaurant that participates in the online gaming community. Together with Dr. Benjamin Chavis, former head of the NAACP, they founded H3 Enterprises, which acts as the parent company of HipHopSodaShop.

“We wanted something that was easy to franchise and duplicate,” said Mike Fernandez, part owner of the new venue.

The unique atmosphere is apparent the moment one enters the building. For starters, the restaurant hosts an actual recording studio. If so inclined, a patron could record a song over a track and have the chance to win a $100,000 recording session with a record label. It doesn’t take much to figure out the massive opportunity this presents for aspiring local musicians.

HipHopSodaShop also acts as a state-of-the-art gaming facility, with more than 24 large flat screens connected to Xbox consoles. Game titles such as Halo 3 and Gears of War are available to play for a nominal fee, and all units are connected online. For gamers, a facility like this is a dream come true with the possibility of having LAN (Local Area Network) parties and hosted tournaments.

Sticking to their focus on a community-style restaurant however, the owners of HipHopSodaShop know that giving wireless controllers to young gamers is a great way of keeping the family together and hassle-free while dining.

“You go to other places and the kids are usually running around causing a ruckus,” said Fernandez. “With HipHopSodaShop, we can give a video game controller to a young gamer and it’s amazing how quietly they’ll stay put.”

It is easy to see the potential influence HipHopSodaShop will have in the near future, considering the talent that has already graced the grand opening event. A slew of famous hip-hop artists and celebrities came to celebrate the birth of the franchise, including Busta Rhymes, DJ Money, Jules Santana, Cassidy, Jim Jones, Dougie Fresh, Winky Wright and J.T. Money.

As if the prospect of having a hip-hop themed restaurant that doubles as an online gaming facility wasn’t enough, the owners plan to hold monthly concerts and national celebrity appearances in the near future. Talent shows and autograph opportunities are also in the works for HipHopSodaShop, boosting the venue’s exponentially growing appeal.

A great addition for the USF community, HipHopSodaShop provides all the styling of a downtown venue within reach of campus. HipHopSodaShop is the much-needed cultural melting pot we’ve been waiting for.