When Greg Walker and the team at Tavistock Restaurant Collection began formulating the idea of an outdoor food and entertainment hub, they visited shipping container parks from Las Vegas to London to see the many ways in which these event venues were set up — and how they could create their own special space in Orlando’s growing community of Lake Nona.
“We wanted to make something unique for the area, and the intention was to bring people together around food and drinks and entertainment. We felt like this concept was a natural fit to do that,” says Walker, the company’s managing director.
The plan was clinched in a meeting as whimsical as the way Boxi Park eventually came to life: with a box of Jenga blocks.
“We laid it out and said, ‘Let’s go for it.'”
The result is a container park — constructed from repurposed shipping containers — that goes even beyond the food, drink and live entertainment that has locals easily parting with a $5 weekend cover to support the bands and serve as a killer night on the town that’s versatile, local and casual. Boxi Park is also home to a dog park, a playground and world-class beach volleyball, where Olympic Gold Medalist Phil Dalhausser runs his own academy and a local, just-for-fun league enjoys weekly competition before enjoying the post-play enjoyment of the bars and bites of Boxi has to offer.
“The Italian national team played here, the Qatar national team played here, the entire U.S. national team came to play,” Walker says. “According to Phil, he said there’s nothing like this … where you can play and have a really fun social atmosphere.”
That extends to watching sports, too, as Boxi Park recently extended its hours to host multiple viewings of various World Cup games, with attendance growing as the stakes rose.
“It was such a good time,” he notes. “When the U.S. hosts the World Cup, we’ll have even more of an ability to do these events because of the time zone.”
Even on regular weeks, though, the Central Florida container park, currently open Thursday through Sunday (lunch on weekends only), has been enthusiastically frequented by locals, and with Tavistock Restaurant Collection running the entire show, it’s easier to keep quality control.
Having one unified management team that cares about all concepts helps them provide a really good experience, Walker says. “Though we do occasionally bring in additional vendors and food trucks for very large events, in order to ensure that guests have lots of options and lines don’t get out of hand.”
On any given Saturday, live music — everything from solo acoustic acts to 10-piece bands — rock and folks across the demographic camp out to experience the entirety of what Boxi Park has to offer.”
There’s also room to grow, which was a key factor in rolling with the container park concept, though the idea of upcycling material for use in construction was an appealing side note.
“Overall,” says Walker, “I think the appeal of the container park is that it’s very easy to make a plan to come visit, whether it’s a small group or a big group. Everyone can do what they want. Everyone can make it their own. And in the case of Boxi, the food and drinks are all really good. So, it’s high quality, but also really, really relaxed and convenient.”
Boxi Park: 6877 Tavistock Lakes Blvd. in Orlando, 407-536-9666; boxiparklakenona.com)
Back in 2019, Tampa, right along with the rest of the world, was about to be in serious need of outdoor dining options where social distancing (a term yet to be coined) would be a high-level value add. Sparkman Wharf opened in downtown Tampa late in the year and quickly became a local favorite for everything from relaxed, outdoor happy hours to movies on the clean, green manufactured “lawn.” With a waterfront location walkable to venues including the Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay History Center and Florida Aquarium (along with a host of hotels), Sparkman Wharf appeals to locals and visitors, as well as cruise ship passengers, who enjoy pre- and post-sail pop-ins in the shadow of the massive ships that moor here.
Culinary choices at Sparkman are many, from coffee to K-dogs right on up to top chef level. At Swigamajig, for example, James Beard semifinalist Jeannie Pierola has concocted a “dive bar” and “fish kitchen” (her team’s portmanteau tributes to the food, location and vibe, presumably) that slings some phenomenal dishes like mixed fish ceviche and charred octopus Greek salad, even if they’re plating them on compostable paper boats. Adjacent to the kitchen, a separate container with a full bar boasts affable, knowledgeable barkeeps happy to match your mood to the best pick on their craft cocktail menu.
Similarly, Half Moon Seafood Bar brings Southern-inspired sea plates to quite lively life. Their Nashville hot fish sandwich has a beautiful bark (but a subtle bite), so fans can partake with a dollop of slaw and generous sides like the Southwest corn, both of which take it down yet another notch. Sparkman’s sprawling, airy setup features shipping containers around permanent buildings with traditional restaurants and a central beer garden with covered seating.
“The container park concept is appealing to use because it’s heavily traveled by both tourists and locals,” says James Beard-nominated chef Ferrell Alvarez, whose Tampa restaurant Rooster & The Till was recently folded into the Michelin Guide selection.
Alvarez and his partners in Proper House Restaurant Group first entered the Sparkman roster five years ago with Gallito Taqueria. Since then, they’ve added additional concepts Dang Dude and Lunch Lady.
“Channelside, downtown Tampa and Water Street have been filling up with residences, which has helped create supporting density for the park,” Alvarez said.
Sparkman Wharf: 615 Channelside Drive in Tampa, 813-618-5844; sparkmanwharf.com)
Not to be outdone by their more cosmopolitan neighbors in Tampa, folks in nearby Wesley Chapel, located about a 30-minute drive north, need not leave town for their container park fix. Krate is more than just a cute name. This exceedingly colorful container park, which opened in June of 2022, currently boasts nearly 100 units. More than 40 are food and drink-related concepts, most of which are locally owned indies.
No two venues are alike, which means visitors have myriad options for dining, from ramen to boba to the meaty, mafioso-themed offerings of Bacon Boss. Krate is considered a “wet zone,” which means those hitting up concepts like Brew Bar or the Blush Wine Room are free to stroll and shop with their adult sip or take in on-site events like car shows, live bands and more. The calendar here is rife with options, both weekly and unique.
Outside seating is ample throughout the park, but with 94 “krates” ranging in size from 320 to 960 square feet, some have indoor, climate-controlled options, too.
Krate: 6105 Wesley Grove Blvd. in Wesley Chapel, krateatthegrove.com)
Adding yet more color to one of Miami’s most vibrant neighborhoods, Oasis Wynwood, which boasts its own Nina Chanel mural, fits right into the mix with a vibe that feels a little like posh Lincoln Road through a container park filter. Diverse dining — tacos, dumplings, Korean fried chicken and more — pair beautifully with sips from the Tower Bar, a shipping container superstructure of sorts and an ideal spot to meet post-Wynwood exploration.
The area is home to myriad galleries, breweries and famed eateries (including James Beard Award Outstanding Bakery finalist Zak the Baker), and Oasis offers an ideal respite for those in the various stages of artistic exploration, visual or culinary. Live entertainment is regular here, as well, and with both outdoor and indoor seating areas, Oasis can really live up to its name when Miami’s oft-moody subtropical weather ramps up into the wet season.
Oasis Wynwood: 2335 N Miami Ave. in Miami; oasiswynwood.com
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