ST. PETERSBURG — The decision to sell Central Coffee Shoppe was a bittersweet one for the Mangels sisters, but one that had been coming for a while.
Their parents, John and Chris, had started the restaurant at 530 Central Ave. in 1975, the same year the then-19-year-old high school sweethearts who had just moved from New York got married. Regular customers had practically watched Michelle and Nicole, who took over ownership in 2004, grow up in the restaurant. In the heart of a morphing downtown, the Marilyn Monroe-decked, no-frills breakfast and lunch spot where the chef would throw a regular customer’s order on the grill before he even sat down, offered a bit of familiarity.
But after 14 years, Michelle, 32, said she and her sister were ready for their next chapter. After their dad died in 2008, it hadn’t been the same and after four years of trying to sell, the sisters sold the restaurant to Steve Rizos, 60, who moved to St. Petersburg last June after being involved in the restaurant industry in Tennessee for more than 45 years. Mangels and Rizos declined to comment on the price of the sale.
"It was always busy," Michelle Mangels said. "My mom used to make $100 just in quarters. But downtown has changed a lot, and we were getting burned out."
Mangels said that while they’re happy to have the time to figure out what’s next, they’ll miss the customers.
"They’re like family," she said. "They come in every single day and order the same exact thing. That’s pretty much what made our business."
But even that began to change in recent years, she said.
"It definitely changed in the past five years with downtown changing and the Internet and people Googling things," she said. "We then had about 50 percent regulars and 50 percent new faces."
Dick Reedy, who started coming to the restaurant twice a week when he first moved to the area in 2004 for the pancakes, eggs, bacon and "outstanding" home fries — and then three or four times a week after he retired — became fast friends with the family.
Reedy said the restaurant staff was just as friendly to those who were coming in for the first time as to those who’d been coming in for decades.
"There was really a lot of dynamic between Michelle and Nicole and the customers," he said. "It was a small place, so you could hear what everyone was saying, so you learn details of people’s lives. Even if you didn’t want to hear something, you’d learn about it. Nicole at one end of the restaurant could hear what you were saying even if she was cooking. I could ask someone near me something, and she could hear."
At 9 a.m., he said, someone would always be sure to shout to feed the parking meters, a courtesy alarm of sorts, he said.
Rizos said the special relationship the previous owners had with their customers is something he hopes to uphold. He noticed it when he first visited last summer.
"It means everything — that’s one of the reasons I bought this place," he said. "It’s going to stay that way. Nothing will change."
Reedy said he has been back once since the ownership has switched. It was all good, he said, but he missed seeing the family.
"I was really fond of the people," he said. "It became kind of a social club for me. A couple years ago, I retired, just to go there and say hi to people, and start off the morning with a bit of friendliness. … Central Coffee almost felt like a neighborhood bar. It had an old-fashioned diner feel to it. I don’t see too much of that."
Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.