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Custody battle brewing over Woody's restaurant

Patrons have lunch at Woody’s Waterfront Cafe and Beach Bar in St Pete Beach on Tuesday. The owners are suing each other for control.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Patrons have lunch at Woody’s Waterfront Cafe and Beach Bar in St Pete Beach on Tuesday. The owners are suing each other for control.

Since the 1940s, diners at Woody's Waterfront Cafe and Beach Bar., a small seaside restaurant in St. Pete Beach, have enjoyed fresh seafood while taking in the relaxing sights and sounds of the gulf. While loyal Woody's customers still flock to the restaurant daily to enjoy blackened fish sandwiches and the scent of the sea, there may now be a sour hint of strife in the air as well.

According to papers filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, David George and Marlene George, the husband-and-wife co-owners of the establishment, are involved in a bitter divorce that has taken a toll on the restaurant. Allegations of public drunkenness and verbal abuse on restaurant premises have been leveled in the dispute, and now both parties are battling for control of the business. David George, 61, and Marlene George, 65, have been married since 1972 and have owned Woody's since 1989.

The battle began in November 2007, when Marlene George filed divorce papers. Then in August 2008 she asked the court for temporary possession of Woody's, claiming that her husband's behavior was interfering with the business. She claimed that in addition to allowing the premises of the restaurant to deteriorate, her husband showed up to work while intoxicated and has verbally abused her while drunk.

According to her allegation, George "made vulgar and disparaging comments" about his wife to other employees. She also claimed that her husband "made improper sexual comments to an employee."

Both co-owners and their respective attorneys declined to comment on current legal battles, but George did say that the bitter dispute has not affected the number of customers dining at Woody's. "Our business is up," he said Tuesday in a phone call. "I'm here all the time and I can tell you that things are looking good for the business."

Yet in a separate lawsuit, George is suing his wife, claiming that her allegedly inappropriate behavior has caused Woody's to lose a substantial amount of business. He is asking the court to intervene to stop his wife's disruptive interference in the business.

Among the allegations filed in his suit, George is claiming that his wife has screamed at him in the presence of customers and demanded that he leave the restaurant. George also claimed that his wife has leveled false charges of domestic violence against him, and that she has called police at least three times since July to have him removed from the restaurant.

In addition, his lawsuit claims that Woody's made $278,450 in the first three quarters of 2008, but that he only received 37 percent, or $103,000, of those funds when he should have received 50 percent. George has also claimed that vendors aren't being paid, that his wife has not allowed him access to the business' financial records, that she has "continually harassed" him and has changed the mailing address for Woody's without telling him.

Through her attorney, Marlene George declined to comment on the specifics of the case, referring a reporter instead to the court documents.

The disharmony between the owners has had little apparent effect on customers.

"I've been eating at Woody's seven days a week for a few years," said Sky Coltrane, 66, a loyal patron.

"All I know is that they have some of the best seafood in town, that's all that matters."

Custody battle brewing over Woody's restaurant 12/02/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 2:47pm]
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