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Despite 'for sale' sign, Hungry Harry's in Land O'Lakes not closing

“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to help my business survive,” says Harry Wright of Hungry Harry’s Famous Bar-B-Que. He wants to sell the land under the restaurant and lease it back.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to help my business survive,” says Harry Wright of Hungry Harry’s Famous Bar-B-Que. He wants to sell the land under the restaurant and lease it back.

LAND O'LAKES — The blue sign fronting U.S. 41 next to the painted-on cow stood in stark contrast to the red neon sign that said "open."

And Harry Wright, owner of the legendary Hungry Harry's Famous Bar-B-Que, hopes the blue sign will help keep the red sign on.

The restaurateur is putting all his 5.8 acres up for sale, including the 350-foot lakefront portions as well as the dirt under Hungry Harry's.

"I've got to do what I've got to do to help my business survive," said Wright, 58, who is famous for his mouth-watering pulled pork and his community service.

Contrary to how the sign might make things appear, he is not selling or closing the business, at least not now. He would like to find a buyer who would let him lease the land and continue to sell barbecue.

At the height of the housing boom, Wright spent more than $1-million buying up property surrounding his restaurant. He used some for extra parking and the rest to expand his restaurant and catering business.

But now the economy is as bad as Wright has ever seen. Sales are weaker and expenses shot up in the wake of higher gas prices. In September when the financial sector was in full meltdown mode, catering dried up. About half has come back, but businesses and individuals are spending much less on holiday parties.

"I used to say my business was recession-proof, but people have cut back so much. People who ate out three times a week are now eating out one time a week. Nobody out there wants to spend money."

His staff, which peaked at 68 during the boom, is now around 30 at his Land O'Lakes and Seffner locations. He said the Seffner location is doing better than the original one in Pasco.

"It's actually showed a slight increase," he said.

Wright said he has no plans to sell his business or close it in Pasco, but would if conditions worsen enough to make it necessary.

To help him through the rough patch, Wright turned to longtime customer Cody Adams of Russell Adams ERA Realty to handle the sale.

"Cody's been eating here since he was 4 or 5, and his dad has been eating here for 24 years," he said.

Since Hungry Harry's opened in 1985, Wright's name has been synonymous with Land O'Lakes. He is known for his volunteerism and often provides free barbecue to those doing charity work. He serves on the board of the Suncoast Harvest Food Bank. He provides free meals to hurricane relief workers and victims. In 2005, Wright served as grand marshal of the community's annual Flapjack Festival parade.

During the boom, "he had about five catering trucks a day," Cody Adams said.

For Adams, property sales are all in a day's work. But this account is different. It's personal.

"I eat there on Mondays. That's my day," said Adams, who always eats a small pork sandwich with baked beans and green beans. "I'm honored I'm the guy who gets to sell it, but I wouldn't know what to do if he's not there."

He said people who saw the sign had some harsh words for him over the weekend.

"People were offended," he said. "They said, 'You're getting rid of our restaurant.' I hope I can sell part of it and can figure something else out."

Despite 'for sale' sign, Hungry Harry's in Land O'Lakes not closing 11/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 20, 2008 6:48pm]
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