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Fox & Hounds Irish pub to snuff smoking, expand menu

BRANDON — No smoking.

Starting Sunday, that's the rule at the Fox & Hounds Irish Pub, a quaint neighborhood bar on E Brandon Boulevard that has attracted young and old patrons since the early '90s.

The change is difficult but necessary to keep the business afloat, said owner Tom White, who bought the pub about four years ago.

In January, White started noticing a drop in business, especially in cigarette and cigar sales.

Attributing the decline to the economy and to people trying to quit smoking, he decided it was time to tap another revenue stream: food.

But a state law that took effect in 2003 forbids smoking in any restaurant or bar where food sales generate more than 10 percent of the total revenue.

For Fox & Hounds, going smoke-free and expanding the menu's Irish and American fare seemed to be the only option.

"It is what it is," White said.

His move reverses that of his predecessor, who cut back on the bar's food offerings in 2003 after the smoking ban took hold. That owner posted a message outside the building.

"Smokers Welcome."

White said his smoking ban is not intended to discriminate or treat anyone like a pariah. Those who want to smoke may still light up outside.

He knows the change will cost him some customers but hopes that most will understand his reasons.

"At this point, I can't wait for the future," he said.

Owners of several Tampa bars had mixed opinions on going smoke-free.

James Curry, who owns City Side, a bar and lounge on Henderson Boulevard, introduced a nonsmoking section two years ago, only to get rid of it within a year.

"There was no business," Curry said. "If we went all smoke-free, it would be a disaster."

Like Curry, Charlie Moresi, who owns Streetcar Charlie's Bar and Grille in Ybor City, said being smoke-free hurts business.

Moresi said he closed his earlier business, a gay bar and restaurant called Tropics, because the smoking ban cut his revenue in half.

"It killed the business," he said. Moresi longs for the days before the smoking ban, predicting that business at Streetcar Charlie's would improve under the former rules.

"I'd say if we were able to smoke, it would be a whole lot better," he said.

Still, at least one owner said it wasn't all bad.

Walter Hill, who has owned the Press Box Sports Emporium on S Dale Mabry for two decades, said that after the 2003 law his business saw a 25 to 30 percent drop in revenue.

But in about three years, things went back to normal, Hill said.

Patrons usually smoke on a porch outside the restaurant. For those who occasionally complain, Hill has a response: "You can't please everybody."

For now, White has adopted a similar attitude. To ease patrons into the nonsmoking policy, he plans to offer a free open bar for an hour this Sunday.

He is confident his business will eventually turn around.

"If it doesn't," he said, "I'm dead."

Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 661-2441 or njayakrishna@sptimes.com.

Fox & Hounds Irish pub to snuff smoking, expand menu 09/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 30, 2010 5:30am]

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