Thursday, November 23, 2017
Business

Here's why Spaghetti Warehouse is leaving Ybor City for the suburbs

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TAMPA — Next year the Spaghetti Warehouse will shutter for good in Ybor City and relaunch at a location somewhere else in Tampa Bay. The exposed bricks, the hearty pasta dishes and the family-friendly atmosphere will carry over, but with a revamped menu and a fresh image.

The new game plan comes after the Spaghetti Warehouse's parent company, BLD Brands, moved to close the restaurant last month, then reversed course days later because of customer demand.

But BLD Brands, which has 142 restaurants in 15 states and has headquarters in Newport Beach, Calif., says the restaurant has been losing money and continues to, and that it can't succeed in Ybor City. That's why it's planning to reopen in a nearby suburb like Brandon some time next year.

The restaurant at 1911 13th St. opened in 1991 in a building that once housed a cigar factory. Spaghetti Warehouse is part of a chain that has 15 restaurants in seven states.

Now that the dust has settled, the Tampa Bay Times spoke with Doug Pak, president of BLD Brands, about the company's decision and its plans for the future.

Take me through your choice to close and then to remain open.

It's mainly due to declining sales and declining profits. Since 2010, we've experienced declining revenues and we started losing money at this location. We are a family restaurant and Ybor City is not family-friendly at this moment, and we made a business decision to close. This was a very, very unique experience for us — nothing that any of us have experienced before. We simply didn't know what to do. We had lines out the door, people wanting to dine in our restaurant one last time. City, state and government officials wanting to dine in our restaurant one last time. I got a call and we started exploring the option of staying open two days before we were supposed to close.

It takes a lot of effort, a lot of energy to close. We understood how risky this would be. I'm 43 years old and one of the rules in business is to never make an emotional decision but I knew it was right at heart. It's worth going through this experience and relocating and having a successful location in Tampa. It cost us more money, it was painful, but I think sometimes you just have to do what's right.

It has been more than a month since all that happened. How has the restaurant been doing since?

Sales have been down. We still have a lot of guests calling to see if we're open. We are committed to relocating in Tampa. It's going to be painful because we're not a big corporation so all the money that we lose has to come from our pockets and bank accounts. We've been losing money for five years straight. We have to pour more money into the business, but we want to make it profitable.

Can you describe the factors that led to the restaurant doing so badly in the last several years?

We are a family dining location and I think that there's a more suburban location that might be a better fit. The parking issue definitely hurt us. The brand has been there almost 30 years, but we haven't really updated the concept with changing times. We have amazing loyal guests, and people are so emotionally attached to what we are all about. Yes, we are losing money, but it feels great to be a brand that is beyond a place to eat.

How do you plan to update the brand so that people visit more often?

We want to have an updated look and feel and menu, but we want to keep the core concept and core purpose intact. We're about families and large groups to create memories. The food business has become more transactional, becoming more a pit stop. We want to stay as a place where we offer a great experience. We want to keep the name Spaghetti Warehouse, we like the brick warehouse feel and want to update the menu with more healthy offerings, more lunch offerings, more cool items — not just old American traditional pastas and spaghettis. We want to attract more millennials. We'll probably have a nice bar area as well that has good happy hour options, not hearty traditional Italian pastas but some finger food items so that people can come on a daily basis.

Contact Alli Knothe at [email protected] Follow @KnotheA

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