When diners come into Tony Allen's Thai House restaurant in the Largo Mall, some of them turn right around and go someplace else for pad Thai or tom kha gai soup.
It's not that the restaurant isn't nice — Allen sank $100,000 into improving the place when he bought out previous owners last summer. Most online reviews give the place great ratings.
The thing is, Thai House just can't serve alcohol.
The restaurant is within 300 feet of Fuguitt Elementary School's property line — which is too close for beer or liquor, according to city codes.
But city commissioners last week received a report from Assistant City Attorney Mary Hale about possible solutions, and were bullish about changing the ordinance, which would be the fastest option.
"I would like to put this to bed and let's move on," Commissioner Harriet Crozier said.
The solution to Allen's problem is taking shape as an amendment to Largo's alcohol codes, which have been tweaked in the past to allow alcohol sales at several city facilities, including the Largo Cultural Center and the Largo Public Library.
The amendment would allow restaurants like Allen's to serve alcohol as long as they don't make more than 50 percent of their profits from alcohol.
If the amendment passes its first and second readings at the next two commission meetings (Jan. 19 and Feb. 2), Allen may be able to serve beer and sake by early February.
"I'm very grateful to the commission," Allen said. "I was surprised how strong they were in handling this. I'm not the only affected restaurant in the area."
After Allen approached city commissioners with his problem in November, prepared to fight if need be, City Hall sided with him, agreeing that the regulation was perhaps too strict. Especially since there is a thicket of trees and a large fence between the school and the back door of Thai House.
"We lose a lot of diners, particularly on weekends, who cannot have an alcoholic beverage," Allen said. "We don't have a bar or anything. We want to make your fine dining experience slightly more enjoyable."
Dominick Tao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 580-2951.