HYDE PARK — Potential customers.
Andrew Turek sees them every lunchtime at the Pita Pit on Howard Avenue. "They walk in, look around, and every seat is full," he said.
So they walk out — with no pita.
Ten people can sit in the cafe Turek and partners Geoff Gluck and Brandon Berlinrut opened in April.
Ideally, they'd like 42 seats and, with 2,000 square feet, they easily have the space.
But zoning regulations cap their seats at 10. Why? Because Pita Pit, at 500 S Howard Ave., doesn't have enough parking spaces for more seating, according to city code, Turek said. It shares 15 spaces with four other businesses in the building.
So, after months trying to open as a restaurant, the partners launched instead as a take-out joint. Last week they filed for a variance, scheduled to be heard Sept. 8. They'll settle for 24 seats, Turek said.
"It didn't really make sense to me," James Bailey said. He eats at Pita Pit five to seven times a week — usually steak or chicken and egg breakfast pitas.
"This is a residential area," said Bailey, who lives in Hyde Park less than a mile from the Pita Pit. "People walk here," he said.
He wondered about the scant seating but didn't guess why until he read about the owners' quandary with zoning posted on the door and sneeze guards.
Bailey dines in half the time — on weekends when he can find a seat. He won't be dissuaded from his pitas, seats or takeout. "It's good, healthy food," he said.
Turek met Gluck and Berlinrut at the University of Central Florida, where they frequented a nearby Pita Pit. The partners didn't foresee these complications, Turek said.
They had planned to open five months earlier — before regulations required them to install a $12,000 water meter and limited their seating.
Lunch business feels the pinch, Turek said. That's when people leave because there are no vacant seats, families particularly.
Late night business is good, Turek said. Pita Pit stays open till 4 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. People leave bars, get a bite to eat, catch a cab home. No need to park.
"Really, a lot of our customers walk here," Turek said.
He's hoping some will support Pita Pit's variance request. "We're not asking for very much. A few seats," he said.
Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3321.