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Joe Redner plunges into the pizza business

TAMPA — It is an ordinary fast-food restaurant building. It has dark red tile floors to hide stains, easy-to-wipe square tables and a front counter that could serve tacos as easily as it could burgers.

The small building at 2038 N Dale Mabry Highway along a strip of chain stores, restaurants and strip bars, opened last week serving pizza.

Looks pretty plain Jane.

Except by name: "Not Your Average Joe's Pizza."

And the Joe behind it all isn't an everyman like Joe Six Pack or Joe the Plumber.

This pizza parlor proprietor is Joe Redner, Tampa's strip club king, the owner of the nationally renowned Mons Venus.

"What we're really trying to do is give out a superior product like the Mons does," he said.

Redner, who also owns a gym, a film lighting company, a brewery and real estate, owns the fast-food building, which is next to the Mons and once housed Taco Bell and a Cuban eatery.

When that closed, he batted around opening his own restaurant with his grandson, Kyle Burns, 19.

Burns, a Hillsborough Community College student, wanted to run it. His friend Alex Urrutia, 20, a former sous chef who finished all but three classes for a culinary degree at Johnson & Wales University in Miami, offered to help.

Shannon Adams, 31, a longtime Mons dancer who had also taken culinary classes, wanted in, too.

Redner now had three managers to run an establishment that would stay open until at least 1 a.m. serving suits, blue collars and the late-night lap dance crowd. They came up with pizza.

"Simple and cheap and we have the drive-through," Adams said.

They know the pizza market is crowded, but they aim for a niche in the middle, offering upscale toppings and gourmet combinations at prices between $10.99 and $15.99 a pizza. They also serve slices.

The menu includes pizzas with tzatziki sauce, cucumbers and feta as well as pies with ricotta cheese, capicola and taco-seasoned beef. The hope is to add more distinctive Tampa ingredients such as ropa vieja, or shredded beef, as time passes.

Competitors such as 24-year-old Sally O'Neals gourmet pizza in Hyde Park think this isn't the best time to open up a pizza restaurant.

"If you don't already have your clientele established, it's going to be tough for you," manager Frank Simms said. "If you don't have a name, you won't make it."

If Not Your Average Joe's has anything going for it early on, it is its name, which is being flashed on the Mons Venus electric sign board along Dale Mabry.

The Joe's restaurateurs concentrate on consistency and quality. They believe in their imported ingredients and say they spend time making their pizzas visually appealing. "You taste with your eyes first," Urrutia said.

Redner, a vegan for more than 10 years, cannot taste the pizzas but has told his managers how much looks count.

Adams knows this. She continues to strip at the Mons Venus when she's not managing Not Your Average Joe's.

"I don't know when I'll ever leave the Mons," Adams said. "If I ever get too fat or too old, you let me know."

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Joe Redner plunges into the pizza business 06/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 10:55pm]
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