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Landmark Tampa restaurant Valencia Garden closes after 82 years

TAMPA — The iconic Valencia Garden restaurant is closing and will be sold.

"It's in the process," said Josephine Beiro Agliano, who is an officer within the company hierarchy.

Her father opened the 82-year-old Tampa landmark, and her son, David, is president.

A padlock hung on the restaurant's gates Wednesday, and the building was empty as driver after driver swung into the parking lot looking for lunch and leaving puzzled.

The family isn't revealing the building's buyer or future.

"I'm not at liberty to say," said Frank Agliano, the brother of the restaurant's owner, David Agliano. "I don't think he can even talk."

Said David Agliano's wife, Jana, "At this time we don't have any comment."

Valencia Garden, at 811 W Kennedy Blvd., is a local landmark at downtown Tampa's entrance. Manuel Beiro, a Spanish-born Cuban immigrant, opened the Spanish food eatery in 1927 and turned it into the Tampa power lunch location.

Through the years, presidents and governors have dined at Valencia Garden.

Mayor Pam Iorio held her re-election party there in 2007.

Longtime residents remember the restaurant for a live television commercial Beiro aired on WTVT-Ch. 13 between the news and Shock Theater, a late-night horror movie.

"Salud and happy days," he would say, toasting his audience behind a table spread with the restaurant's food.

"You think that something would have been said and there just wouldn't be a padlock on the door and that's the end of it," said former Mayor Dick Greco. "It's just a place where you would walk in for lunch and see everybody you knew every time you walked in. That was unusual for a city that has grown like Tampa.

"It was a landmark of what Tampa was for many years."

Waiters would shake off orders and bring customers something they thought was better, Greco said. It took 10 minutes just to sit down because of all the hands he had to shake.

The restaurant passed from Beiro to his son-in-law Sam Agliano to his son, David Agliano.

The building, which includes painted Spanish tile and opulent murals, is assessed at more than $775,000, Hillsborough County property records show.

Gator of Florida Inc., a group headed by president Frank Agliano, owns the land, the records show.

The group owns nearly the entire block on the north side of Kennedy Boulevard between N Boulevard and N Brevard Avenue, property records show.

Gator's lots are surrounded by land owned by the University of Tampa, which has been amassing property around its campus for years.

University spokesman Eric Cardenas said UT does not currently own Valencia Garden.

When asked if the university was eyeing the property, he said, "We just don't have a comment on Valencia Garden at this time."

David Agliano declined to comment through his family.

Frank Agliano said ongoing negotiations prevent them from telling anyone, including an inquiring cousin, what's going on.

"It's confidential until it's announced," he said.

A search of tax liens and lawsuits found that none are pending related to Valencia Garden or its owners. And the restaurant passed its most recent health inspection in March, according to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

"Everyone assumes the worst," Frank Agliano said. "We've been there 82 years and we wouldn't do something detrimental to the Valencia or its employees, but as time passes, things change.

"Everyone who worked at the Valencia, one way or the other, will be taken care of and everyone who's a creditor with the Valencia will have nothing to worry about."

He said his brother, David, has put in between 12 and 14 hours a day at the restaurant, six days a week for years.

Whatever happens to Valencia Garden will be good, he said.

"I think it's a benefit for the city and the neighborhood," Agliano said, revealing no details.

Former Mayor Sandy Freedman said Valencia Garden shouldn't be leveled.

"If University of Tampa buys it, I hope they don't turn it into a parking garage," she said. "Maybe it's a dormitory. It should be people, not just something for expediency.

"It's kind of the gateway to downtown and you want to have something that's significant and well kept."

Times staff writer Ernest Hooper and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3368.

Landmark Tampa restaurant Valencia Garden closes after 82 years 06/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 11:52pm]
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