The national economy may be sputtering and businesses everywhere struggling, but this city is seeing a burst of economic activity when it comes to new restaurants. On Walsingham Road, three eateries have recently opened, including Mike's Pizza and Pub, Beef 'O' Brady's and a Village Inn. Farther east, across from Largo Mall on Seminole Boulevard, a McDonald's is being built. Up on Belcher Road, Billy Jack's Burger Shack opened Sept. 2.
"Some people might not agree, but things seem to be on an upswing,'' said Cky Ready, a Largo city planner. "Now we're seeing renovations and new buildings.''
A case in point is Mike's Pizza and Pub, at 14477 Walsingham Road, owned by Mike Dodaro along with his niece and nephew, Jennifer and Sal Dodaro.
Because the business has been averaging about 200 customers a day, the family, which also owns Mike's Pizza and Deli Station on 49th Street in Clearwater, is spending $40,000 on an expansion.
In about a month, in a tiny building in front of the restaurant, the Dodaros will open Mike's Tap House. It will not only offer customers a place to check out more than 30 types of beer, it also will help with the restaurant's overflow crowds.
"The reason I knew we could succeed, even with the economy the way it is, is because of the reputation we already have made. Also, even in a down economy, people still eat pizza,'' said Dodaro, who learned his trade while growing up in his father's Chicago restaurant, Salvatore's Pizzeria.
"The neighborhoods surrounding the new restaurant are sturdy, and that helps as well,'' he said.
Lisa Lima Kingston, owner of Beef 'O' Brady's, agreed. She unlocked the doors to her new restaurant at 13847 Walsingham Road on July 13.
For 10 years, she ran a smaller version of the business from the Publix Shopping Center on Clearwater-Largo Road. Last year, she decided to close that place and open "a bigger location that would draw in more customers,'' she said.
"I am seeing double the customers on a weekly basis than what I saw before I closed the other location in 2010,'' she said. "Even when the economy is not so great, people know they can come, watch a football game on our televisions and enjoy an inexpensive meal.''
At Billy Jack's Burger Shack, 1479 S Belcher Road, Bill McLemore is hoping to see the same results. He opened Sept. 2, serving up his specialties, chicken wings and grilled burgers. Sports fans can watch games on 22 big-screen televisions.
McLemore, who decided to move his restaurant from Palm Harbor when his lease expired, said he chose Largo because, "I knew Largo as being a good, working-class community.'
"I want to become part of the neighborhood, and Largo has that family feel," he said. "I want to see the same faces every day, and I have no desire to be reliant upon tourists and vacationers.''
Teresa Brydon, Largo's economic development director, said she's thrilled at the recent activity in the city.
"I think there are interesting signs when it comes to growth in this area,'' Brydon said. "Don't forget the McDonald's near the mall. I know it is simply a McDonald's, but McDonald's doesn't build a lot of new restaurants. Instead, they renovate existing ones. That they are doing it in Largo says something for this area.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.