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South Tampa's Monstah Lobstah shuts down abruptly after disagreement

Allen Berube shows the Monstah Lobstah roll at Tropicana Field in 2009. His restaurants and food stands have all closed.

DIRK SHADD | Times (2009)

Allen Berube shows the Monstah Lobstah roll at Tropicana Field in 2009. His restaurants and food stands have all closed.

SOUTH TAMPA — Allen Berube had high hopes for Monstah Lobstah when he moved the restaurant to a new location last August.

Surrounded by the Rack Sushi Bar and Billiards Lounge and Hyde Park Cafe, he hoped to introduce South Tampa to his lobster rolls, crab cakes, fried shrimp and lobster burgers.

But less than a year into the venture, Berube abruptly closed what had become a hot spot for SoHo diners in search of seafood.

The restaurant, once a quick and casual stop for SoHo bar patrons, has been gutted of much of its equipment, including the cash register.

The reason behind the sudden closure is complex, but there's little question the loss is being felt by its Facebook fans.

"So sorry to hear that this has happened," wrote Chris Billek. "We will be there to support you at your new location as soon as it opens. You will be back Bigah and Bettah!"

"Please fight for your business," wrote April Pells. "You make the best lobster EVER!"

Berube said it was an ownership dispute that closed Monstah Lobstah and disagreements with landlord Tommy Ortiz, who owns 1901 W Platt St. and had negotiated a stake in the business.

Ortiz, who declined to comment for this story, is one of SoHo's most well-known property and business owners having founded restaurant and bars Hyde Park Cafe, Cheap and the Kennedy.

Much is being contested on why things went sideways between Ortiz and Berube at the tiny 906-square-foot lobster stop but at least one thing is clear:

The Bank of Tampa is foreclosing on the property, according to a Hillsborough County civil court notice the bank filed April 27.

When Berube learned about the foreclosure in May, he said, he had his attorney discuss an agreement where he would pay the bank rent instead of Ortiz's Tampa Hyde Park Cafe Properties group.

Soon, Ortiz sent him several notices including a lease termination and a requirement that Monstah Lobstah customers and staff park more than a block away, rather than at the property.

In the notices, Ortiz said, Berube had been delinquent on rent payments and owed $2,850 in fees, didn't provide for trash removal and hadn't obtained required insurance policies that the commercial lease agreement required.

But Berube said he wasn't responsible for the late rental payments, the fees or insurance.

Just before Memorial Day, Berube said, Ortiz had flat screens and the cash register removed from Monstah Lobstah.

That left him with no way to operate the business.

"The next day I was closed," Berube said. "I've been in business 13 years. I feel like I have a good business. I'm going to bounce back."

Since 1999, Berube has owned Monstah Lobstah restaurants in north Hillsborough, S Dale Mabry Highway and three food stands at Tropicana Field, but the restaurants and food stands have all closed.

While Berube searches for a new location, he said, he's trying to stay in business through catering and special orders. On Tuesday, he told his store's 5,234 Facebook fans he was available to serve parties of between five and 200 customers.

"I will personally be cooking for you, your friends, and your family," he wrote. "My team and I will cook them, crack them, de-shell them, and serve them to you and your guests."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3368.

South Tampa's Monstah Lobstah shuts down abruptly after disagreement 06/07/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 7, 2012 5:30am]

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