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Shirley's Soul Food deal devolves into he-said, she-said story

Shirley Tigg and Ron Donaldson were all smiles days before the restaurant’s soft opening on Oct. 2. Six weeks later, it was over.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Shirley Tigg and Ron Donaldson were all smiles days before the restaurant’s soft opening on Oct. 2. Six weeks later, it was over.

Shirley Tigg packed up her pots and pans and went home. Ron Donaldson slapped her with a no-trespassing warning. She says he paid workers with cash. He says she was a complainer.

That's how Tigg's and Donaldson's business arrangement, meant to revive Shirley's Soul Food restaurant at 1789 34th St. S, collapsed after a scant six weeks.

By the time it ended, Tigg, 71, and Donaldson, 43, were hurtling accusations at each other, police had been called, and Tigg, her son and two longtime employees had quit.

Tigg, who started the restaurant in 1986 and later moved it to the old-fashioned diner where it is now, closed it in July because of financial pressures. Weeks later, Donaldson, a St. Petersburg native and former contractor, visited her home after church one Sunday.

Tigg remembers the offer he made from her living room couch: "I will buy your name from you and you can work as many hours as you want.''

She agreed but signed no paperwork. In the weeks since, Tigg said, Donaldson has denied offering to pay for the name of the restaurant that became an icon in the African-American community.

"He came with such honesty and everything,'' she said.

Donaldson declined to be interviewed, but submitted a statement about the soured arrangement.

"In addition to reopening the restaurant and employing Ms. Tiggs, I assisted her personally with things such as giving her $500 to catch up on bills and filling out loan modification papers to help her keep her home,'' he wrote.

Tigg said she considered the money he gave her partial payment for the rights of her restaurant's name. She said she filled out her own application for a loan modification and that Donaldson simply wrote a letter stating how much she was being paid. "I didn't have any pay stubs or anything to show them,'' she said. "He paid everybody in cash.''

That's not so, Donaldson said.

As for their business relationship, he wrote: "We bent over backwards trying to accommodate Ms. Tiggs because I believed once she got an understanding of what it took to run and maintain a restaurant business she would conform. Unfortunately, Ms. Tiggs refused to consider doing business any other way than her way.''

The two were all smiles days before the restaurant's soft opening on Oct. 2. As they sat at the counter of the newly renovated diner, neither would divulge details of their partnership.

Donaldson, a former franchisee of a Hungry Howie's pizza store and two Subway restaurants, had big plans. He was spending "well over $30,000'' to update the property, but mostly had invested his heart, he said.

Donaldson said Tigg first quit on Oct. 30, after weeks of complaining. Three hours later, he said, she apologized and asked for another chance.

"Unfortunately, Ms. Tiggs, after only one week reverted back to her old ways of complaining, cursing and telling customers not to come back to the restaurant,'' he wrote.

Business had dropped more than 50 percent because of a new restaurant nearby, he said, so he had to cut his employees' hours. Tigg confronted him, Donaldson said.

"That night she contacted the kitchen manager and stated she was quitting. Early the following morning she came to the restaurant and took almost all the pots from the kitchen,'' he said.

Tigg said matters became heated when her son, Anthony Crawford, also decided to quit and demanded to be paid. Donaldson called the police. Crawford called his mother. A police report said Crawford threatened to punch Donaldson. Tigg and her son were given no-trespassing warnings.

Donaldson has had trouble with business ventures in the past. In 2008 the St. Petersburg Times reported that his Construction Specialties company failed to get permits for work performed for West Coast Players, a community theater troupe. The article said that much of the work had to be redone. Recently, Donaldson said the issue had been mischaracterized and that his company had been asked to help with the project after members of the theater company tried to do the work on their own. Alan Mohney Jr., former president of West Coast Players, said Donaldson was not telling the truth.

Donaldson also filed for bankruptcy in 2008. He said he dropped the petition after reaching an agreement with his bank. He has a history of tax liens and judgments and lost his Three Oaks Commerce Center at 18th Avenue S and 16th Street to foreclosure. He is also on probation for failing to pay state sales taxes and was ordered to make $23,520 in restitution. In October, he told the Times that his troubles started when the man to whom he sold his Hungry Howie's business failed to pay the taxes. He said he had kept the pizza store at 30th Street and 18th Avenue S in his name because he was financing the sale.

Tigg, who worked for GTE for 22 years as a customer service representative and launched Shirley's five years before retirement, also has had financial problems. A month before she closed Shirley's, the Florida Department of Revenue issued a warrant for $1,550.60 for delinquent sales taxes. She said the sum is now up to $2,100 and that she has made arrangements to pay it off.

About those pots: "Yes, I took them,'' she said.

"They were my pots. They belonged to me and I was not going to leave them there. Bowls and knives and anything that belonged to me, I took it."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Shirley's Soul Food deal devolves into he-said, she-said story 11/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 4:28pm]

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