Village Inn franchisee to return to Largo spot where he started as busboy

LARGO

When he was 15, Danny Lehan landed his first job busing tables. He'd jump on his bike and head less than a mile from his house in the Acacia subdivision to the Village Inn at Walsingham and Vonn roads.

His mother remembers how excited he was about the work. "One night he came home and told us, 'I'm going to own that restaurant someday,' '' Pamela Swetavage recalled.

That someday is here.

Lehan, 36, built his career by moving through the ranks of the Village Inn corporation, first as a busboy and dishwasher in Largo and later as a general manager overseeing restaurants on both sides of Tampa Bay.

Now he'll open his own franchise in August at 13105 Walsingham Road, the same spot that housed the Village Inn where he got his start back in the summer of 1990.

The old restaurant, operated by Village Inn's corporate office headquartered in Denver, closed in May 2010 when its 30-year lease expired, said Kim Stone, whose family has owned the property for more than 30 years.

"At the time I knew the corporation was doing some organizational changes, but we also knew the business had been viable because we saw records on a monthly basis,'' she said.

As soon as the business closed, Lehan contacted the Stone family to discuss opening a franchise on the property.

"When I got promoted and had to leave the Largo restaurant, it was the toughest thing for me because of the roots I have here,'' said Lehan, who's a 1993 Largo High graduate and has served as president of the Partners N Progress for the Arts at the Largo Cultural Center (now known as Suncoast Performing Arts Foundation).

At first, the landlords, who live in Colorado, wanted to sell the property. "We didn't want to be long-distance landlords anymore,'' Stone said.

But between the downturn in the real estate market and Lehan's persistence, the two sides reached an agreement. On May 24, the lease for the new Village Inn was signed.

Neither Lehan nor the Stones wanted to disclose the monthly rent, but Lehan described it as "comparable to other businesses in the area.''

The investment team for the franchise includes Lehan, his father, Daniel Lehan III, and stepmother Kim Lehan. They're spending nearly $400,000 to open the restaurant.

To help renovate the 4,000-square-foot building, Lehan's stepfather, Joseph Swetavage, is serving as general contractor. It will include seating for 125 patrons.

"Everything the customer touches will be brand new,'' said Lehan.

"I've been with Village Inn for more than 20 years, and I know this is a successful location," he said. "For example, at one point it was ranked third in the country for highest unit in pie sales.''

The opening of the Village Inn means not only seeing the resurrection of a much-loved eatery, but 80 new jobs in Largo.

On Tuesday, Lehan will set up a hiring station at the restaurant. He expects more than 1,000 applicants.

Once the new Village Inn opens, hours will be 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Sunday. He hopes to unlock the doors by Aug. 1.

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@sptimes.com.

Fast facts

Hiring Village people

The Village Inn at 13105 Walsingham Road will open a hiring station at the front of the property at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Job seekers are advised to come in business attire, bring a pen, and expect to fill out an application and be photographed.

Village Inn franchisee to return to Largo spot where he started as busboy 07/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 2, 2011 5:31am]

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