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Pickles Deli celebrates milestone as Harborview Center location faces uncertain future

CLEARWATER

Here's what's on the menu these days at Pickles Deli: free birthday cake and uncertainty about its future.

The downtown Clearwater mainstay is marking its 10th anniversary in the Harborview Center by offering complimentary cake to lunchtime customers through January.

At the same time, the family-owned restaurant's future is up in the air because the city plans to close the Harborview Center in March and probably demolish it soon afterward.

Because Pickles' lease in the publicly owned building continues for another 11 years, Clearwater is in talks with the deli about helping it locate somewhere else downtown — possibly in one of the vacant storefronts along Cleveland Street — but the deli is not eager to move.

Pickles is celebrating a decade of serving up pastrami sandwiches and potato pancakes at the scenic spot overlooking Clearwater Harbor. It's the kind of place where many of the servers have been working for years, and know all the regulars.

"I know what I am getting," said longtime customer John Ardolino, "and they know what I'm getting, too."

Kim Benedettini, who owns the restaurant with her brother Joe, said the goal is to create a warm, inviting atmosphere for a loyal clientele.

"We've always believed in downtown Clearwater," she said. "When we first saw this location, we jumped on it."

The downtown restaurant is actually called Positively Pickles Plus Too. It's the second Pickles Deli. The original remains at 2530 N McMullen-Booth Road, and it's not going anywhere.

The current owners' parents, Joe and Renee Benedettini, opened the first Pickles with some friends in 1989, coming up with a menu of New York, Chicago and Philadelphia-style offerings.

"My father was in the construction business. In the '80s, there really wasn't anything in that quadrant on McMullen that had sandwiches. My mother said, 'Why not? Let's give it a shot,' " said their daughter Kim, who recalls taste-testing the deli's original recipes.

Kim and her brother Joe continued the family tradition by opening in the Harborview Center a decade ago — thus the 10-year celebration going on for the next month. Aside from the free slices of birthday cake (first-come, first-served), the deli will also randomly give away one free lunch every day.

But now the Harborview is reaching the end of the road.

Clearwater is closing the makeshift convention center because it can no longer afford to subsidize its operations, which cost the city about $350,000 a year.

The building's main tenant, a Stein Mart department store, closed in September. The final event inside the center is scheduled for March.

Clearwater is negotiating with Pickles to settle the restaurant's lease and offer it financial incentives to relocate, said assistant city manager Rod Irwin.

"They're an established restaurant. They like their view. They like the ease of parking," Irwin said. "But the City Council is intent on demolishing the building, so staying there is not an option."

Relocating could be a gamble for Pickles. There's no guarantee that all of its clientele would follow it to Cleveland Street — not even for corned beef sandwiches and matzo ball soup.

Parking also could be an issue.

Although it's not a widely known fact, there is essentially free parking available downtown in the public garage on Garden Avenue. Virtually all of the surrounding businesses will validate customers' parking stubs for two hours of complimentary parking.

But that's not as good as Pickles' current setup, where it enjoys having the Harborview's 107-spot parking lot at its door.

For now, negotiations between the city and the deli continue.

"Nothing has been decided," Kim Benedettini said, "but all lines of communication are open."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Pickles Deli celebrates milestone as Harborview Center location faces uncertain future 12/30/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 7:31pm]
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