TAMPA — Quiznos is out and Holy Hog Barbecue is on the way in to a highly visible spot facing Tampa City Hall, but not everyone is happy about it.
The owners of the former Quiznos franchise recently sued the city, contending they were wrongly evicted from the ground floor of the parking garage between City Hall and police headquarters.
David and Lauren Cullen of Treasure Island said in the suit that they signed a five-year lease with the city in March 2011 and ran their Quiznos at the corner of E Kennedy Boulevard and N Franklin Street for more than two years, though it wasn't always easy.
Going into the Republican National Convention, David Cullen packed his freezer with extra food and brought in more workers. Then police put a security fence around the block, enclosing both the police station and Quiznos. To get in, prospective customers would have had to walk to the opposite end of the block and ask a police officer for access through a gate. None did.
"I thought it was going to be great," Cullen told the Tampa Bay Times at the end of the convention. "But it has been a disaster.''
In the summer, the Cullens decided to return to Ireland to help a relative who was in poor health, so their company, Aidan & Saoirse LLC, began negotiating with a potential buyer. They introduced city officials to that buyer and told the city repeatedly they had not abandoned the premises, the suit says. Quiznos ceased operations in mid-September, and the suit says Cullen believed the prospective buyer would pay the rent from then on.
That didn't happen. There was an email from the city in October about terminating the lease. In November, after discovering the rent had not been paid, Cullen said he hand-delivered a rent check for about $3,753 to cover September and October.
By then, it was too late. The city took possession of the premises, evicted the Cullens and changed the locks. As a result of the loss, the Cullens have been unable to return to Ireland, according to the suit.
In a Nov. 8 letter to David Cullen, assistant city attorney Ron Wigginton said the city found a notice that it had delivered to the business weeks before on the floor of the shop, and said there were "offensive odors, gnats and ants," plus food "in various stages of decomposition."
"These conditions are consistent with abandonment," Wigginton said. Cullen's attempt to catch up on the rent was insufficient, he said, because he left an envelope with an independent contractor who only provides security for the garage and had no authority to take the payment. "You have been afforded many opportunities to cure the defaults, and you have failed to comply with every deadline and demand."
But the Cullens' lawsuit said the city breached the lease agreement because it did not give the couple proper notice before terminating the lease and taking possession of the premises. It seeks to have possession of the premises restored to the couple and damages of more than $15,000 from the city.
Meanwhile, the City Council voted on Dec. 19 to approve leasing the former Quiznos space to Holy Hog Barbecue for $3,000 a month, plus sales tax. Holy Hog owner Daniel Hernandez said he hopes to start construction soon and looks to open the new restaurant by the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second quarter of 2014.