MADEIRA BEACH — The last time the Snack Shack was forced to close its doors, it cost the city $500,000 to settle a lawsuit with a concessionaire.
That may not be the case this time, but the animus over why and how the Archibald Park beachfront concession closed this month is strikingly similar.
Just before Labor Day weekend, City Manager Shane Crawford raised what he described as concerns over how the Snack Shack was being run and suggested that the city cancel and rebid the concession contract.
"We are investing nearly a million dollars in what should be the attraction on the north side of the city," Crawford told the commission.
He also cited two bounced rent checks and calls from the current Snack Shack concessionaire's vendors who had not been paid.
He said because the issues did not qualify as legal cause to cancel the contract, he recommended the city exercise its right to unilaterally give a 90-days cancellation notice.
City Commissioner Elaine Poe, who said she previously talked with Crawford about the situation, strongly supported the move.
"I would like to see a higher class of people other than are hanging around right now," she said.
With little discussion, the commission gave its unanimous consent.
During the meeting, Crawford twice identified several Snack Shack employees sitting in the audience and extended an invitation to them to submit a bid for the concession.
The current concessionaires, Rita and Mike Janecek, who later said they were given no notice, were not in attendance.
Since the meeting, the Janeceks accused Crawford of improper conduct, closed the Snack Shack business and tore out all their equipment, including part of the pine flooring installed as required in their 2010 contract with the city.
"We have spent thousands of dollars, time and energy over three years on the Snack Shack and would have thought that if there were any problems we would have been contacted so we could address them," Rita Janecek wrote to Crawford the day following the commission action.
She said she was alerted to the action by a former city commissioner, Nancy Oakley.
"We were blindsided," Rita Janecek said last week. "I had never gotten one complaint from the city and was flabbergasted."
She again claimed that her employees were "in cahoots" with Crawford to take over her business.
"Their accusation that a deal is being made with their former employees to take over is erroneous and completely false," Crawford said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.
Crawford acknowledged he had talked with the employees about problems at Snack Shack, and stressed that they, as well as Janecek or anyone else, are free to bid on the concession.
When asked about the financial issues raised by Crawford, Janecek said business at the Snack Shack was far below what she had expected when signing the lease with the city in 2010.
That, coupled with the slow economy and the costs of opening a restaurant in Gulfport, created a cash flow problem.
"We spread ourselves too thin," she said. "But after the city decided to cancel our contract, we decided to cut our losses and get out of there. We were not going to make any money, anyway."
Although Janecek has paid September's rent for the Snack Shack, her company, Paradise Sweets, still owes two months' rent under the 90-day cancellation clause in her contract with the city.
Crawford said the city is considering whether to pursue the Janeceks for the additional rent and for violating the contract by closing the Snack Shack doors.
Janecek said she and her husband are consulting a lawyer about how the city handled the contract cancellation.
Meanwhile, the Archibald Park reconstruction project is under way.
Crawford said he will be advertising for bids for a concessionaire at the Snack Shack by the end of the month.