ST. PETERSBURG — JoJo's in Citta Italian Restaurant, a longtime downtown fixture, may be evicted from the Progress Plaza building where it has served up pasta and pizza for 22 years.
The owner of Progress Plaza sued the restaurant's owner, D'Angelo Holdings, in March because it had not paid rent since January.
Antonio Condello, one of the founders of JoJo's, sold the restaurant to Michael D'Angelo in late 2011. Condello took over management early this year when he learned that the business at 200 Central Ave. was in financial trouble. He said he tried to pay the landlord the $24,000 back rent that was due from D'Angelo, who also had defaulted on the note to purchase the business.
"I've been here 22 years and I've never been late on rent," Condello said.
His payment was rejected by the property owners, so he deposited that and subsequent rent payments to the courts until the case is settled, according to Joseph Perlman, Condello's attorney.
"All I know is we have a landlord who did not get paid rent for three months who has every right to evict when they don't get paid," said Glenn Goldberg, the attorney representing Progress Plaza and its owner, Kucera Properties. "This tenant was three months in arrears, and that's a default under the lease and the landlord has a right to evict."
Condello thinks his payments are being rejected because Progress Plaza wants JoJo's out and a new restaurant in. He heard that the building's management is talking with Lime Fresh, a fast-casual Mexican restaurant chain owned by Ruby Tuesday Inc.
When Ruby Tuesday bought the Miami-based Lime Fresh a year ago, it said it planned to open 50 restaurants in the next two years. One is under construction on West Shore Boulevard in Tampa, and another is planned at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg.
Calls to Tennessee-based Ruby Tuesday were not returned.
Goldberg said he wasn't aware of any efforts to market or rent the space to another restaurant.
Condello sued D'Angelo when he defaulted on the purchase payments to buy JoJo's in early 2012 and expects to get ownership back soon. In the meantime, he's running the restaurant he started as though it's still his own.
JoJo's is now open daily for lunch and dinner, after D'Angelo had cut back the hours. Condello, who came to the United States from his native Calabria, Italy, has started a more formal white linen atmosphere at night but still offers a casual lunch.
The 41-year-old is one of two chefs, his wife works out front, and their 14-year-old son is now helping out, too. He had sold the restaurant so he could spend more time with his family but is glad to come back and keep it going.
"We are trying make things work," Condello said. "If it ends up that we have to go, I'll go somewhere else. My hope is that we're able to stay."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8785.