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Former Lykes chief dives into Schwan's

Lenny Pippin arrived at Lykes Bros. Inc. in Tampa three years ago as the first chief executive from outside the Lykes family. After Lykes conceded defeat in its war with Tropicana and Minute Maid by selling its juice business, Pippin left.

So where has Pippin landed? At another family-owned company with challenges that might make Lykes' seem mild by comparison.

Pippin is now CEO at Schwan's Sales Enterprises Inc., a Minnesota food company. He's the second non-family member hired as CEO there; the previous outsider left after what the company called "conflicting opinions with board members."

Schwan's is three times larger than the old Lykes Bros., which had about $1-billion in revenues. Schwan's delivers frozen food across the country, sells pizza under the Tony's, Red Baron and Freschetta brands and has a food service division.

It also has had plenty of problems. Six years ago, its ice cream was linked to one of the worst salmonella outbreaks in U.S. history. More recently it shut down a delivery service that brought frozen meals to residential customers.

Beyond dealing with Schwan family politics, one of Pippin's biggest challenges is leading a charge into e-commerce, which could improve efficiency.


New receipts make tipping easier

Do you find it tough to calculate how much tip to leave after that third martini? Or maybe math just isn't your forte even when you can give the restaurant tab sober consideration.

Help may be at hand if you squint at the tiny print at the bottom of your credit card receipt. There, you may find a "gratuity guideline," which calculates both a 15 percent tip and a 20 percent tip for you.

First Data Merchant Services, which provides credit card machines to businesses, started calculating suggested tips for customers at some restaurants and bars about 18 months ago.

"Many, many people can't calculate 15 percent in their head," said Ian Drysdale, the company's vice president for Internet commerce. "We wanted to make sure the machine was popular with the wait staff."

The merchant must ask for the gratuity guideline to be included on the receipts, Drysdale said.

Tara Pullen, manager of the Cockney Rebel in St. Petersburg, said the gratuity guideline is a good idea because it helps servers who often lose out because people can't calculate the tip _ and err on the low side. She has had heard no complaints from customers about adding a pointed hint to the check.


Corporate filings go high-tech, for a fee

Florida corporations can file their annual reports with the state over the Internet and put the filing fee on a credit card.

Until now the Secretary of State's office did the job by hand, manually typing 830,000 corporate annual reports, fictitious name registrations, filings of limited partnerships and the like into a database. State officials think Internet filing with credit cards is a national first.

"The beauty of it is companies can file their own reports and post them immediately. Nobody here even has to touch it," said David Mann, director of the corporations division. "But it wasn't as easy to do as it sounds."

That's because the $150 filing fee for corporations is set by statute. State lawyers would not allow the secretary's office to bury in the filing fee a credit card service charge that's normally paid by retailers for processing their credit card transactions. So credit card companies must agree to allow their service fee to be tacked on to the bill as a separate "convenience" charge.

So far only Discover cards are accepted, but other credit card issuers are negotiating. Using a Discover card will cost you a 1.43 percent "convenience" charge. Corporate, fictitious name and partnership filings generate about $100-million a year for the state.

Some people who file lots of documents with the secretary's office object to the separate fee for credit cards. They argue they shouldn't have to pay extra when they are doing the work state clerks do for people who file the old way and pay by check.

Mann thinks about 20 percent of renewals will be posted via the Internet during the first year.


Hopping for a string of Bonefish Grills

Four former executives of Hops Restaurant Bar and Brewery have opened a restaurant in northeast St. Petersburg they hope will become a chain of its own.

The new restaurant, called the Bonefish Grill, opened two weeks ago on Fourth Street N. With an upscale atmosphere, it offers everything from seafood to steaks to pasta. Dinners go for $9 to $16. The owners are talking of opening six to 10 locations in the next few years along Florida's west coast.

In a way, they hope to emulate the success of Hops, which started with one Clearwater location in 1989 and has grown into a chain of more than 60 restaurants.

"We want to see how things go, but we have high hopes," said John Mays, a Bonefish manager who used to oversee Hops operations in four Southeastern states. "Between the four of us, we had 36 years in Hops, but this is a chance to try something new."

Soon, they may be getting competition from the very chain they left. Both the Bonefish bosses and St. Petersburg development officials have heard talk that Hops is scouting locations along Fourth Street N. The chain, which brews its own beer in each restaurant, did not return calls for comment.

"We'd welcome it," Mays said. "If it's on our section of Fourth Street, it would bring more people to this part of town, and that would help everyone."


Smart isn't always best, First Union says

First Union has decided smart cards aren't always the smartest way to make a buck.

The Charlotte, N.C., bank _ the second-biggest in Florida _ is ditching a smart card program at two Army bases and rethinking its strategy for using the technology.

Smart cards, which look like credit cards, have a microchip that contains a user's personal account information. They can be used to add or subtract value to an account electronically.

Closed environments such as military bases and some corporate campuses love them because recruits or employees can shop, pay for meals, get a haircut and get paid (or at least get the credit for a paycheck) on the same card.

But those very closed environments are turning off First Union because they aren't profitable enough.

The bank wants to build on smart card technology _ but only for customer loyalty programs, computer security and other areas that promise a bigger payoff.

"We are still active in smart cards," spokeswoman Christy Phillips said.

A slew of smaller programs are out there, including a trial by Bank of America that lets employees load value on smart cards through the Internet.

Nevertheless, First Union's retrenchment is another blow to a technology that has long struggled for acceptance. Just 5 percent of plastic cards used in the country are smart cards.