Some 30 years ago, Kimberly Mitow and her husband, Alexander, had an idea for a restaurant. It would be a New York style Jewish deli, just like the one they once worked at in Miami, serving pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, reubens piled high with sauerkraut, chopped liver on rye, cream soda and of course, pickles.
Fast-forward to today and the business is now a massive catering, restaurant and nightlife enterprise that brings in millions each year. The restaurant had 400,000 visitors in 2019.
But the Lucky Dill name is perhaps more widely known across Tampa Bay because of Mitow’s son, Jason Mitow, an entrepreneur who expanded the brand by opening many offshoots and projects over the last 20 years.
The 43-year-old was found dead on Nov. 20, two months after his most recent project — the massive and costly Lucky Dill Westshore — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
A family member found Jason Mitow’s body at his home at the Nine15 apartments. A medical examiner ruled his death related to “natural causes,” according to a Tampa Police spokesperson, although the exact cause had not yet been determined.
His death marked the beginning of the end for the massive Boy Scout Boulevard enterprise that took three years to open and roughly $8 million in construction costs to complete. On Dec. 2, the restaurant’s bankruptcy case was dropped and a few weeks later, the restaurant and connected bar shuttered for good.
Jason Mitow was still involved in several other projects at the time of his death, including Palm Harbor’s LBC and Whiskey Cartel in Dunedin, which has sat unopened for nearly two years. But Lucky Dill Westshore was one of his most ambitious undertakings using the Lucky Dill brand.
The restaurant took over the yawning 15,000-square-foot space in the former home of Boizao Steakhouse across the street from International Plaza. It had been open for just more than a year, was nearly three years behind the projected opening date and massively over budget. Court records show the owners were paying $60,000 in monthly rent to the building’s landlord for months before it opened. Mitow’s other initial investors in the project included David Spezza, the Eschenroeder family and Ralph Zuckerman.
After the business filed for bankruptcy in September 2019, Jason Mitow took a much more minimal role in the business and was not involved in the day-to-day operations immediately prior to his death, according to his brother, Alex Mitow.
Alex Mitow estimated his brother had opened or partnered with other investors on around “30 to 40 different restaurants and nightlife concepts” throughout his career, and said that he was still working on opening the Whiskey Cartel project at the time of his death. That restaurant underwent a a routine state inspection in July and passed.
"We all grew up in the restaurant business,“ Alex Mitow said. “And Jason really believed in the brand.”
The Lucky Dill was born in 1991, when Kimberly and Alexander Mitow found a location inside a strip mall on U.S. 19 North in Palm Harbor.
The business was a huge hit, and though the couple soon split up, Kimberly Mitow continued to run the spot on her own for the next three decades, expanding the restaurant and moving locations two more times before finding a permanent home on U.S. 19 and Nebraska Avenue in Palm Harbor.
The restaurants that carried the Lucky Dill name weren’t operated as franchises, but some, including the downtown St. Petersburg location, carried a “name and goodwill” clause that would allow the new owner to use the Lucky Dill name at that location. They were under no obligation to keep the menu the same or honor gift cards for other locations.
“There’s literally nothing connecting (them),” Alex Mitow said of his mother’s business and the other Lucky Dill offshoots. He spoke to the Times because his mother was still too grief-stricken over her son’s death, he said.
“She’s a single, 65-year-old woman running one business on her own,” he said.
The Westshore closing leaves just the long-running Palm Harbor location to carry the torch. Other locations Jason Mitow opened under the Lucky Dill name — including the downtown St. Petersburg location and the Philadelphia-inspired offshoot Dilladelphia in Clearwater — have since been sold, closed or changed hands, and were never affiliated with the original location beyond Jason Mitow’s initial involvement, his brother said.
Meanwhile, the downtown St. Petersburg location on the corner of Central Avenue and 3rd Street N still carries the Lucky Dill Deli sign outside. Owner Josh Cameron, who purchased the business in 2017 and also owns nearby Oyster Bar and the Crafty Squirrel, said the business closed in December and is currently undergoing renovations.
Cameron, who is Australian, says he plans on reopening the restaurant as a casual steakhouse with an “Aussie-style” brewpub.
"I’m just more of a bar guy than a Jewish deli guy,” Cameron said.
When the restaurant does reopen later this year, the Lucky Dill name will be gone.