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The future of St. Petersburg Mini Doughtnut Factory uncertain as legal battle continues

The South Tampa shop may have reopened, but the company's investor-turned-manager says the shops' founders refuse to give up the accounts he needs to run the business.
Doughnuts being made and topped at the Mini Doughnut Factory in St. Petersburg when it opened in December 2017. The store is now closed as the result of an ongoing legal battle. (DIRK SHADD   |   Times
Doughnuts being made and topped at the Mini Doughnut Factory in St. Petersburg when it opened in December 2017. The store is now closed as the result of an ongoing legal battle. (DIRK SHADD | Times
Published Jan. 11, 2019

The mini doughnut drama is dragging on.

After legal woes shut down both of Tampa Bay's Mini Doughnut Factory shops, the business' South Tampa location has reopened — but not its sister location across the bay.

The St. Petersburg shop is still closed as the pastry company's lead investor and founders continue a courtroom battle over who has rights to the company and its assets.

Investor and Tampa real estate agent Lee Kearney had filed two lawsuits against shop founders Patrick and Zezura Ruddell in December. One said the couple was in default and owed Kearney and his associate companies roughly $875,000. The other accused the Ruddells of mismanaging the shops and breaking a legal agreement. The lawsuit says by breaking that contract, the Ruddells forfeited their managing rights.

But the Ruddells refuse to accept they no longer manage the business, according to Kearney's latest filing. A Jan. 4 emergency motion asks the court to compel the Ruddells to give Kearney access to the business' social media, administrative accounts and other assets needed to do business — from recipes to pre-orders.

"Unless injunctive relief is granted by this Court, there very likely will be no St. Petersburg Mini Doughnut location," the lawsuit says.

By Dec. 26, according to court records, the store's St. Petersburg employees quit, forcing Kearney to close the store at 730 4th St N. That broke the space's lease agreement, which requires the business be closed no more than 10 days per year. Now the company is facing a notice of default from its St. Pete landlord.

Without access to its accounts, Kearney and employees missed online orders made by brides who pre-paid or left deposits for treats on their wedding days, according to the lawsuit. Kearney also says the couple changed the public Mini Doughnut phone number to his cell phone, prompting countless phone calls.

Kearney's attorney said his client is not making any comments during the litigation. The Ruddells did not return a request for comment.

In an email included in Kearney's latest motion, Patrick Ruddell wrote: "When you are ready to discuss dropping the lawsuits against us and settling we will hand everything over."

Kearney's lawsuits spelled out months of trouble while the Ruddells were running the business — from an unexpected trademark lawsuit to missed bills and tens of thousands of dollars in lost sales.

A recorded greeting on Kearney's cellphone — still listed as the public number of the company online — says the Tampa store is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. seven days a week. The St. Pete location, he says in the voice message, will be open "soon."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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