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I grew up inside St. Angelo’s Pizza in New Port Richey. It’s the business my dad started when he was in his 20s and looking for a change from the bitter winters of Buffalo, N.Y.
Fast-forward 40 years, and the restaurant with the “Original Chicken Wings” sign out front on the corner of Madison Avenue and State Road 54 is still the first place I drive to when I want to see my dad.
His business has weathered many hurricanes — often feeding neighbors for days in the aftermath when nobody else had power or A.C. He survived the 2008 recession, and slow changes to the West Pasco neighborhood as growth shifted to the eastern end of the county, like Trinity and Wesley Chapel.
But as we read the headlines every day, announcing new limitations and shutdowns on businesses related to the coronavirus pandemic, I fear for him and his livelihood.
My dad, Brian Griffin, is old school. Everything about his business is still written down on takeout slips and scratched into notebooks. He got his first iPhone just last year, and he still doesn’t know how to send a text. Dad has mastered how to capture and upload a photo, though. He regularly updates the St. Angelo’s Pizza Facebook page with images of handwritten messages he’s scribbled on a whiteboard. I think his social media strategy is quite charming.
Small businesses across Tampa Bay are caught up in the unknown — of what tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or the next six months will bring. Service workers are being laid off in all counties, at a time when they’re being told to stay home instead of hitting the streets to find a new source of income.
It’s hard for me to watch my dad worry. He delayed his retirement to pay for my wedding. He’s the hardest-working man I know, and he instilled those values in me.
Dad would hand-deliver me homemade lunch when I was in elementary school. He’d never forget a side of black olives — my favorite snack. Once I got to high school, I wasn’t only his daughter but also his employee. I graduated from answering phones and jotting down delivery orders to being a waitress. I loathed it, and once begged my dad to let me quit so I could get a job next door at Publix.
He wouldn’t let me. His defense was: “You’re going to do this job now so you’ll go to college and won’t have to do it anymore.” Those waitressing skills kept cash in my pocket throughout my college years.
On Friday, the day Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered restaurants statewide to offer takeout and delivery only, I made the familiar drive from my home in St. Petersburg to see my dad. I found him standing next to the old pizza oven. He had flour in his long hair and his beard, and there were three pies about to go in for baking.
The dining room was dark. The chairs were stacked upside down on the tables. But the phones were buzzing. I took a pizza and delivered it nearby.
People lined up at the takeout counter to place orders. Many addressed my dad by a nickname reserved only for close friends: Griff. As he cashed out one man in his 20s, my dad told him to say hello to his parents for him. He joked with a mom who’d preferred to stand in the lobby near the hot kitchen than sit in her minivan with her husband and kids.
“They’ll be home for who knows how much longer. I could use a break," she joked.
My dad thanked everyone who came in that day for their business, like he always does. But on that Friday, amid the growing chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, I know their support meant even more.
Justine Griffin covers health and medicine for the Tampa Bay Times. You can reach her at email@example.com or follow her @SunBizGriffin.
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