1. News

Proino Breakfast Club owner charged with not paying state taxes

Proino Breakfast Club at 201 West Bay Drive in Largo. The owner was arrested last month on a theft of state funds charge, according to court records. JIM DAMASKE | Times
Published Aug. 23, 2017

LARGO — Just before noon on a recent Sunday at Proino Breakfast Club, the dining room was bustling as owner George Soulellis chatted with a customer.

It was not even a month earlier the owner of the popular downtown restaurant was sitting in jail in Clayton County, Ga., picked up by Atlanta airport police as a fugitive.

His July 27 arrest stems from a theft of state funds charge brought by the Florida Department of Revenue after Soulellis, 48, withheld about $35,600 in sales tax revenue, according to an affidavit filed by a state investigator. The arrest is the latest in a series of financial problems for Soulellis and his restaurant, once voted "Best of Largo" in a contest sponsored by the city and the Largo Leader.

Soulellis declined to comment, referring a reporter to his Tampa-based lawyer, James Sutton.

Sutton said this week that his client paid back the state in full. The arrest was a misunderstanding, Sutton said: Soulellis thought the unpaid sales tax would be handled in an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding for his restaurant.

"He was not aware that the matter would still be forwarded to the State Attorney's Office," Sutton said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Proino Breakfast Club, named 'Best of Largo,' has trail of money problems, records show.

According to the affidavit, sales tax payments filed for Proino's downtown location at 201 W Bay Drive bounced for May and July 2015, May 2016, and the period from August 2016 through December 2016. Payments for the second location at 14400 Walsingham Road had the same issue during the months of April, May, August, September and November 2016.

The department reached out to Soulellis to try to resolve the problem.

"Mr. Soulellis promised on several occasions that he would take care of all the delinquencies but did not," the affidavit states, adding that he was offered a payment plan. "George Soulellis provided the required financial information, made the initial down payment, but did not make required payments to pay off the delinquency."

In an interview with the investigator, Soulellis said he used collected sales tax to fund a third Proino location and keep the first two up and running.

The affidavit doesn't specify where the third location was supposed to be, but state business records show he filed paper work under the restaurant's name at 770 S Gulfview Blvd on Clearwater Beach. His former business partner, Ernest Utegaard, told the Tampa Bay Times last year he and Soulellis went their separate ways but declined to say why, citing a confidentiality agreement. Utegaard took over the lease and has since opened his own restaurant, the Floridian Beach Cafe.

A warrant for Soulellis' arrest was signed in July. Atlanta police officers took Soulellis into custody at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Sutton said he was returning to the U.S. from a funeral in Canada — his home country, according to jail records.

Soulellis, whose listed address is a condo in a waterfront complex on Clearwater Beach, was booked into a jail in Georgia. He paid restitution that included the unpaid sales tax and investigative costs for the state, said Bruce Bartlett, the chief assistant state attorney for Pinellas and Pasco counties. His office is still pursuing the charge, Bartlett said.

"He apparently has some pretty decent businesses," he said, "so I'm not real sure what circumstances existed to get him into this position."

The restitution payment allowed him to go back to Florida, where he turned himself into the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and was booked into jail, Sutton said. He was released the same day after posting $25,000 bail, according to jail records.

Federal court records show Soulellis filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March on behalf of the Proino downtown location. Filings show a list of parties the company owes money to: three food distributors, the store's landlord, the state department of revenue and the Internal Revenue Service.

Sutton isn't representing Soulellis in the bankruptcy proceedings but said Soulellis intends to pay back his debts and reorganize the business to keep everything operational.

"My client is just trying to get his life back in order," he said.

Times senior researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or Follow @kathrynvarn.


  1. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is seen with lights Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019 in St. Petersburg. The Florida Department of Transportation installed about 1,800 colored LED light fixtures on the Sunshine Skyway bridge. BRANDON MEYER  |  Times
    Engineers will spend the coming weeks perfecting the displays, which include holiday themes.
  2. The Florida Department of Transportation is putting the final touches on a $15 million project to illuminate the Sunshine Skyway bridge. FDOT officials say the long-delayed project should be finished...
  3. Elvis Presley gets a close-up look at one of the Weeki Wachee Springs mermaids during a visit to the park in 1961. HANDOUT  |  WEEKI WACHEE SPRINGS
    From its iconic mermaids to its signature statue, Weeki Wachee Springs will be considered for historic designation.
  4. Preliminary plans for a splash park in Dade City, made possible by a recent city purchase of land for the park. Dade City
    City commissioners on Tuesday agreed to purchase land for the park and looked over early plans for the site.
  5. Milwaukee Police Officer Kevin Zimmermann bought car seats for Andrella "Lashae" Jackson's two youngest children and then installed them in her car. Facebook
    But he didn’t stop there. Milwaukee Police Officer Kevin Zimmermann also installed the seats in the woman’s car.
  6. Washington Nationals' Trea Turner, right, steals second with Houston Astros' Carlos Correa covering during the first inning of Game 1 of the baseball World Series Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) MATT SLOCUM  |  AP
    It’s part of Taco Bell’s, “Steal a base, Steal a Taco” promotion.
  7. Hernando County Government Center
    Neighbors worry about the impact on their equestrian community.
  8. Authorities found 29-year-old Sharee Bradley stabbed to death on Aug. 5. The chief says she had three children; the 12-year-old and 3-year-old were found safe, but Nevaeh had disappeared. Sumter Police Department/Facebook
    DNA from the remains found Friday has been matched to Nevaeh Adams, Sumter Police Chief Russell Roark told reporters.
  9. Cars back up at a Tampa intersection last October, not long before Hillsborough County voters approved a one-cent sales tax for transportation improvements. This week, local officials detailed how the money would be spent, if the tax survives a legal challenge before the Florida Supreme Court. URSO, CHRIS  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Local governments have plans for $527 million in projects. But the Florida Supreme Court would need to clear the way.
  10. FILE - In this Sunday, April 22, 2018, file photo, a statue of a chained man is on display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a new memorial to honor thousands of people killed in racist lynchings, in Montgomery, Ala. Facing an impeachment inquiry that he and supporters claim is illegal, President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, that the process is a lynching. Some Republicans agree, but the relatives of actual lynching victims don’t. BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Made in a tweet that drew backing from some Republican supporters including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Trump’s claim was ill-informed at best and racist at worst, they said.