TAMPA — Greg Baker got the call late Sunday night from the manager of Fodder & Shine, one of two restaurants he owns in Seminole Heights.
Two men had forced their way through the back door, held the employees at gunpoint, forced them to hand over cash and personal property, and left.
"I'm pretty angry," Baker said Monday about the robbery.
But not worried. Baker said he has lived in Seminole Heights on and off for 25 years. He opened his first restaurant, the Refinery, on N Florida Avenue in 2009. When he first moved to the area, he said property crimes like burglary were common.
But now, in a neighborhood that has seen a flurry of restaurants and businesses open in the past several years, Baker said incidents like Sunday's robbery are the exception.
"This was a bunch of opportunists who came in and got what they thought were easy pickings," he said.
Police agree. Overall, crime in the district has gone down significantly, said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.
"It's a totally different place than it was 10 years ago," said Davis, who also used to live in the neighborhood.
Police arrested three men Monday in the restaurant robbery. They are identified as Darrell L. Poole, 26, and Alexander Jackson, 23, who police said went into the restaurant, and Devin L. Smith, who is thought to be the getaway driver. Jackson is a "career offender with several convictions for commercial robbery," a police report said, and Poole was arrested in the past on charges of firearm possession and burglary.
Davis said the robbery at Fodder & Shine might be connected to a string of similar incidents over the past several days. One happened late Friday at the Independent Bar and Cafe, about half a mile south of Fodder & Shine on Florida Avenue. Police said Sunday that two men wearing ski masks entered the restaurant through the back door, made the employees give them cash at gunpoint, and left.
Owner Veronica Danko opened the Independent in 2009, after friends encouraged her to set up shop in Seminole Heights. She said the bar and cafe once had a break-in and an attempted break-in, but overall she said she never felt unsafe in the neighborhood.
"I don't feel like we're subject to constant violence," she said. "We always have more than one person leaving together — that's a rule — and everyone's cautious. But we've all felt safe until this."
After the robbery at the Independent, police were "saturating" the area with patrols, Davis said. So when the robbers ran out the back door of Fodder & Shine and into the getaway car, a police helicopter quickly spotted them, and officers gave chase.
Police stopped the suspects' car by running into it and causing it to spin out of control. The men fled on foot. Police caught them after hitting Smith with a stun gun, Davis said. All three were being held in jail Monday, and police now expect the area to calm down.
"By arresting these three suspects, I think we're going to see a dramatic difference in what's going on in Seminole Heights," Davis said.
In the wake of the robbery at the Independent, Danko said she is considering adding more lighting in the back of the building. But what happened Friday night, she said, speaks to the nature of owning a restaurant — not to the neighborhood.
"It just reminds you to be cautious at all times when you have a business and are handling money," she said.
Staff writers Susan Taylor Martin and Laura Reiley contributed to this report. Contact Emily McConville at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374. Follow @emmcconville.