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Restaurant at Knight airport shuts doors

Less than six months after opening, the Runway Cafe at Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands closes.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 13, 2002


A new restaurant at the Peter O. Knight Airport has fallen off the radar, after barely getting off the ground.

Less than six months after opening, the Runway Cafe has closed on the southern tip of Davis Islands.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which owns the airport, said the operator couldn't make a go of it.

The operator blamed it on a disagreement with the authority over money.

Some customers pointed to mediocre food.

In either case, the cafe is gone.

Joey Lynn and partners Daryl Baer and Sharon Gentry of Creative Cooking and Catering opened the restaurant July 4 in the hopes of drawing island residents, downtown workers and airport travelers. It served a full menu of breakfast items, sandwiches, salads, desserts and lunch specials.

The cafe did a lot of business at the beginning but quickly lost steam. It closed after about a month, then only reopened for a few weeks at a time.

"The problem is that they tried to do too much," said Louis Miller, executive director of the authority. "They had too many items on the menu. It just didn't work."

Scott Pollock, manager of the Tampa Flying Service at the airport, said the kitchen was cramped and didn't have enough storage. To make do, the cafe stacked dishes in the hallway.

"It was very difficult to operate out of there," he said.

The restaurant took up about half of the airport's new administrative building, which also has offices, a conference area and a control room for runway lighting. Designers planned a larger building but scaled it back because of cost.

"It gets to be expensive to build something so close to the water," Pollock said. "You have to be careful of the flood plain."

Lynn, who has since broken ties with Baer and Gentry, said he invested about $50,000 in the deal. He argues the authority wrongly took a $3,000 bond that he says covered equipment not rent.

"It was a lot of time and effort," he said.

The authority leased the space to Lynn for a year with an option to extend for another. Rent was based on the restaurant's revenue.

Miller said ending the lease early was best for everyone, diners included.

"We thought we were very amicable," he said. "We could have held their feet to the fire."

The authority plans to reopen the cafe with another operator in the spring after it does a few construction changes, Pollock said.

Walter Hudson, who goes to the airport once or twice a week to weigh planes, said he hopes whoever takes over improves the quality.

"We went there once and it didn't do it for us. It was terrible," he said. "If you give good service and good food, people will come."

-- Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

-- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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