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Neighborhood Report

He'll breathe easy with pizza

Respiratory problems after 9/11 led Rick Drury to Florida. He'll re-enter the pizza business with a franchise at Channelside.

Published June 30, 2006

After three years of living with post-9/11 respiratory problems, Rick Drury could no longer work as a New York City paramedic. Nearly two years ago he moved to Lutz, near his parents' home, and found that the damp, cleaner Florida air made him feel a bit better.

But Drury missed his work and home, not to mention the pizza. Rather than sulk about the changes, he decided to recreate a little New York in Tampa's Channelside entertainment complex.

Drury, 38, is set to open a franchise of Orlando-based NYPD Pizza in mid July. The restaurant, co-founded in 1996 by Lou Pearlman of Backstreet Boys fame, is a good fit for Drury, who owned a Domino's Pizza franchise in New York for 13 years before becoming a paramedic in mid 2001.

NYPD Pizza will be Channelside's first pizza restaurant. In addition to pies and slices, it will offer pasta, hoagies, beer, wine and plenty of seating.

Like other locations in the chain, the restaurant will have quite a collection of cop kitsch, from the official-looking shields to the bill, which comes as a "summons violation."

Drury's delivery vehicle looks like a NYPD police truck but with "Taste of New York" painted on the side. Drury said the vehicle amuses police officers who pass through Channelside, yet is striking enough that he often sees tourists taking photos of it.

"There's a lot of buzz around this store," Drury said. "I think it's going to fit into Channelside perfectly."

It has helped Drury fit in, too. Born in Yonkers, he said he loved being a paramedic in New York, even after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was working at nearby St. Vincent's Hospital and saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center as he climbed into his ambulance.

"We all raced down there," Drury said. "There wasn't very much for anybody to do. That scene wasn't safe, so I didn't go in there. That's probably why I'm still alive."

But like many who worked in the area that day, Drury's lungs suffered. He had pneumonia eight times in 2002, he said. His shortness of breath lingered, and by 2004, he was no longer able to pass the fitness test required of NYC paramedics.

Drury said fitness requirements are different in Florida - not as many skyscrapers to climb, for one thing - so he tried being a paramedic here for awhile. But neither the experience nor the money was the same. Suddenly, getting back into the pizza business made sense.

Getting his new restaurant just right has been a challenge and a learning experience, but Drury said the efforts have been worth it.

"Every day," he said, "is a gift."

[Last modified June 29, 2006, 11:03:20]

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