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Doggie experience not that appetizing

The city's first restaurant to become an official "doggie dining" site has second thoughts.

By ELENA LESLEY
Published January 25, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Patrons at Moon Under Water didn't have to worry about dogs bothering them Wednesday.

Tells us what you think

ST. PETERSBURG - During a recent meal at Moon Under Water, diner Kenneth Safko noticed a "golden retriever that was having ..."

"Bowel troubles," his wife, Emily Safko, interjected. Though a server hurriedly mopped up the mess, "it just wasn't appetizing," Emily continued.

Such incidents drove Moon Under Water to stop serving dogs Jan. 11, just three months after becoming the first St. Petersburg restaurant to apply for a "doggie dining" permit.

"People were complaining," said owner Mark Logan. "Ultimately, we're here to serve people, not dogs."

Moon Under Water had been a dog-friendly establishment for years. Before the Legislature passed the "doggie dining bill" in June, which officially allows dogs to eat at outdoor restaurants, customers enjoyed meals on the patio with their furry companions.

But when the restaurant became a sanctioned dog dining establishment, it received a great deal of publicity - and unmanageable canine traffic.

"Before, we had three, four, five tables on a given day," Logan said. "Then, we were getting that many in an hour."

Canines crowded the outdoor space, creating an obstacle course. When tables weren't available, dog lovers and their pets hovered on the sidewalk, where barks and dogs urinating made dining less pleasant for everyone.

And, according to Logan and regular customers, some diners simply weren't controlling their dogs.

"One woman had her dog rolling on the table," Logan said.

Even though the doggie dining ordinance prohibits dogs from sitting on tables or their owners' laps, another customer refused to relegate his beloved pooch to the ground. Servers had to create a little seat for the dog using a cardboard box and towels.

After receiving complaints from customers and even the city that tables weren't properly sanitized and dogs weren't confined to their leashes, Logan decided doggie dining was too much hassle.

"We might lose a little business, but we needed to do it," he said. "Hopefully, the dog people won't hate me."

While they haven't boycotted the restaurant, some dog lovers have started to mobilize. When customer Rick Waterman learned of Logan's decision, he composed a petition.

"I walked in a couple weeks ago and saw a sign that said 'no more dogs,' " Waterman said. "I thought, 'Whoa, what's going on?' "

Though Waterman doesn't own a dog, he enjoyed meeting canines at the restaurant.

Waterman began distributing the petition at Moon Under Water on Sunday.

The petition garnered a handful of signatures before it was intercepted by management.

"It was posted on the host stand, and we took it down," said Katie Fawkes, a manager. "If they want to petition, that's fine. But they can't do it here."

A handful of other restaurants in St. Petersburg, including Bella Brava and Cafe Alma, have applied for permits.

In Tampa, the city passed an ordinance late last year allowing doggie dining, but no restaurants applied for a permit, according to land development coordinator Gloria Moreda.

Bella Brava hasn't encountered the same problems as Moon Under Water. Many diners even make reservations for their dogs to let the staff know they'll be coming, said Jenna Steeby, a host at the restaurant.

Bella Brava's staff said the restaurant has enough space between the outside tables to make doggie dining work.

Or maybe it's just been lucky. There will always be patrons who think canines and cuisine just don't belong together.

"It's the same reason they don't want kids squawking: People pay good money," said Wendy Smith, a regular diner at Moon Under Water. "They don't want to be tripping over dogs, watching them slobber."

Or do other things.

[Last modified January 25, 2007, 06:53:53]


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