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Business Observer Thursday, Apr. 2, 2020 3 months ago

Eatery does whatever it takes to survive

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St. Petersburg-based Greek restaurant chain takes innovative steps to weather the COVID-19 storm.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the nation’s restaurant industry particularly hard. Last week, the Business Observer reported on how Dan Bavaro, the founder and owner of Bavaro’s Pizza Napoletana & Pastaria, has already had to close one of his restaurants and expects to lay off up to 50 workers — half of his workforce. 

Little Greek Fresh Grill President Nick Vojnovic. Courtesy photo.

Little Greek Fresh Grill, a St. Petersburg-based Greek restaurant chain that has 44 eateries in six states, including 18 in the Tampa Bay region, has also felt the COVID-19 sting. President Nick Vojnovic, who also owns and operates a Little Greek franchise near the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, says revenues are down 40% and that catering sales are practically nonexistent, but he’s doing everything he can to avoid a Greek tragedy of epic proportions. 

“Our first move was to tell our franchisees, ‘We’re not deferring your franchise royalties; we’re just going to waive them, so keep your employees in place, as many as possible, on a skeleton crew if you need to,’” Vojnovic tells Coffee Talk via phone from his home, where he's in self-isolation because he’s recovering from leukemia treatments and is considered a high risk for getting COVID-19. “I’ve been in this business for four years, and this is definitely the most challenging issue we’ve ever had to address. To have a lockdown of your business and a health issue at the same time has been extremely complex and scary.” 

Vojnovic says he’s making the best of a dire situation with a little creativity. Thanks to its proximity to USF, his store has always had strong takeout sales, so he’s been able to shift emphasis to that aspect of the business. He’s also been selling staples including beef, chicken, eggs and even, yes, toilet paper — which he can get from his wholesale suppliers — directly to the public. 

“I think we can hang in there for maybe two, three months, but after that, the cash crunch is going to start catching up,” Vojnovic says. “We’re telling our franchisees to do everything they can to conserve cash.” 

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