Little Greek store owner and franchise company president Nick Vojnovic says 'If we get looted again I probably won’t reopen.'
Tampa restaurant industry veteran Nick Vojnovic beat back a rare form of cancer that required a bone marrow transplant three years ago. So he knows how to overcome hardships — while maintaining a positive spirit.
But the latest crisis, while not life-and-death, has pushed Vojnovic, president of the Little Greek Fresh Grill, to the edge. “You would think between the pandemic and an economic recession things couldn’t get any worse. Then I got looted,” he quips.
The onetime president of Beef O’Brady’s, Vojnovic both overseas Little Greek’s franchise network, of some 44 locations in six states, and owns a location himself, in Tampa near USF. That location, on Fowler Avenue, was looted May 30 during a wave of riots in the area. Police reported 40 business were damaged by the rioters, according to a USF blog post. That included multiple small businesses in strip centers right around campus, like the Little Greek.
Vojnovic says the suspects tore down the sign, broke through the store window and then smashed things with sledgehammers. They threw a glass tip jar to the ground, stole about $1,000 in cash and started a fire, he says. Total damage was about $12,000, including tossed food. “They weren’t protestors — these people were taking advantage of the fact that the police were buried (working nearby protests) and couldn’t get to the area,” Vojnovic tells Coffee Talk.
A USF alum, Vojnovic was on the east coast of Florida that night, watching the space shuttle take off at his brother’s house. His daughter, who helps run the Fowler Avenue store, called and told him there were threats of looting in the area on social media. At 2:30 a.m. he got alerts on his phone that the alarm had been comprised. Knowing there was nothing he could do, he tried to go back to sleep. “When I woke up I had 30 messages,” he says “That’s never a good sign.”
The store was open again by Wednesday, June 3, and serving customers — mostly to-go, as it had been doing. But the damage to Vojnovic lingers. He’s begun the insurance claims process, but has been told it will be weeks before he gets money, and it might only be two-thirds of the damage. One of several laments, he says, is he’d been donating food for about 100 meals a night to homeless people in the area. “So they lost out on two nights of meals,” he says, while the restaurant got back together.
Vojnovic couldn’t bring himself to watch the security footage, relying on his daughter’s account. “I’m not angry. I’m just sad,” he says, adding that even with all he’s overcome, and his positive outlook, there are limits. “If we get looted again I probably won’t reopen.”