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Landmark Sarasota restaurant Hob Nob closes after 67 years

The owner cites several reasons for Hob Nob Drive In's closure, including the post-pandemic economy. But a forthcoming food truck could keep the brand alive.


Cary Spicuzza has owned the Hob Nob Drive In since 1991.
Cary Spicuzza has owned the Hob Nob Drive In since 1991.
Photo by Elizabeth King
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Stools and tables are being unscrewed from the ground at the Hob Nob Drive In, where the landmark Sarasota restaurant closed Wednesday, May 15. It opened in 1957.

“I’ve had a great career,” says co-owner Cary Spicuzza, 67, who took over the Hob Nob when he was 34. He had been a waiter at Marina Jack in Sarasota while working on his master’s degree in business. He stopped taking classes after getting involved with the Hob Nob, and his life forever changed. 

Says Spicuzza: “It’s been a great run.”

In an interview sitting at a metal table in the restaurant, he cited several reasons for its closure, including retirement and changes in business. “Sometimes it’s time,” Spicuzza says. 

Another obstacle: The lease on the Hob Nob will be up June 30, and his lease ran in five-year increments. Spicuzza, who is 67, said he was working the grill five days a week and doesn’t want to work into his 70s.

The last time he renewed the lease, he says, his wife, Debora Spicuzza, was ready for him to move on. As a co-owner, she does the books for the restaurant. He credits her with finding out the Hob Nob was for sale back in 1991.

With 33 years at the helm, Spicuzza says he did not want to be in business for another summer.

Photo by Elizabeth King

“After COVID, the landscape changed in the restaurant business,” he says. “Last summer was the first summer in 33 years I lost money."

Even recently, business was slow, except Tuesday, May 14, when people responded to a social media rumor that the establishment was closing and packed the place, causing it to close early when it ran out of food and not open on Wednesday — which Spicuzza had planned on being the last day. The volume Tuesday was three times more than normal, Spicuzza says.

“We just aren’t as busy as we used to be,” he says. “We’d have a group of people for breakfast every day. People are on the run now. They don’t go to places for breakfast like this.”

As people's behavior has shifted, prices have continued to climb due to inflation. That was one more obstacle. 

“It’s gotten to the point where you have to do pretty good sales, or you go down quick because your fixed costs are higher,” Spicuzza says.

“I’ll miss the rushes on Fridays,” Hob Nob Drive In co-owner Cary Spicuzza says, sitting at one of the eatery’s metal picnic tables.
Photo by Elizabeth King

Finding workers has also been a challenge.

While the eatery has six or seven steady staff members, it is a constant struggle to fill in other shifts.

“The labor market is very difficult,” says Spicuzza, adding: “Labor prices have gone up.”

The average check at the Hob Nob Drive In is $14, according to Spicuzza. With servers getting paid $9 an hour, that leaves smaller margins than when they used to make $2 an hour and the average check was $8.60.


What’s next

Land occupied by the Hob Nob Drive In is owned by Peter Karras, who lives in Maryland, according to Spicuzza.

“It’s not going to be a development,” says Spicuzza, who owns eight lots around the property, so he would have to be involved in the decisions. Among the parcels he owns are the ones containing the car wash and laundromat, which he plans to continue to run in retirement.

All the equipment inside the Hob Nob Drive In is being removed, including tables and stools nailed to the ground.
Photo by Elizabeth King

Another project is also on the horizon.

“We talked about a food truck,” Spicuzza says. “We’ll see how much gas is left in the tank.”

Co-owner Annette Gargett, who has been with the business for 29 years, may use the Hob Nob Drive In trademarked logo to run the food truck, which will not require the hours that running a brick-and-mortar restaurant would.

“We’re tired; we need a break for a while,” Gargett says, so the food truck would not come to fruition until after the summer. But it will come. Says Gargett: “It’s not going to be the end of the Hob Nob.”

 

author

Elizabeth King

Elizabeth is a business news reporter with the Business Observer, covering primarily Sarasota-Bradenton, in addition to other parts of the region. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, she previously covered hyperlocal news in Maryland for Patch for 12 years. Now she lives in Sarasota County.

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