Sarasota pizzeria owner frustrated with outdoor seating struggles during COVID-19 crisis

Coronavirus

SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Businesses across the Tampa Bay area are doing whatever it takes to survive the coronavirus crisis. For many restaurants, that means utilizing outdoor space to increase capacity in a safe way.

Philip Solorzano of Solozano Pizzerias has made adjustments throughout the pandemic to help business even turning part of his restaurant into an Italian grocery market and most recently, decided to move some of his indoor furniture outside.

“We are limited inside and we are doing what we gotta do to survive,” said Solorzano.

Last week, the pizzeria owner says Sarasota County code enforcement showed up to tell him his outdoor seating is not permitted. Solorzano says the enforcement employee told him his case would go straight to the magistrate.

“I told him, ‘no disrespect, but my tables and chairs are staying exactly where they are and if you’ve got to take us to court, take us to court’,” said Solorzano.

Solorzano feels it’s not fair. He claims several other businesses in the county have a similar set up with no permitting.

“Everyone in Sarasota, everyone in the state, everyone in the country is doing it and they are coming in and telling us that we have to fill out an application, some kind of permit to do it and nobody else has done it. I feel like I’m getting selected out and I don’t like it,” said Solorzano.

8 On Your Side contacted Sarasota County officials Friday regarding Solorzano’s situation. We asked officials how many businesses have applied for temporary use permits for additional outdoor seating amid the pandemic; as of 6:30 p.m. Friday, we have not received an answer.

The county did explain code enforcement was called to Solorzano’s business following a complaint.

“Currently, code enforcement is working with the owner regarding signage in the right of way, and zoning personnel has provided the temporary use permit application to the owner, as well, for the outdoor seating,” said a Sarasota County spokesperson.

8 On Your Side spoke with other businesses in the Gulf Gate area. Employees say they feel for Solorzano and understand what he is trying to do to keep his employees employed during a difficult time.

We also spoke with a business on Siesta Key that has a similar set up to Solorzano’s Pizzeria. Blase Pi’s General Manager Robert Gnazzo explained his owner got permitting from the county before bringing seating out into their parking spaces. He says it was a multi-step process, but really the only option to expand capacity safely.

“It helps us increase the headcount of our customer base without putting them into a small space and causing an infectious type of scenario where you know, we can’t really ensure the safety of the customers,” said Gnazzo.

The general manager tells 8 On Your Side he sees both sides of the permitting issue.

“I certainly feel for them. I do believe that everyone should go through the appropriate steps to get the permits and to do everything I need to do legally. However, I do know how tough it is on these restaurateurs and the staff who depend on these wages and these tips to live. It is very very tough for them,”said Gnazzo.

Solorzano tells 8 On Your Side he has filled out the paperwork the county provided to him this week.

“They should have came to us and said hey, listen, I know you were doing what you gotta do to survive, we are going to work with you, we are going to get some kind of application together and we will give it to you. That is how it should’ve went down and it could’ve went down and it didn’t and then I made a big deal about it and now it is going down exactly the way I said,” said Solorzano.

He says he just wants everyone to be treated the same way.

“If somebody’s doing something and they are not allowed to do it, well you know what, cite everybody. If not, leave everybody alone. Let us work together as a community so we can get past this, make this money, pay my employees, feed my family,” said Solorzano.

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