TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Tampa- and Orlando-based business will find out next month if they’re barking up the wrong tree when it comes to mixing bar nights and puppy love.
Pups Pub, with locations in Tampa and Orlando, will have a hearing before the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings to fight for their right to have man’s best friend with them in their doggy bars, a relatively newer concept for drinking establishments.
In 2020, Alex Wright and Sheila Suhar, a married couple, opened up Pups Pub Tampa on West Kennedy. In mid-2022, they opened a new location in Orlando. Now, the Florida Department of Health says they’re violating the rules to have the bars open.
Wright and Suhar petitioned with FDOH on Monday to allow the bars to stay open, following several health inspections which graded them “unsatisfactory,” according to FDOH records.
In their petition, the Pups Pub owners say that they have properly received certificates for sanitation and alcoholic beverage sales from the State of Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
However, according to health officials, it’s illegal for dogs to be present inside bars or lounges. The Pups Pub owners say the rule only applies to locations that serve beverages and food, which they do not. They only serve drinks.
Wright and Suhar allege that FDOH is blocking their business through a misinterpretation of state regulations. Their petition says that after Pups Pub Tampa opened, the Hillsborough County Department of Health provided permits to their business for sanitation, as well as another, Two Shepherds Taproom. Both were allowed to operate with dogs inside.
In 2022, Pups Pub Orlando opened, and received its own sanitation certificate. But soon after, Wright and Suhar said FDOH started changing how it interprets the rule, and started issuing citations to dog friendly bars, including both Pups Pub locations. While the company had passed its previous health inspections, the new rule has led to “unsatisfactory ratings” according to Wright and Suhar.
The next step in the legal process is set for March 3, where FDOH and the Pups Pub owners will be party to an administrative hearing that could keep the dog bar open, or close its doors.
Speaking to the Orlando Sentinel, Wright said the company intends to keep up operations.
“We are staying open. We are not closing,” Wright said. ““We’re going to get to the place where we started, which is [to] let us work together with writing a new code to regulate dog bar concepts like this.”
WFLA.com has reached out to the Pups Pub owners to discuss the petition and the status of the bar in Tampa.