The property managers of the old Gator Buffet are asking the public’s help in catching vandals they said have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the vacant restaurant.
- Incidents occurred in April 2017
- Damage to both interior, exterior of restaurant
- Managers believe break-ins have continued
“What I really just want is for them to be caught and prosecuted, basically, to the fullest extent of the law. I just don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” said property manager Bret Feldman.
It started last April 26, according to incident reports from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. Thieves entered through a duct in the ceiling and stole copper wiring.
A second report dated April 27 details more wire theft, but a second property manager, Deborah Hall, said they entered a different way this time.
“This was the rear door, a steel door, on the restaurant, and they used whatever to pry it open,” Hall said, motioning to the door that now lays on its side inside the restaurant.
Walking around the restaurant, other damage was evident.
“Broken lights, pieces of coffee pots," Hall said. "They smashed through the front window with a shopping cart."
Inside, fire extinguishers were emptied over the entire restaurant, and film from their contents covers just about everything.
There’s damage to the outside, too – a fence is broken and covered with graffiti and shopping carts have been used as step stools to the roof, where someone spray-painted the name “Brandon.”
Feldman and Hall said the restaurant has been vacant for about two years. They lost one prospective tenant due to damage caused by the first break-ins.
Hall said she still shows the property, but it’s a hard sell in its current condition.
“You’re walking on glass when you walk in. How can I show a tenant that’s interested in leasing a restaurant?” she asked.
“It makes me sick to my stomach,” said Feldman. “It’s heartbreaking because this place has a lot of potential, and we had it immaculate and cleaned, and now it’s destroyed.”
Sheriff’s reports we were able to obtain list the cost of stolen and broken items at around $3,500. However, Feldman and Hall said they’ve received estimates of the cost required to bring the restaurant space back up to code around $300,000.
“There’s drastic damage here that all has to be licensing and permitting. I mean, there’s AC work and electrical work that’s astronomical,” said Feldman.
In the meantime, the restaurant continues to sit vacant.
“The area seems to be cleaning up, and the traffic is good,” said Hall. “It should be a great spot, but currently, we just have someone that’s causing havoc for no reason.”
The managers ask anyone in the public who may know who’s behind the damage to call the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 1-800-706-2488. Feldman said he’s willing to offer a small reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those involved.
The Sheriff’s office said there are no updates to the case.
The most recent incident report we were able to obtain is dated January 3 of this year, but Feldman and Hall think the break-ins continue. They found what they think are new beer cans stacked near the front of the restaurant at the beginning of February.