NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. -- Sugardarlings’s Bank St. location will close its doors by the end of the month, according to owner Jessica Beebe.
- Other 3 locations will remain open
- Bank Street location began 'Love a Lunch' program
- Landlord felt location not appropriate for philanthropic program
“It’s been great. We’ve been, honestly, blessed to be a part of the city of New Port Richey,” Beebe said of the store’s year downtown.
Customers will be able to get their sugar fix at Beebe’s three other existing locations in Tarpon Springs, Land O Lakes, and Old CR 54 in New Port Richey, but she said Bank St. was a little different.
“We necessarily don’t sell as many cupcakes in this store as we do some of our others. A lot more people are walking around the town, stopping in,” she said.
That’s how employees began to notice there might be a need among some in the community for a little extra help. Beebe said one of her employees came up with the idea for the “Love A Lunch” program.
Staff pack a few bagged lunches everyday with items like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and snacks. Anyone in need can stop in and grab a bag – no questions asked.
“This was something we really never advertised,” Beebe said. “It wasn’t, necessarily, meant to draw big crowds.”
The program started in December, and since then, up to ten lunches a day have been handed out. Donations from the community helped fill the bags.
“We had all walks of life, all stories of life. Most of them just came in and grabbed a lunch,” Beebe said. “It wasn’t until people started coming back to us that we started really knowing their stories.”
Then, a few weeks ago, Beebe said her landlord contacted her.
“He mentioned to me that the program had to stop, and I was very disheartened by that,” she said.
Beebe said she continued the program after checking in with the city.
City Manager Debbie Manns said while the Sugardarlings space isn’t zoned for something like “Love A Lunch”, the city fully understood what was going on and allowed it continue because it created no noticeable conflict.
Still, Beebe said it wasn’t long after that she was told her lease wasn’t being renewed.
The building’s owner, George Kouskoutis, said “Love A Lunch” is not the reason Sugardarlings’ lease isn’t being renewed. He said the business failed to exercise its option to renew.
However, he also said he doesn’t think the store is the appropriate place for such a program.
Beebe said she did reach out about renewing the lease, but acknowledges her busy schedule caused her to let efforts at talks slide.
“I know deep down inside that he is a great man,” Beebe said of her landlord. “He might not believe in my philanthropy, and he has every right not to believe in my philanthropy.”
But that’s exactly what some of her customers have come to appreciate about Sugardarlings.
“Our father owned a restaurant here in New Port Richey when we were children. My father fed the homeless,” said customer Carrie Bronson. Bronson said she stopped by the shop to show her support the day after Beebe made the announcement about the closing on Facebook.
“I’m all about supporting small businesses. It’s what makes our world go round,” Bronson said.
As for pursuing another New Port Richey location, Beebe said that will have to wait. She’s in the process of opening what would have been her fifth store, and moving into an additional new location isn’t an option right now.
She does plan to continue “Love A Lunch”, but in what form remains unclear. The Bank St. location will likely close April 28.