It's difficult enough to operate a business successfully for over 15 years in one location, no matter what the economic climate of the times may be.
It’s another thing entirely to branch out from that comfort zone and attempt to make a name in another venture, especially as the country is tumbling into its deepest recession in decades.
That’s exactly the situation Gregg Petrakis and his family found themselves in when they decided to open an upscale sports bar to compliment their landmark sub shop, .
“Shortly after we opened the Red Room in 2008, the market crashed and the economy collapsed and the value of the place plummeted,” Petrakis says. "All of us put a lot of time, money and effort into getting this place up and running."
“It was probably the worst time to open a new business in the last 40 years.”
At first Petrakis, who grew up in restaurants thanks to his father’s involvement in various Chicago eateries, thought he had no choice but to open the bar, located just a mile up the road from the sub shop on Missouri Avenue.
In 2004 the Pinellas County School Board informed the family that they were taking over the land that Largo Subs sat on, so the Petrakis’, who had owned the shop since 1996, began looking for another location to move to.
When Gregg noticed the empty building at 999 Missouri, formerly a Long John Silvers, he thought it would be a good spot not only to relocate to, but also to expand the sub business; the concept of the Red Room came to him instantly.
“I had a red room in my house, and everybody always noticed it and commented on it. I thought I would apply that theme to the restaurant and make it an upscale sports bar.”
Soon after purchasing the property the school board delayed their decision to take over the other land, but the Petrakis' decided to go ahead with the new business anyway.
But shortly after the Red Room opened in October of 2008, the economy collapsed and all the time, effort and money the Petrakis' put into the place was in danger of being wasted.
“I poured concrete here, I laid brick pavers, I painted the walls…the last thing I wanted was to see everything go down the drain,” Gregg recalls.
A business partnership with multiple co-owners ensued, but that turned out to be a disaster. The new ownership group quickly forced Petrakis out and “ran the place into the ground”, according to Gregg, and just like that, his dream had turned into a nightmare.
But rather than letting the failure define him – “I failed, and I’m not afraid to admit it,” he states - Petrakis decided to contemplate what happened and learn from his mistakes.
Two years later, Petrakis has come full circle. After the new owners failed to fulfill obligations to the landlord, he was offered the opportunity to come back and make things right in April of last year.
“I had something to prove. It was like sweet karma…that allowed me to have a second chance to make this place work.”
The Sports Shack might have a new name and a different decor, but it still has its signature red walls, great food, and, thanks to a trying three years, an owner with a much better perspective on how to navigate the rough waters of the bar business.
“The benefit of everything that happened was this place became a neighborhood corner bar; all it needed was good food and a solid direction.”
Address: 999 Missouri Ave.
Hours: Mon - Thu, 11am - midnight; Fri, Sat, 11am - 2am; Sun, noon - 10pm