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Pie Topia sued by landlord

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Less than one year after opening, North St. Pete’s Fourth Street pizza haven, Pie Topia, has run into legal problems. The upscale pizzeria is being sued by its landlord for failing to pay rent for several months.

The lawsuit, filed Dec. 29 by property owners Mainstream Partners, also alleges Pie Topia is breaching other parts of its lease in addition to not meeting payments.

Those allegations include leaving dirty linens, an empty cart and garbage on the group’s property within the strip mall, closing during hours the restaurant should be open, and using mismatched dining furniture in outdoor seating areas.

What’s worse for Pie Topia, this isn’t the first time it has been sued. In fact, it’s, at least, the third. The restaurant was also sued by Rapid Capital Finance in October and US Foods in November.

The trouble Pie Topia finds itself in after just opening in March may not be all that surprising. Shortly after opening, Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reilly gave the restaurant just two of four stars. She criticized the pizza joint’s service and questioned whether or not the concept was sustainable.

Fourth Street already had several pizza places to choose from and the newly opened Pie Topia broke the bank on menu prices. The concept, selling pizza by the meter, meant many menu options ranged in price from $65 all the way up to $125 for a pizza that isn’t much bigger than an extra large running about $25 elsewhere.

The difference is, Pie Topia uses farm-to-table ingredients that are locally sourced, non-GMO and totally organic. The Times reported the kitchen consisted of a talented and ambitious staff of chefs in charge of various tasks from making the crust and overseeing pizza creation to making the mozzarella. But Reilly explained, the service staff employed at Pie Topia did a poor job of communicating the restaurant’s strengths, vision and story — essential components to making a case for spending more on pizza.

Also named in the latest lawsuit against Pie Topia is owner Joe DiBartolo. Not only does he own the restaurant, but he also personally guaranteed the lease. DiBartolo did not immediately return a request for comment.

For now, the restaurant remains open. But it sits in a spot where other establishments have failed. It’s the former home of the very briefly opened Social and, before that, World of Beer.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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