By John Lawrence
In a city of McDonald’s, Burger Kings, and other fast-food franchises on every corner, it’s always refreshing, and a statement of community support, to eat at a locally owned place. Places like the Clearwater Family Restaurant, Olga’s Restaurant & Diner, and other local eating establishments have local followings.
Seminole Subs & Gyros’ Clearwater location, at 1001 South Missouri Avenue, is owned and operated by Emmanuel “Manny” Vestas, whose cousin, John Petalas, opened the first Seminole Subs & Gyros in 1992 in, you guessed it, Seminole. The franchise has grown to four locations, two of which are within Clearwater city limits.
Manny Vestas opened his location on South Missouri Avenue about 13 years ago.
“The first one opened in Seminole about 30 years ago, and it was about seven years after that before the second location opened,” Vestas said. “The restaurants are owned and managed by family. Each of the owners is married, with kids, and we live in and support our communities.”
That’s not just talk, either.
On June 12, Seminole Subs and Gyros owners John Petalas and his son, Bobby Petalas, in conjunction with the Foodservice Restaurant Partners Group, delivered 500 lunches to the staff at AdventHealth North Pinellas as a show of appreciation for all their hard work and dedication during the pandemic.
The importance of supporting locally owned restaurants has come into focus as Covid-19 continues to reduce business throughout the nation. National franchises like Chilis, Steak and Shake, and Olive Garden quickly shutter locations rather than live out the storm.
Locally owned eateries like Seminole Subs are sticking around. They’ve reopened as quickly as Florida Gov. Ron Desantis has directed them to full operations. “We are doing great business and local people eat here regularly,” Vestas said.
“EMTs and firefighters from Clearwater Fire and Rescue on Gulf to Bay eat lunch here regularly,” Vestas said, even as two fire department SUVs pulled into the parking lot. “Clearwater police, city staff, construction workers, bankers, lawyers, teachers, and because we are near Morton Plant Hospital, we see doctors, nurses, and other staff here.”
Speaking of the Covid-19 shutdown, Vestas said his location survived the closings by letting people order food through their drive through window.
“We never closed,” he said. “We stayed open the whole time. The drive-through kept the whole thing going. We opened up gradually, first 25 percent tables, 50 percent, and we’re now at 100 percent.”
The goal of Seminole Subs founder John Petalas was to use only fresh sub rolls, chicken, lamb, steak, and other ingredients when building a sandwich and other meals. His mission is to serve chicken wings while they are still hot and salads while the lettuce is crisp, and onions, cucumber, tomatoes, and other ingredients while they are still fresh.
The website states: “Conceptualized and created in 1992, Seminole Subs & Gyros was originally founded on the idea of providing generous portions of food at an affordable price.”
Vestas is dedicated to that 28 years later.
“We serve good food, maintain a clean restaurant and atmosphere, it’s a simple come-in-and-order-and-sit down, nothing premade, everything we do is fresh daily, nothing frozen,” he said. “We do it without waitresses, nothing against them, it’s just a quick, easy lunch.”
The young man stands proudly before his business.
“I have about 13 locations at this location, serving our customers seven days a week. We’re open until 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends,” he said. “We are at 100 percent capacity.”
Seminole Subs & Gyros can be ordered via Uber Eats and delivers banquet orders. Its locations in Clearwater are at 1001 South Missouri Avenue (727) 443-2299, and 2298 Main Street (727) 734-2233.
John Lawrence is a free-lance writer who has covered Florida events for decades. He enjoys covering the people and places of Clearwater. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.