Customers at ooZoo Bar beckoned manager David Scott over from the Dough Religion Pizza side of the restaurant on Sunday night. The manager of both businesses ran over, clinked a cup with the customers and took a shot.
During the pizza joint and bar’s last few days, patrons and employees are making the most of the remaining inventory, as the restaurants will not be buying any more.
“We’re trying to make the most of what we have and trying to remain positive,” Scott, 31, said.
Dough Religion Pizza and ooZoo Bar, located at 1404 W University Avenue, are set to close when they run out of food sometime this week, tentatively on Wednesday. The businesses need to vacate the property by the first week of March. Managers of Spoon @ U14, the investment firm that owns the building, are
in the process of selling the building for an undisclosed amount to an unidentified buyer.
“It’s too early to confirm this,” investment manager Meir Zuchman said. He declined to comment on the allegations that this was a financially-driven decision.
Scott and other managers said they speculate that the owners were offered a lot of money that they could not refuse.
When asked if the construction of The Standard — a 10-story apartment building owned by Landmark Properties next door— was to blame for the business decision, no one could confirm it.
Looking out the window toward the construction, Scott said, “Damn, with this place going in, a shift would have been coming.”
About 40 employees — 60 percent of whom are estimated to be University of Florida students — will lose their jobs.
“It’s pretty devastating,” Scott said. “The trajectory was very much positive, and considering all things, it is very disappointing that this is happening.”
Scott said the creation of the connected restaurants was a group effort—the employees’ fingerprints are on the menu items and the designs, and “they feel like this place is partly theirs.”
“We’ve really felt like we were on the precipice of a great thing,” he said.
One of the compliments that Scott said made him bittersweet was when customers told him, “we don’t tell people about this place because we don’t want it to get busy.” They called it Gainesville’s “best-kept secret.”
It was no secret that it was an up-and-coming venue with increasing sales, but it was not enough to keep the owners from selling it, he said.
While ooZoo Bar and Dough Religion Pizza are down the street and tucked away from the Midtown scene, the location and older crowd was a selling point for some regulars.
A group of four friends vowed to come to ooZoo Bar for all of its remaining days.
For almost five years, Christine Voigt, a 33-year-old lecturer at UF, and her husband Thomas Hamm, a 29-year-old Target worker, searched for their place in Gainesville, a place where they would feel at home. When they found ooZoo Bar, they knew that was it.
“I don’t know where I’m going to go anymore,” she said. “We don’t go out [to] other places.”
Voigt used to bring a class of about 30 international students from the English Language Institute to Dough Religion Pizza. Although there was a lunch rush and a language barrier, the manager would be friendly and patient with them, taking his time, she said.
Going to the bar two to three times a week was a tradition for Tomtine, the couple nickname the bartenders bestowed upon the regulars.
“There’s a serious void that we can’t fill,” Hamm said. “This was the first place we’ve felt like we’ve belonged in five and a half years.”
For Sean McCarty, a 30-year-old kitchen manager and assistant manager of the restaurants, his home was taken from him without a second thought. If put in the owner’s position, McCarty said he believes it would have been a lot harder for him to sell the place that gave him a second family.
McCarty understands the decision from a business perspective, but said he thinks the owner did not understand the collateral damage he would be causing with human emotion.
“It sucks for people who let go of their second job,” McCarty said. “Those are the things that I don’t think the owner necessarily realized.”
While he has left other restaurant jobs before, moving on has never been this difficult.
“This one probably has more of ‘me’ in it,” he said, citing menu development, management procedures and vendor meetings, all of which he had a hand in.
“It just hurts as a human who’s put so much into something to just have it torn away from you,” he said.
McCarty has been telling customers who come into the restaurant that they are probably eating their last pizza from Dough Religion—a conversation he’d rather have in person rather than online, in order to see their reaction.
There hasn’t been much time to publicize the closing, as the employees found out their fate on Friday, McCarty said. With limited supplies, the kitchen manager said he would rather the dwindling supplies “not be the last taste people get in their mouth.”
“I’d rather us be remembered as a thriving local company,” he said.