THE TAMPA BAY FOOD SCENE   




THE TAMPA BAY FOOD SCENE



TOUGH TIMES 

👺 THE RESTAURANT AND FOOD INDUSTRY IN TAMPA BAY, FL—2022 

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What I do,  is especially important during bad times as we all have been subjected to hardships in one way or another.   The food industry nation-wide business has been clobbered losing to higher pricing, masks, rules , occupancy restrictions, and loss of some good help as they could not survive on what they were earning and Tampa Bay is no exception. I have lost many friends and acquaintances. 

Many places hired help that doesn’t last, here today, gone tomorrow, some bad attitudes, and should not have been hired.  Literally taking what they get.  Hospitality, Airlines, life in general has changed.  It’s a global thing and some of the business like our politics are a sham and we are laughed at in the world.   

  • THREE OR SO POINTS  —  
    • I am removing all pricing from those posted here as nothing is the same as we have witnessed and it would not be valid.   Food wholesale is sky-high and corruption and gouging is higher.   

    • In addition in some case there is evidence of not being able to maintaining standards, not up to par, overcharging, poor delivery, underdelivering , shorting, personnel issues, bad food etc and about anything else that says stay away.  

    • Basically I am giving them all, a new shot upon re-opening, they may get a clean slate unless I know different, and I ‘ll have to bring them up or down to speed.

    • What you see here in many of the pictures are shots from websites and image collecting and may NOT BE THE SCENE ON YOUR PLATE — Many of the shots are from good establishments taken by patrons — no problem but something really ghoulish, I will post It If f I took it.

  • It will make me some friends for the good places  I frequent and some enemies  —  who will read my critiques and reviews, but when you serve garbage, have a dirty place or bad staff, I locate it,  “ Jokingly I drive the garbage truck and I pick up on it”.

  •  It’s quite a challenge and experience covering the spectrum of eateries, some  good, some not bad but missing something, some really bad and some should have been closed a long time ago. 

  • We do mark the good safe specific locations as some in franchise like Culvers and Chick-Fil-A go by the book and  are managed quite well and they met the “C’s” of the culinary experience.   That is that they be Clean, they serve the Community, have a reasonable amount of Consistency, and Control their service and their individuality.  

  • Many places lost their best workers, many went into other fields, working dinner hours and serving two tables, doesn’t pay the rent.  Minimum wages have been a battle, the list is endless.


👺 ATTITUDE — COUNTS VERY HIGH WITH ME — 

  • The Steak special comes with three eggs and I already had my share according to my doctor for the week, it was only Wednesday,  so I requested just give me something else, grits or extra home fries, hold the eggs, I’ll pay the same and was promptly told, out loud,  across the room  “ We don't substitute!” .  They were not busy.  And she refused me.  Good I said,  and I won’t recommend your place of business and I tore up their recommendation. 

  • Had I not been with a guest for breakfast to talk business, I would have at that point packed up and said,  “ OK, I’ll go elsewhere, Doctors orders” and walked out.  And you would not be reading this critique.  But I understand the business and rules are rules but my health comes first.   I get it, but did not like the tone nor her announcing it clear across the room — A celebrity server or the owners mother.

  • And I informed the owner we are canceling the breakfast for twenty employees we had planned.  Average ticket about ten to twelve  dollars a head is now re-scheduled elsewhere at another location,  which just as good or better, and I have contacted another establishment.  Usually about a 225-250 dollar check plus 15% in tips.

  • It happened again at another place where we meet and are steady customers every Monday night. They feature a great special and we go there for it, we are truly repeat offenders.   Four of us, the bill is forty-five or more plus booze  and tips - Fifty-two times a year — religiously.   We are close friends and it’s just a good night to be friends.   And usually some Monday Night Football — Thats about 2100 plus dollars a year revenue plus tips.  Tourist season or not we are there.  Our guy usually gets about fourteen to sixteen plus dollars a week from us and thats 65 dollars a month.  

  • Our regular waiter was off and this new gal reads us the riot act  about having to order a paid drink or you can’t get the special.  Well, drinks are two to eight dollars, no big deal but it was her tone and threatening.  I did not argue, we finished our business.  Her attitude sucked and when I tried to explain some nights our friends if they are on Chemo routine that week can only have water, no gassy beverages or alcohol. 

  • She looked the other way.  And was adamant about not going to take the order.   Fine, I just sent a note to the owner who knows that I write about the industry telling him we will not be back and have selected a new Monday night hangout.  I did not mention her name but her attitude sucked.  Places are starving for business and when you get petty and rude, I can find another place.

  • The customer isn’t always right, nor wrong,  but attitude can change things — And I wish them well, We have not been back — Win a battle, lose a war.   the biggest problem these places are having now is good HELP, no one wants to work for nothing and being a server is tough these days.   Many of the places I cover are middle  to low price establishments, no high end stores have as much  problems as the rich have money and spend it as they are not affected.  The rich keep those places alive.   


A SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANT BUSINESS IS ONE

 THAT IS EARNED AND NOT BURNED


👺  SOME DURING THESE TIMES CAME UNDER FALSE ATTACK  —   Subway —  Some franchises violate their terms with their franchise contract lower their quality, and some are just ignorant of the laws governing eateries  —  If I had a nickel for all the SUBWAYS who tried or bought wholesale outside their franchise agreement, I would be rich but Subway wants to maintain quality even in bad times. And created a massive restructure — and upgrade. Back to what made them successful. 

And now Subway is claiming a resurrection of their desire to be the best  —  About time, they really upscaled their offerings, new  combinations, brand names and prices increased to a new level.  But every product is top of the line.  And are enforcing it. 

SUBWAY:   NOTHING WAS WRONG WITH THEIR TUNA  In the midst of an attack by the NY TIMES that their Tuna was counterfeit was inaccurate and now lawsuits are flowing.   Well what do you expect from a GOP paper — Subway went offensive after the attack through another corporate exercise in advertising after some closings and bad publicity which turned out to be the false accusations by a reporter from the NY Times —    They were accused of fake tuna. 

FAKE TUNA WAS FAKE NEWS AS TUNA DNA is impossible to prove except literally at one scientific laboratory in the world.  When something is cooked and tested it has lost its DNA .   It is and has been real tuna.  Tuna is a species with many variants, but all are tuna.   It  might not be Charlie the Tuna,  but it could be  Sam Tuna, or Harry tuna, or Sally but it’s Tuna.   

There’s a reason people call tuna the “king of the sea.” In addition to weighing up to 1,500 pounds, tuna is full of good fat, protein, and vitamins, a versatile taste, and meaty. Tuna is a staple in various culinary cultures. 

There are 15 different species of tuna.   These all belong to the Thunnini sub group of the Scombridae family. Tuna swim throughout the world’s oceans, and they’re fast about it, too. These fish have been clocked in at  75 miles per hour.

Due to overfishing, some species are on the brink of extinction. While we have organizations in place to supposedly protect tuna and the waters in which they swim, these policing bodies such as ICCAT and IOTC fail to enforce protective measures

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THE NY TIMES BLEW THAT ONE,  AND IS BEING SUED — FOR A LOT OF MONEY — 


🥰  GOOD PLACES FOR FOOD COMMENTARY—  For the good, on a simple level, it means their food was fresh, cooked properly and delivered in a reasonable time, or their gourmet experience took them in unique and interesting safe directions.  Since the high end $$$$  places have been written about, it seems they get greater coverage and a free meal for the writer, I usually pick the places the Plebeians frequent some after waiting on line for a cold burger.

I do not disclose that I write about food, I am like a mystery shopper  and just pay the bill.  If they are bad I will report the next day about them and publish to:   

TRIPADVISOR — The most honest of the reporting agencies and the papers, this website and five other sources, and the world if I can.  Most of the time I write the corporate President. My two favorites were letters to McDonalds and Wendy’s.

My letter to McDonalds CEO probably never got to him because he was busy screwing the young  help and taking pictures. They fired him and the courts took back his 109 million dollar severance pay.  

I pick the locations the common folk try to get a decent meal for sustenance. And if they fail simple standards of cleanliness, and customer service I will come down on them like Thor’s hammer.  

And I have also decided that in the course of my travels to comment on “unique eats”… those places that might be a bit off the grid but the foods they serve might be  “Out Of This World”.  


🤬  BAD PEOPLE I DO NOT BELIEVE  — Any Commentaries on Yelp — But low life commentary places do exist,  and they get low-cost commentaries, and ask around, YELP and other resources are well documented as pay as you go and I believe nothing they quote.  
We always ask owners where they advertise .  I listen to their success and failures.  I ate there on YELP suggestions and wanted to throw the food on the floor.  

And of the four, two  were horrid and inspections ranked them low on the list.  They obviously were not up to par as before the pandemic.  They are dishonest and crooks.  They push ad sales and trust nothing they write.  It is all filtered bullsh*t.   They are looking for paid ads. They get a mass of complaints so who would eat at places they suggest.


🤬  BAD PLACES NEWS — I GO ELSEWHERE    The other end of the spectrum  — There are places out there just not making it, simply put their food, property, staff was sub-pa —   really bad enough nor safe enough for me to participate with.  Their attitude sent me elsewhere.  Hopefully I usually send a nice letter to the owner and tell him in secret what we found.  Then it’s up to them to do something.

A definitive lack of good food which encompasses taste, consistency, competitive, different, and not updated, not very good management, over worked by bad supervising hours, staff, offerings, service, speed , efficiency, a good location with entrances, and parking, poor training, poor treatment of the help,  and sometimes a lack of customers will close a place down.  

  • Anything involving Human Trafficking  — In the past we have sent several folks to jail for trafficking people and today it is carefully screened.
  • Confusion, this is the major problem with corporate food places called fast food.   In some cases half-fast food might be a better term.  
  • Bean counters come with programs and never worked the line a day in their life…and it shows —  
  • Many of the locations on the worst places to eat we first discovered almost eight years ago, from time to time we went back to see if there was some kind of improvement in their modus operandi.  Unfortunately  the bean counters and corpo-guano experts did not do better. 
  • In many cases like the Chinese Buffets which never really followed any rules have gotten worse, some ranked almost dangerous.  
  • Another schlock house is the the entire Golden Corral Chain — must have met the Vigilantes and they hanged the corporate staff from the nearest tree 
  • They are gone, all of them.  Some are trying to reopen finding no market for crap eateries.   They are now trying to be high end barbecue places, good luck with that brain-fart.  They had the worst food and many of their places were like pig troughs, thats the crowd they attracted.   I will not miss them.   Millennials don’t do buffets well…they are looking for better  healthier food.  The last Golden Corral that I attended one month after their toilet system broke,  and was repaired, and checked by the health people was five years of violations.  
     Its  customers were bulk eaters, not connoisseurs and it looked like a Human Overweight Obesity Convention. Our local one was the worst, dirty and violations galore and so far no players.  05/10/2022 — 



🤮   DISAPPOINTING INSPECTIONS AND BAD OR POOR FOOD

   WE DO NOT RECOMMEND NOR WILL WE RETURN TO THESE PLACES DUE TO:

  • Repeated inspection failures - 
  • Hard parking — Wheelchair Accessible  —  
  • Unclean food facility  --  Overall Dirty kitchen and Stale food, old food, kept three days 
  • Unclean appliances, like soda and shake machines  
  • Poor training, poor treatment of the help, hassled employees, human trafficking  — Chinese Buffets
  • Reports by the County food  inspectors as to compliance with posted regulations  
  • With a minimum of three visits to correct a single issue or problem 
  • Other responsible professional critics like Dirty Dining  ( Excellent)
  • Misrepresenting the product, telling you its local Grouper and its not.
  • Closed and Reopened, Revolving Doors as long as you got relatives  (CHINA BUFFET SYNDROME)   All five  of our major local Chinese Buffets were visited and disappointing on three occasions, several involved in trafficking, two went to trial, food stored overnight and put out the next day as fresh, undersized low quality basics… 
  • They are repeatedly on the fine and closure lists.  
  • People handle food too much as is common in their countries. 
  • The greatest percentage of failed food places according to the food police  at Data.tallahassee.com are ethnic inclined eateries,  Sorry but some owners think they are back in their old country,   Asian, Indian and Mexican regardless of what they call their cuisine.  It is sad because I am a great fan of world wide ethnic cooking and do favor, enjoy and cook their foods but in my home by my ethnic friends and chefs, I am lucky.


😃   MY SHORT SHOPPING LIST — I KNEW YOU WOULD ASK

These are places I shop frequently for food or to dine, some for decades, and I recommend because of their consistency, cleanliness and fresh choice food selection or talent behind the sous pan or griller…  This is doubly important especially during the confinement periods of the COVID-19 shelter in place…  Just good common sense

Addresses for these places in or near Largo Florida are under the Tampa Food Scene.   And they are all reasonable and clean.  None of these places are high priced, and the quality of the food and service is excellent.  In addition, few or no notations with Kitchen police or fined violations I have seen.  And if I did see a violation , it was cleaned in a day.  These are the few I will eat out at because I know things are right.    The little Chefs denote you will see the owner there and running things right.


😃   Fast Food Hamburgers  — Culvers —  My Culver was the cleanest, quietest, best foods with very high standards. Good service, nice people…all cooked to order, no microwave day old burgers, no loud screaming rock music like at overpriced Five guys, no cold burgers like at Burger King,   No Mickey mouse food at McDonalds and decent pricing.

😃 🧑🏼‍🍳  Chinese Food —  Zom Hee - Seminole Park Blvd… ( 35 years)  It is not a Buffet.   I have been eating at Kens Zom Hee for decades and it is the most consistent place I know of for good food, giant portions, fresh quality, cooked to order and great servers and when busy three generations are working there.  During Covid, and before  I do not eat at fake Chinese buffets. If they don’t do volume, you are going to get “ Old food”.


😃  🧑🏼‍🍳 Best Italian Food & Pizza  —  Country Village Inn Largo, Best Pizza and full Italian Menu …  (17 years)The owners are from Greece to Italy to New York and now Pinellas County over two generations.  Best moderately priced Italian store in town, It all real here and cooked to order.  On the south frontage road.

I have frequent flyer miles here and we eat there about three, four times a month. Their reputation keeps it busy. And possibly some of the best Pizza in town and my Pizza judge (she’s a Pizza addict) won’t go elsewhere,  my favorite are the Ham and Pineapple, and the Vegetarian.

😃 🧑🏼‍🍳  Steak And Meat Dinner Sit-Down   Longhorns At US 19 and East Bay   (  23 Years)  I am on a low meat regimen but when time comes for a steak, I just go to this particular Longhorns, it’s franchised and corporate but with an incredible staff it doesn’t seem that way. Great management, low turnover and a senior cook who have been there 24 years.  Medium priced and I never had a bad bad meal.   great team and management, great service and food.


😃   Steak - Meats - Delicacies For Home — Costco Has Real Quality Meat, Slightly Higher In Price…But Quality, top ranked and fresh and the butcher shop is totally visible and spotless.  The store is busy, quality items and item from other countries you do not see in the standard groceries.   

😃   Rotisserie Chicken  — Costco  Best Chicken Period!  Caused Sam’s to rethink theirs…they won the rotisserie shootout and blew everyone out of the water.  Their Chicken is excellent, and Hotdogs are customer give aways and delicious.  Full COVID regulations enforced and promoted.   It’s just a rumor that Sam’s Rotisserie was terrible and they kidnapped a Costco Chicken executive to improve the product after years of complaints.  

The real reason is Costco owns their own chicken Farms and raises proper chickens, other buy from Tyson and three other wholesalers.

😃   Warehouse  Grocery  —  Costco  **  Higher level of Quality in stock and prepared items then Sam’s, who is Wal-Mart.  Also a very different clientele, prices are higher in Costco but the quality of the food, diversity and staffing is on a higher level.  It’s almost a different market when I shop.   Great pizza and Hotdogs.  Eat first, you waste less money when shopping if you are full.

😃   Oriental Market —  M&D Foods - 49th Street and Park Boulevard  —  a True Asian Market - With Live products  —  Some of the produce will wink at you,  Live Shrimp, and Live Fish, Mussels, giant selection of Sushi Rice. This is the go-to store  for those things you see in recipes for pan-asian cooking, with ample stock of real genuine items.  And many of these products, accessories, utensils  are not found in typical groceries, spices  and especially better rice in bulk sizes at great prices.  REAL SUSHI RICE included.  

Their bigger bottles of Rice Vinegar, Fish Sauce, Soy, or Tamari  ( is a Japanese type of soy sauce derived from miso  fermentation for at least a few weeks, a liquid naturally forms around the miso. The liquid that accumulates around miso is tamari.)  If you are cooking Japanese or Far East Vietnamese, LAO or Cambodian, Indonesian,  this is the place to shop —   prices are much better —  Since so much here is imported or live — I have to give a heads up on shopping and this pertains to any supplier, grocery, big, small, market or home grown.


HEADS UP ON ETHNIC, VEGETABLE AND PRODUCE SHOPPING —  TWO PARTS 

PART ONE — THE M&D MARKET —  This is not to infer any negatives whatsoever about  the M&D ethnic market store.  It is just an example of global diligence in food handling.  It is extremely  well run,  clean, I shop there.

  • If you are a  “Gringo” you will be walking around your first time, amazed at what you see. They should put it on a tourist map. It is so international.  
  • You should read about new foods and make a list before you shop so you are familiar. Many of the products have no English equivalent, but most labels on their  products are multi-lingual.  
  • The help is authentic, and they can converse a little in “ Engleeesh”,  and a lot in their native languages.  They are perfect at the registers.  
  •  It really is a nice operation and must be authentic or you would not see so many people from the far east shopping there especially restaurant owners and the women. They are fussy about what they buy and cook.
  • No harm intended,  but many Oriental women shoppers like to touch everything,  move produce between bags, regardless of what store it is  —  It was rampant in Sam’s Warehouses, who are now are starting to seal bags in some cases.  

MY SHOPPING PROCESS  — Lots of in-house,  good products but like everything else, some old habits don’t change.  I still carefully look over everything especially produce, which may come from different channels.

  • Commonly grown local friend and community relations, my buddy grows Lemon grass and chillies, and  gives me all I ‘ll ever use.
  • And I wear gloves I dis-infected when handling fresh.  Simple wash your hands with the gloves on with soap sanitizer -
  • Also independent stores that buy from flea markets and some home growers.  
  • Old country customs touching and feeling prevail but during a pandemic this is not a good idea.  

PART TWO — EVERYWHERE — 
Especially fresh produce.  With COVID and harsh times, you have to be more diligent.  Many ethnic groceries and some big chains might not be as up to date on regulations and recalls. 

  • And every piece of the product should be thoroughly cleaned or scrubbed before serving or putting it with other products in your home.
  • I have also found many bad items on grocers shelves and made it clear, loud and very clear to the manager.   Whispering does not get their attention.
  • On one occasion I bought a bushel of corn at a local farmers ( local here can be sixty miles) and when I got home I started to shuck the corn prior to storing it the fridge, to save space  and one had bugs.  I pre-cooked them all — And removed the husks, dis-infected the whole kitchen.



😃   Commercial Grocery  —  Gordon Food Services (Clearwater)  ** With them for years, great vendor…we use them for all our charitable events and when we need bulk items.  Great staff and the best sliced meats cut to order. Buy a half a cooked ham and have them slice it, the best ham I ever ate.  Sandwich width and have a party. Also they have the best selection of prepared foods in tray you just heat up and serves six to ten, their  Brand Lasagnas are great ( three kinds) and stuffed peppers, Macaroni, Pulled pork, all the work is done, have a party.

😃   Best Waffles And Pancakes In a Chain   Still I-Hop After 40 Years, and now they are having specials, always cooked to order and fresh.  Stores are clean and many retained their help during our crisis. Most of our local family eateries can do pancakes, and I like the fact I-Hop has variety.   They too are having tough times getting customers, but worse keeping help.   

😃   Sushi And Sashimi  — My Kitchen - I Make my Own — Too much hands on and it’s not that hard once you get into it. I have a few places I trust for these delicacies,  but too many are add-on to buffets and not the same thing.  Many complaints to the food police because it is not a refrigerated item after preparation and may have been sitting around quite a long time.  Not that hard to make your own.

😃   Best Grocery Chain   Publix  — Love Their Multi-Grain Breads,  and BOGOS, the store is immaculate, clean and fresh  My store is located at ** LARGO MALL**  Super Publix is 93,000 square feet and well managed, best produce, good management and an incredible friendly staff and complete with a Starbucks, and a Pharmacy of super nice and knowledgeable people,  Ashley, Penny, Diane, and Norman.  

I shop for groceries that are not bulk items, for bulk  it’s Costco and Sam’s, from their warehouse, Publix is offering Moderna  COVID-19 Shots, a well run organization.  

😃   Best Food Supplies Not Specifically A Grocery —  The New Target Super Store  —  Gulf to Bay and US19 and very nice produce and small portion meats.  Great alternative to high priced multi-mix box stores.  Food and odds and ends but bulk items I still shop at Sam's and Costco.  Also when I am close for an item or two, the store at Largo mall is well maintained for food associated products like my coffee creamer almost a dollar less than other places.


😃  🧑🏼‍🍳  Best Breakfast Close By -- Suzi’s on East Bay Drive — A great little joint that only does breakfast and lunch 6am-2pm.   All the favorites, huge menu and they have great Biscuits and Gravy which is a favorite of mine. Best thing is they are a pair of serious three wood shots from my Golf Condo for a pro.   I would need the whole bag of clubs and an overnight tent.  Cooked to order and busy,  they have a strong local following,  lots of  hard working guys who start their day off with a real meal and lots of lazy people who love food and hate cooking.




DIRECTORY BY FOOD CATEGORY

👉🏼 CLICK ON NAME TO PAGE 

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  BERNS STEAK HOUSE 

   RUTH CHRIS STEAK HOUSE

   BOB HEILMANS BEACHCOMBER 

   E AND E STAKEOUT GRILL

   LONGHORN STEAK HOUSE 

   OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE  

CODY’S - TYRONE LOCATION   

HAROLD SELTZERS STEAK HOUSE

McDONALDS

CULVERS

BURGER KING

STEAK AND SHAKE

WENDYS

FIVE GUYS IN-N-OUT

CHECKERS

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  COUNTRY PIZZA ITALIAN GRILL 

  ANTHONY’S PIZZA

THE OLIVE GARDEN   

  LITTLE CAESARS PIZZA

THE PIZZA HUT

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BIG JIM’S FAMOUS STEAKS BARBECUE & TAP

SONNY’S BARBECUE

WILLIE JEWELS BARBECUE

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CHILI’S 

 APPLEBEES 

  T. G. I. FRIDAY’S 

 FERGS BAR AND GRILL

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THE CRACKER BARREL 

PERKINS FAMILY

  THE CLUB HOUSE 

DENNY’S RESTAURANT CHAIN 


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 ZOM HEE CHINESE RESTAURANT   

OCEAN BLUE  

THE SPOT PHO 

CHINESE-ASIAN FUSION BUFFETS 

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  HOOTERS FOR WINGS   

   CHICK-FIL-A

    BUFFALO WILD WINGS

KFC - KILLED THE FRICKIN CHICKEN

   THE WING HOUSE

POPEYES CHICKEN AND SHRIMP

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THE ACROPOL FAMILY RESTAURANT 

HELLA’S BAKERY AND RESTAURANT

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TIJUANA FLATS BURRITO CO

CARMELITAS MEXICAN

TACO BELL HELL

CHIPOTLE POISON PIT

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THE GERMAN BISTRO II 

FINLEY’S IRISH PUB

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 JOE’S CRAB SHACK

 KEEGAN’S SEAFOOD GRILLE


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JIMMY JOHNS

SUBWAY



6/06/2022