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Southside worry intensifies as Kosta's becomes the latest business to depart amid redevelopment

The outside of Kosta's Subs & Salads, a Greek restaurant located on the corner of South Adams and FAMU Way
Erich Martin
used with permission
Kosta's Subs & Salads, located on South Adams and FAMU Way, and neighboring Big D Barbecue, a food truck in the plaza's parking lot

It’s lunchtime and the line at Kosta’s Subs & Salads is out the door. The store’s owner is handling the lunch rush like he would any other day. He’s single-handedly taking the orders, preparing the food, and running the cash register.

While some are just stopping by for lunch, many others, like Emmitt Hunt, are there to support a friend who has run a business in this community for decades.

“Because it’s become, as they use the term, an institution,” said Hunt. “For example, for me on Friday I come to Kosta’s. It’s just a given.”

 Joe Attalla, commonly known as Joe Kosta, preparing a gyro for one of his customers.
Brett Rutherford
WFSU Public Media
Joe Attalla, commonly known as Joe Kosta, preparing a gyro for one of his customers.

Hunt is ordering his usual—one of Kosta’s shrimp gyros. He’s not the only one who sees the business as a staple of Tallahassee’s Southside.

Kosta’s has been on South Adams Street since 1989, just blocks away from Florida’s Capitol Building. The current owner, Joe Atalla, adopted the Kosta name and has gone by Joe Kosta since he took over the restaurant in 2002. At the end of the month, the restaurant will be leaving the spot it has called home for over 30 years, and Kosta may close shop for good.

“This is my dream here,” said Kosta. “I come here in the morning and enjoy what I’m doing, love what I’m doing. I love to feed people.”

Kosta came to the United States from Egypt in the early 90s to escape religious prosecution and start a family. But lately, running his restaurant hasn’t been easy.

When the pandemic began, he lost much of his customer base—state employees. His previous landlord gave him some leniency on rent payments—allowing Kosta’s to stay open.

Then, local real estate investor Adam Kaye purchased the building two months ago. Kosta says Kaye and the property manager, Bill Powell, company told him he could continue paying his previous rent for the time being.

“He told me, with Bill, ‘You pay the same amount you paid with the previous owner until we get you a lease contract.’”

Kosta says after a few discussions to work out the details about a new lease, Kaye told him he had 30 days to move his business. Kaye offered Kosta a spot in Railroad Square, another property he owns, about one mile away from the current location, but Kosta said the food court-style space wouldn’t work for his restaurant. That’s when Russ Pangratz got involved.

Pangratz owns the House of Music, a restaurant and music venue on South Monroe, and has been going to Kosta’s since he moved to Tallahassee in 1992. When he heard what was happening to the restaurant, he took to the Facebook group Tallahassee Foodies to try to garner support.

Many of the comments on the post were customers chronicling their experiences at the restaurant and their friendly encounters with Joe Kosta. Kaye declined to talk to FSU for this story but pointed to a lengthy comment he left on the Facebook post. In it, Kaye disputes Kosta’s rent argument and raises concerns about the restaurant’s limited hours—saying a more active business on the “most active corner of the plaza” would benefit all the tenants. Kosta’s is only open Monday through Friday for lunch.

“I think you can see the uproar already,” Pangratz told WFSU, “just at the thought of him leaving. The community is rallying around him right now. Everyone is trying to help, I was reaching out calling and seeing what's going on.”

“So it would leave a big hole in Tallahassee if Kosta’s just quit being.”

Sign of the times in Southside

Frustration about changes is nothing new. Tallahassee’s College Town was originally billed as an urban infill project to lure college students closer to the university center. Prices there are high, while land just across the railroad tracks in Southside is still relatively cheap.

 A public parking garage and Hotel Indigo in College Town
Patrick Sternad
WFSU Public Media
A public parking garage and Hotel Indigo in College Town

“So now you’re seeing local folks and non-local folks investing in plazas and investing in places commercially in Tallahassee’s Southside,” said Christic Henry, a local real estate broker, “I mean you’re getting right across the tracks.”

Henry believes Southside—specifically the area at South Monroe, South Adams, and FAMU Way, may be facing gentrification.

“So gentrification is a result of that uncomfortable press where people are finding that the places that they live and love,” said Henry, “their income and their reality doesn't afford them the ability to comfortably remain.”

As a real estate broker, Henry understands the importance of property rights, and she acknowledges that such development efforts do boost property values. But she worries that when people and businesses that are in those areas aren’t a part of discussions about them, that could be detrimental to everyone.

“How do we balance legacy businesses that are iconic in particular locations, with the determinant activity of new investment within the spaces in these areas?”

Henry is not anti-growth or development. She notes there are benefits to new businesses coming into previously under-tapped areas: a big one is the introduction of new people into an area that’s often misunderstood. Still, she believes developers should offer community members a seat at the table.

“This is a hard conversation to have, right?” Henry continued, “Because I think what the growing pains of an area that is now experiencing an uptick in demand and interest is that you're going to have that uncomfortable shift that occurs when you have newer folk come in.”

In this case, the displacement that often goes along with re-development doesn’t necessarily mean replacing a minority-owned business with a white or affluent one. According to Adam Kaye’s Facebook comment, a Black-owned restaurant currently located in the Art District will take over Kosta’s spot. But until then--from now until April 30th, Joe Kosta intends to keep doing what he loves, feeding his customers. He says he doesn’t know what he will do next.

Follow @bgrutherford99

Brett Rutherford is a reporter and news researcher at WFSU Pubic Media. From Riverview, Florida, he has earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Florida State University. During his time at Florida State, he was a reporter within the sports department at WVFS, the student-run on-campus radio station. In 2020, he served as Sports Director during his senior year and hosted the weekly talk show Tomahawk Talk.

Email Brett: brutherford2@fsu.edu