Taking care of St. Pete's south side
Story and photos by Cherlene Willis, LocalShops1
From homemade Texas hash, maple and brown sugar sausage and signature omelets for breakfast, Munch’s Sundries and Restaurant has impressed generations. And a few years back, the restaurant got a huge boost after a visit from Guy Fieri, star of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Dean and Clariece Munch opened Munch’s in 1952 with all-you-can-eat breakfast for 19 cents, milkshakes for 20 cents and Munchburgers for 49 cents. The shop also sold candy, milk, bread, magazines, vacuum rental and postage services. Twelve years later the couple bought the meat market on one side and a house on the other, expanding the restaurant and adding home-cooked comfort food. Customers came in droves.
“My father sort of filled the niche of taking care of everything in the south side,” says Larry Munch, 59, who started working in the family business as a dishwasher in the late 1960s and took over as owner in 1994.
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Today, the restaurant still sells old-fashioned candy, tie-dye T-shirts and used books. And of course, there’s the food: weekly breakfast specials starting at $2.05 and the famous half-pound Munchburger Combo at $6.25.
“Everything is delicious,” says customer Ruth Schuyler, 84, who comes in a couple of times a week, especially for the fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
More than half the customers are regulars.
“These guys are like my extended family,” customer Kenny Wagner, 55, says of the Munch’s staff and frequent patrons. Wagner grew up with Larry Munch and worked in the kitchen as a dishwasher when he was 13. “I made about $8 a week, worked here three to four times a week back when they served dinner,” he says.
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In 2011, Wagner, Munch and the rest of the staff shot a “spoof” video and sent it to the Food Network. Producers loved it, and after they featured the restaurant on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Munch’s reputation for hearty, homemade meals went global.
A map above the register shows just how far the show has reached. “At last count, we were at 95 different countries,” Munch says. “I had one guy come from China. It’s amazing how far people travel and pay attention to the show. Every time (the Food Network) replays it, we get a new batch of people.”
The secret to success, Munch says, is hard work. If you put in the effort and the time, “the recognition will come along.”
Story by Cherlene Willis for LocalShops1, Tampa Bay's most active advocate for small businesses.
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