USF alumnus’ business looted during disorder

When a peaceful Tampa protest turned destructive late Saturday night, Nick Vojnovic, an alumnus of USF and owner of Little Greek on Fowler Avenue, had his business fall victim to looting. ORACLE PHOTO/ LEDA ALVIM

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, peaceful protests have been seen in all 50 states, along with incidents of violence and unrest. The protest on Fowler Avenue in Tampa on May 30 that started peacefully turned destructive later that night as businesses were looted and some set on fire.

Among one of the businesses ransacked by looters that evening was Little Greek, owned by USF alumnus Nick Vojnovic.

Vojnovic has been giving back to the USF community through feeding the homeless in the area with Hillsborough Hopes, a Catholic charity that assists the homeless with shelter, food and other necessity resources, and giving hot meals to USF students facing food insecurity during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with the Feed-A-Bull food pantry.

While Vojnovic was in Cape Canaveral for the historic SpaceX rocket launch, his restaurant was robbed and vandalized.

“I was watching the news up until 11 p.m. Then I just went to sleep,” Vojnovic said. “There was nothing I could do about it.”

When he awoke the next day, he said his phone lit up with messages from family members and friends saying that his storefront was a victim of the looting.

Around 2:30 a.m. on May 31, Little Greek on Fowler Avenue had its glass door broken as a few people entered the store and stole money as well as some soda products, according to Vojnovic.

“All the money in the safe and register and the tip jar was smashed,” Vojnovic said. “About $1,000 of cash was taken in total, but it costs us a couple thousand dollars to clean up.”

Not a dollar was left — real or fake.

“They took a framed counterfeit $100 bill that we had hanging to show why we don’t take $50 or $100 bills,” he said.

He said physical damage was done to the sign, windows, doors and the Little Greek car was hit with a brick. Also, all food that was not sealed in a box was thrown away due to not knowing if it had been opened, touched or tampered with.

The total damage will cost about $10,000 to repair and replace, and insurance is only covering half, according to Vojnovic.

Besides the costs of damages, Little Greek was closed for two days after the looting incident, and many of the people Vojnovic had been helping did not receive the food they were counting on.

“Because of the four or five people who did the damage, 100 people didn’t get dinner,” he said.

Left behind by the looters were orange soda bottles from the Pizza Hut next door, a bag of stolen men’s clothing from the beauty supply store in the same plaza and car keys.

Coming back to his storefront was difficult for Vojnovic. He said he could not bear to watch the whole surveillance camera footage and the video impacted more than just him.

“My daughter cried,” Vojnovic said.

Despite this weekend’s events, Little Greek is still able to provide hot meals to the students who are in need and depending on Feed-A-Bull, according to Vojnovic. He has even told the pantry that he is willing to help more students if there are others in need.

USF deans and faculty members have reached out to the alumnus asking if he needed any help with cleanup and provided words of sympathy and encouragement.

Vojnovic had plans for cleanup with his employees, but he said the offer to help did not go unappreciated.

“The USF family has been wonderful,” Vojnovic said.

Protesting is something Vojnovic said he supports and believes is needed right now.

“I totally support the protests and what they are all about. I totally am disgusted by this situation that happened in Minneapolis,” Vojnovic said. “I understand their frustration, but I don’t support people hurting others and their businesses. I’m not angry. I feel violated and just disappointed.”

Wholeheartedly, Vojnovic said he believes the protesters are doing the right thing, and it is just a few acting against the true cause.

“There is a certain small element of people who take advantage of the situation for personal benefit,” he said.

With COVID-19 causing hardship for businesses during the past couple of months, Vojnovic said the looting is just another hardship for small businesses to overcome.

Vojnovic is concerned about the recovery of his own store, but said he is still hopeful.

“Hopefully we get through the summer, which will be extremely slow, and hopefully USF comes back so we can get back to feeding the staff,” Vojnovic said. “Yesterday was our first day back open since being looted and we made only $355.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help cover the damages and other costs Little Greek is having to pay while they try to make it through a pandemic as well as the looting incident.

“We will get through it,” Vojnovic said.