Pita Pit and Dissent Craft Brewing in downtown Lakeland
Bedrock Wings is moving into the space on Kentucky Avenue that was occupied until recently by Pita Pit. Dissent Craft Brewing is staying as the building changes hands. | Barry Friedman, LkldNow

After five years of serving up flavorful made-to-order pita sandwiches to hungry Lakelanders, the Pita Pit will close its doors for the last time at 6 p.m. Thursday. 

However, its neighbor, Dissent Craft Brewing Co. — which had announced on Aug. 7 that it would also close — is not shutting down after all. 

“In a turn of events, the new buyer of our building saw the outpour of love from all of you and we have some great news … We aren’t going anywhere!” the microbrewery posted on Aug. 25.

Pita Pit owners Michelle and Joey Lindsey are selling the nearly 100-year-old building at 125-127 S. Kentucky Ave. that houses both businesses to an undisclosed buyer. The one-story, 4,400-square-foot building in the heart of downtown was listed at $1.35 million

Craig Morby, senior advisor with Lakeland-based real estate firm Saunders Ralston Dantzler, said the property is under contract with closing scheduled for Sept. 15.  

Michelle Lindsey said shutting down is bittersweet, but she and her husband are looking forward to “semi-retirement.” She said the buyer plans to open a new restaurant in the half of the building occupied by the Pita Pit.

“We love Downtown. We will always be Downtown people,” she said. 

The restaurant was closed Wednesday as bands of rain from Hurricane Idalia continued to pass over the city and many downtown offices were empty. However, she said the restaurant would be open “rain or shine” for its last day, with $5.99 pitas and free Pita Pit shirts with purchase of combo meals, while supplies last.

The store had nine employees when the Lindseys announced their plans a month ago. Michelle said three employees have since found new jobs and the other six are looking.

Pita Pit

Michelle and her husband, both former long-time Publix employees, bought the building in 2018 and split it into two spaces. It formerly housed La Carretta Mexican Restaurant, and Bosphorous Turkish Kitchen before that.

She said opening the restaurant five years ago was inspired by their son Brock Lindsey’s road trips as a competitive swimmer for All Saints Academy. Whenever Brock and his teammates traveled to Tallahassee or Orlando for meets or training camps, one of the highlights was eating at Pita Pit franchises. 

“He was excited to take us to one and I remember sitting there, looking at the menu and thinking ‘I could do that,’” Michelle recalled. 

Pita Pit was founded in the Canadian college town of Kingston, Ontario in 1995. It expanded into the U.S. in 1999, continuing to court college students and building a reputation as a cross between Chipotle and Subway. There are currently more than 450 Pita Pit stores in North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific.

Brock, who was working the cash register Tuesday, recently graduated from Westminster College with degrees in business and marketing. He still loves Pita Pit food, but is not interested in making a career out of it.

Michelle said after Thursday, she will take down the signs and decor and ship it to a new franchise in California. Pita Pit restaurants use the same color schemes and branding, to keep the chain’s “look” consistent, but there was one way the Lakeland location differed. 

“They wanted me to put white tile back here and I absolutely refused,” she said, pointing to the exposed brick wall that runs the length of the restaurant. “Not on my brick wall!”

When the owners of Dissent approached her about leasing the other space, she had the same rule for them. They could decorate however they wanted, but they couldn’t paint over the 1924 building’s brick wall. She said Dissent’s initial two-year lease expired in July 2022 and it has been month-to-month since then.

Dissent Craft Brewing

Billy Demas, one of the three owners of Dissent, said the microbrewery selected the location and began renovating the space a few weeks before COVID-19 shutdowns began in early 2020. But it wasn’t able to open until October 2021 after lockdowns and social distancing eased, so it hasn’t been operating downtown for very long.

The taproom on Kentucky Ave. was a second location for the business, which already had a dedicated following at its flagship site in St. Petersburg. It also recently signed a deal with Progressive Distribution and began shipping craft beers around the state in July.

Demas said Dissent’s motto is “Product and people over profit,” and all of its business decisions have been measured and incremental. Uncertainty over the new ownership was “why we were willing to walk away from Lakeland.” 

“We didn’t know who was buying (the building), or what the rent would be. We had some indications of how high the rent could be, and it was just not sustainable for us,” he said. “We weren’t going to sacrifice the company as a whole or how we do things just for the sake of profit.”

He said the company has four employees in Lakeland. “Even though we love those four to death, we also have 10 employees back in St. Pete. And when you’re living with uncertainty, that means that you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to keep on paying 14 people.”

After announcing on social media that Dissent would be closing, Demas said there was a huge outpouring of support from the customers. And similarly, after reaching a tentative deal with the new owners that enabled the business to stay, he said the response was overwhelming.

“We have amazing staff members who were actually out looking for jobs and when we called they were literally, ‘We’re so happy’ and kind of came running back,” he said. 

In addition to the customers and employees, he said the brewing community also was incredibly supportive. 

“This weekend there was a big event called Halfway There. It’s put on by the local brewers’ guild as part of Tampa Bay Beer Week,” he said. “There were 60 to 70 breweries there and — to a brewery — every time I walked out of the booth, someone would come up to me and say ‘Hey, Billy, frickin’ great news about Lakeland.’ Or ‘That’s so awesome. I’m glad you guys are staying.’”

Dissent had initially planned a farewell party for Sept. 3, but now it will be a “We’re not going anywhere” potluck event from 1 to 6 p.m.

“I love the fact that we’re staying. I love being in Lakeland. I love that spot,” Demas said. “One of the most humbling things about what we have built, at this end, is the support we got when we announced that we were leaving, and the jubilation when we announced that we were staying.”

SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips: newstips@lkldnow.com

Cindy Glover moved to Lakeland in 2021 after spending two decades in South Florida. Her career has included journalism, education, digital marketing and public relations. She worked for the Albuquerque Journal and South Florida Sun-Sentinel and spent a year as a community engagement coordinator for the City of Lakeland before joining LkldNow.

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