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Monday, October 18, 2021

University Avenue Construction hurting Burrito Bros.

Burrito Bros.
Burrito Bros.

This year, Burrito Bros. Taco Co. is celebrating its 40th anniversary — and its lowest sales in years.

Owner Randy Akerson, who has run the restaurant for 39 years, said business has been stunted by the building going up next door on University Avenue.

In the construction of a mixed-use property that will house an apartment complex, a hotel and several restaurants, property owner Landmark Properties has ripped up the street next to the restaurant and removed all nearby parking.

With its location at 1402 W. University Ave. already in a secluded nook behind the street’s main drag, the construction on Northwest 14th Street makes it difficult to lure students from across campus.

In the past year, revenue has dropped 23 percent.

“It is heart-wrenching to look at revenue from last year compared to this year and live in a war zone,” he said. “I’ve paid my taxes for 40 years, I’ve provided jobs in this community and nobody has ever offered me anything. I’m not complaining, but I think that I deserve to be fairly treated, and at this moment I don’t think that’s the case at all.”

Akerson first tried writing a letter to Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe, who relayed the message to the city’s planning commission.

“They were very sympathetic and offered to make sure the company is following their permits, and I’m sure they are,” Akerson said. “They’re not doing anything wrong, but they’re crushing me and my neighbors because no one can get here.”

Tuesday, Akerson took to Facebook to encourage customers to write to city commissioners.

Akerson said he expected his post to reach about 1,000 people, but word quickly spread.

“Last time I checked, it has reached 60,000, which absolutely stuns me and fills me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude no matter how this turns out,” he said.

The post led to two of the busiest lunch rushes in months, he said, and the overwhelming response warranted a call from Landmark’s contractor. Poe responded to residents’ complaints through Facebook.

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Akerson said the contractor told him construction on the road would be completed by Oct. 6. The road is currently a dirt ditch that smells of sewage, Akerson said, and he doesn’t believe construction will be complete by Thursday.

“I’ll take it with a grain of salt,” he said. “They also promised to have something done by the first football game, and we see how that went.”

Maddie Ward, 20, has lived in Gainesville her entire life. For as long as she can remember, Burrito Bros. has been a dinner favorite.

As of press time, the UF elementary education junior was one of 131 people to comment on the restaurant’s original Facebook post, and she immediately tagged her mom.

“As soon as I saw it, I had to show her,” Ward said. “Every time I ask her what she wants for dinner, it’s always, ‘Let’s go to Burrito Bros.’”

Ward said they usually eat there once or twice a month, but because the construction took away parking spots, she sometimes chooses to go elsewhere.

“I drive by almost every day, but sometimes I don’t feel like parking a mile away,” she said. “The (Facebook) post made me see that other people — lots of them — think that, too. They’re a Gainesville staple, and I would hate to see them go.”

Despite the headaches, Akerson said he is not ready to give up on his restaurant.

“All I’m asking is for a chance to be here for my 50th anniversary,” Akerson said, “and to not be crushed like a bug for my 40th.”

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