Located in Floral City, the iconic Pudgees started as a concession stand in 2001. Local family the Sterlings founded the concept and grew it into the charming restaurant it is today. When the pandemic hit, the family decided to sell, and the new owners are all about keeping Pudgees the family-friendly attraction it is.
New Owners Hans Klenke and Sue Mumaw purchased the restaurant in August, 2022. They first became interested in the space when they fell in love with the cozy familial concept the Sterling family spent years building and they knew it was special. It was also important to retain that, so they offered previous employees positions, including the previous owner’s son who has been in the Pudgees family since he was 11. John Sterling’s son, Chris has spent a good portion of his upbringing (since he was 11) in the family business and even has a burger named after him. “We’re excited to have Chris on the team and for customers to see familiar faces and some new faces from the neighborhood,” says Hans Klenke.
The original owner’s son and cook, Chris, and new owners, Hans and Sue joined us for an interview.*
Tell us about the history of Pudgees
Chris Sterling, Cook: We started when I was 11, so in 2001. My dad started it in a concession stand right before 9/11 happened. We painted the trailer with the American flag, then 9/11 happened and then my dad delayed it because he thought it was too early to put something like that out there when something like that happened. So a couple of months later, he put out the trailer, and it was booming. Six years later, the fire department tried to shut us down because we didn’t have a fire suppression unit. But we were grandfathered in. Everyone in the community came out. They showed support. We got a fire suppression unit in and we got it going again. Then a couple years later, we had an opportunity to move into this building. That was in 2018 and now it’s almost 2023, four years strong in this building!
What is your favorite item on the menu?
Chris Sterling, Cook: It probably has to be The Chris Burger. It’s a chili cheese fries burger with yellow shredded cheese, white cheese, french fries, and topped with our homemade chili.
How are the new owners maintaining the same charm as before?
Chris Sterling, Cook: They’re awesome. The new owners are keeping everything that’s there, I mean we’re keeping most of the original folks, that’s the main key. For Pudgees to have the original cook, they’re going to see that. So Pudgees is still there.
Are there any new items on the menu you’re excited about?
Chris Sterling, Cook: I’m excited about the Mexican Street Corn because that’s something new. The Pudgee tacos. That’s something awesome, my dad wanted to do that but you know space was an issue. Gyros, those are awesome too. I mean, there’s nowhere around here in Floral City that does that. So that’s a plus.
Why did you buy Pudgees?
Hans Klenke, Owner: Well, we moved up here from downtown St. Pete a while back and we love this area. We found this adorable little place called Pudgees. We originally had really different plans for it but when we met the owner and the family, John and Chris, we started talking to them and understanding where they came from and how they built this business. The story was just so amazing that we felt compelled to continue the legacy of Pudgees. And stick with some of their staples that the entire community loves and looks for, and just introduce a few new things to put Pudgees on another level.
What do you love about Floral City and the community?
Sue Mumaw, Owner: I think Floral City is kind of your old Florida, small town, charm community. I love that all the people here are very familiar with Pudgees. They come in because they have a great connection with the family, but also a sense of community where everyone has a gathering spot to come in. And it doesn’t matter where you go in the community, you mentioned the name and people have some type of history with it, remembering it even starting from the ground level up. So to me, we just want to be a part of that small town community.
How are you honoring the prior owners?
Hans Klenke, Owner: I think we are honoring the prior owners by continuing with the name. And we of course continue with some of their legacy items on the menu. We will have a legacy box that we’re looking to install in the newly painted walls to show the old way of Pudgees and how they started with a trailer and moved into this location. Now we think it’d be fun just to have a little legacy wall here.
What is staying the same and what are you changing?
Sue Mumaw, Owner: We are very blessed to have some of the staff come back. The original owner’s son who has been cooking in the kitchen since he’s 11 years old. We are excited to have him in the kitchen cooking and some of the other returning staff with us. We are keeping some of the favorite items; the hotdogs and hamburgers that people have known to come to love at Pudgees. And the original space that’s here.
Hans Klenke, Owner: We are adding a lot of exciting new programs including our Grab and Go Market, coffee offerings, and beer and wine.
How would you describe the concept in three to five words?
Hans Klenke, Owner: Elevated comfortable homey hamburger joint
Sue, Owner: American eatery, your local ‘Cheers.’ Everybody wants to go.
You’re introducing a few new items, tell us about those.
Hans Klenke, Owner: Well, we have some gyro pitas. That’s gyro meat with our homemade Tzatsiki, tomato, onion, and feta all wrapped up in a cozy, warm pita. Then we do a souvlaki which is a Greek grilled chicken with herbs and spices. Same with the Tzatsiki, tomato, onion, and feta, wrapped in a nice little warm pita.
We have a wonderful salad because some people would like some more healthy additions so we have one salad with grilled chicken on it. We have our ‘Balls in a Bun’ which are German meatballs. They’re half pork and half beef, nice and spicy. And they come in a bun. We also make a smaller version of those in the bag, ‘Balls in a Bag,’ kind of a to-go thing and fun play on words.
And of course we have the baked wings. They are derived from Del Mar in St. Pete, our award-winning wings. So we took those with us and we were happy and proud to be able to present them to the community. I hope they’ll love them as much as the Tampa Bay people.
Tell us about the coffee program you’re introducing.
Sue Mumaw, Owner: Oh boy. So we are going to have specialty coffees. We are going to do your typical drip coffee, but we do have an espresso machine that we’re going to offer espressos, cappuccinos, iced lattes, hot lattes, and then we’ll be featuring kind of a coffee of the week or even seasonal things. It’s pumpkin spice, peppermint around the Christmas holiday. I’m super excited about it. I think every small town should have a very good coffee shop.
Tell us about the festivities you’re planning here.
Hans Klenke, Owner: So what we’re trying to do is give back to the community. We have this beautiful lawn outside and we will put some wooden benches and string lights. It’ll be really nice in the wintertime, particularly, to hang out there. We figure maybe once a month or so we’ll put a band out there, a hotdog stand out there, and a beer keg stand, and just provide a wonderful Friday night for the community.
Tell us about your Grab and Go Market you’re introducing.
Hans Klenke, Owner: The Grab and Go Market was an idea that kind of arrived out of the location. Because we figured people who may come in here, you know, to order their burger, the fries, and their hotdog. Or people might come in and get their ice cream with their kids or coffee in the afternoon. And there aren’t a lot of restaurants in the Floral City area, as far as we can tell. So we thought a Grab and Go Market that’s open at the same time as the restaurant would work well. There will be anything from pre-made lasagna that we make in house or baked zitis, some tuna salads, some chicken salads. So items that are grab n’ go. If you want to have a quick dinner, but you don’t want to cook it, then you can just grab that, you know take it home to mama, and you can grab a bottle of wine with it. You can get all of that here at Pudgees and you have your dinner within 10 minutes.
What ice cream flavors and options do you offer?
Sue Mumaw, Owner: We have a variety of ice cream, bringing back the favorites. We have salted caramel, we have your typical vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, a few other flavors. With that we also have the ability to make milkshakes, hot fudge sundaes, and banana splits. So there’s going to be an option for everybody.
What is your favorite item on the menu?
Sue Mumaw, Owner: Coffee
Hans Klenke, Owner: My favorite, I always have to say, the wings are dynamite.
How would you describe your team?
Sue Mumaw, Owner: Well, we have the ability to have a few of the returning staff help us in the process of kind of doing some renovations inside. I have never met women who are such strong hard workers, have an amazing work ethic, and never flinch when we ask them to do something. In fact, a lot of times they were just self directed, when they knew to do something, they just went ahead and did it. A lot of great teamwork, great communication, the happiness of really coming to work and wanting to be here. And that’s really the environment that we want to have. We’re a family here at work. And so we want them to be excited to come here and be proud to stand behind the Pudgees restaurant.
Hans: Well if you think about it, it’s one third of your day that you spend at work, right? One third of your day you spend at work, one third of your day you spend in bed, and one third of your day you spend with friends. So it is the same amount of time that you are in bed, with friends, and at your work. So you better have a good time. It’s a hard enough job as it is. And if you can come to family, with all the good and the bad and ugly, but it’s still family. And we can all rely on each other. Everybody understands it’s a team effort. We can’t do it without them. They can’t do it without us. And we’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s been a concept that has always worked for me and I think we’re sticking with it.
*Interview copy has been adjusted for brevity and clarity.
PUDGEES EATERY & MARKET: Pudgees Eatery & Market is a steadfast part of the Floral City community. With a restaurant, ice cream, coffee shop and a grab & go market, it has something for everyone. The restaurant is located at 8435 E Rosko Ct, Floral City, FL 34436. | (352) 344-3773
EVOLVE & CO: Evolve & Co is a full-service advertising agency located in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The company is a collective of brand strategists and creatives, specializing in the lifestyle vertical. The firm is located at 475 Central Avenue Suite M7, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701. www.evolveandco.com
Editors: For details, or to schedule an interview contact Lisa Williams firstname.lastname@example.org or 727.490.9835.
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