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Subway to move, but Bainbridge zoning laws didn't make it easy

It’s seldom easy to move any business, especially if it’s a national fast-food restaurant chain located in a city that has an ordinance restricting its presence.

After McDonald’s controversial placing of a restaurant on High School Road nearly 20 years ago, “formula take-out food” establishments weren’t allowed on the island until Subway wiggled its way into the Winslow Mall in 2004 by meeting several city-requested terms that allowed it to comply with Bainbridge’s zoning code.

Two owners and several years later, Richard and Kimberly Larvia, who bought the business about two years ago, are about to relocate the Subway franchise to the space formerly held by the Mud Puddle Coffee Shop in the shopping mall off High School Road. It took them more than a year to clear a few obstacles, but the Larvias’ plan to reopen the new Subway in two or three weeks.

“It’s been a struggle,” Richard Larvia said, “mostly because of Subway and the building’s owner (Joshua Green Corp.) having some demands.”

He said the city was cooperative and agreed to the move once it was assured that the “special compliances” allowed to establish the restaurant in 2004 would continue at the new location.

“The city has been great to work with,” he said. “We heard it could be difficult, but we found the opposite. They walked us through the process and were very helpful throughout.”

Despite formula take-out food restaurants essentially being disallowed on the island except for where McDonald’s is located, the city decided in 2004 to approve Subway’s replacement of Colagreco’s Italian Deli as long as it did not have a standardized menu, and interior and exterior designs that were also not typical of corporate fast-food chains.

The original owners became “unstandarized” by offering two sub sandwiches (the Bainbridge Dip and the Winslow Melt) that other Subways didn’t sell, exterior signage that was less corporate, bar-stool seating and a mural featuring a local motif. When the Larvias applied to the city for relocation, it agreed to those requirements and more.

“We’re going to have a much larger, more comfortable dining area,” said Kimberly Larvia, who grew up on Bainbridge. The new Subway will feature four overstuffed chairs, cushioned seating, WiFi, and the same antique tin ceiling that the Mud Puddle had. “We’ll also have a small art wall for local artists to hang their art. We think it’s going to be a real nice restaurant.”

The Larvias, both of whom work full-time at the Keyport Naval Torpedo Station, said the business was doing well but the new location is bigger (1,400 compared to 900 square feet) and offers better visibility for their clientele. It also puts them much closer to all those hungry high school students during lunch time.

“We’re going to miss being downtown and the outdoor seating,” she said, “but this is just a better fit for us.”

They became small business owners for the first time when her brother, Ken Playter, who has been the Subway shop’s manager for five years, told them that the previous owner was looking to sell the business.

“It’s just something I’ve always dreamed of doing,” Richard Larvia said. “I love customer service and might even want to do more going forward.”

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