Tampa’s Pickford Sundries reopens in July with new restaurant concept Lesiak's Counter

A new team of chefs and retailers breathes new life into an old Tampa favorite.

click to enlarge The new Pickford Sundries in Tampa, Florida. - c/o Ben Pomales
c/o Ben Pomales
The new Pickford Sundries in Tampa, Florida.

UPDATED: 03/13/20 10:51 a.m.

There’s a lot of mystique and nostalgia surrounding 2606 W. Hillsborough Ave., and Adrianna Siller fell under its spell, too.

“Right away I just liked the idea of Marie,” Siller told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. The 26-year-old chef is talking about Marie Lesiak Haley, whose grandfather, Casimir Lesiak, built Pickford Sundries and named it after silent film star Mary Pickford in 1949 (a local bluegrass band named themselves after the store, too). The store carried a little bit of everything and was a meeting place for countless people in Tampa’s history; it got passed down from generation to generation, and Marie acquired it in 2001. Siller was very close with her grandmother, who immigrated to Florida from Monterrey, Mexico sometime in the mid-1940s.

“All of my family is in Dade City, my grandmother had 14 children,” Siller said. That huge group made frequent trips to Tampa, and Siller became very familiar with local cuisine. Siller’s last position in a kitchen was as sous-chef at Gallito Taqueria in Lakeland, but she gets a new title—Chef de cuisine of Lesiak's Counter at Pickford Sundries—this summer.

That’s right. Pickford Sundries, situated in the Wellswood neighborhood, just two miles from Hillsborough High School, has new life.

Siller—along with David Hansen, owner of Seminole Heights’ Urban Bungalow, and Benjamin Pomales, whose last position was as chef de cuisine at Rooster & the Till—is in talks to rent 2606 W. Hillsborough Ave. from Marie.

click to enlarge (Clockwise L-R) Adrianna Siller, David Hansen and Benjamin Pomales, who'll run Pickford Sundries and the accompanying Lesiak's Counter in Tampa, Florida. - Photos c/ Ben Pomales
Photos c/ Ben Pomales
(Clockwise L-R) Adrianna Siller, David Hansen and Benjamin Pomales, who'll run Pickford Sundries and the accompanying Lesiak's Counter in Tampa, Florida.

“A year ago, David mentioned something about a historic building on Hillsborough that he’d been loosely talking to the owner about getting into,” Pomales, who'll be Executive Chef at Lesiak's Counter, told CL.

Hansen told Pomales there’d be a pretty big cafe space, adding that it’d be there if he wanted to do pop-ups or offer advice on how to run it. But then Pomales, who’d done pop-ups at Urban Bungalow, and Siller visited the space two months ago after Hansen cleaned it up in preparation for a June move in. He painted the picture for Pomales and told him the history.

“I’d seen it a million times and thought, ‘Man something needs to be in there,’ but that history made us all in love,” Pomales, 26, explained. So he and Siller decided to reopen the cafe and call it Lesiak's Counter, a nod to the building’s history.

Hansen and business partner Martin Aldaz Casanova will run the Pickford Sundries storefront featuring the same inventory Urban Bungalow carried at its six-year-old Seminole Heights shop (that space officially closes at the end of June).

“It’s always been a dream to run a sundries type store, something like the Kress buildings, or a Woolworth, with lunch counters in them,” Hansen told CL, adding that he started renovating the Pickford space in March, right as the coronavirus pandemic started messing up everyone’s lives and livelihoods.

He got no PPP help, despite applying for it via SunTrust—a bank he worked for before getting into retail. He was forced to furlough some employees during Urban Bungalow’s 45-day closure, but kept many around to help with the hours of work it took to make the Pickford space, which sat empty for 12 years, operable. Casanova also spent another 40 hours restoring the original acrylic paint signage.

Many Urban Bungalow shoppers will be sad to see the store move out of the Heights, but Hansen, who’ll keep living in Seminole Heights, couldn’t resist the chance to expand into, and renovate, a building that’s an essential part of Tampa history.

“We had to do it,” Hansen said, adding that it's been a pleasure to work with Marie, who's been committed to keeping the iconic building standing. “We couldn’t see this important piece of Tampa history just sit there with no tenant.”

When a soft open happens in mid-July, the new Pickford Sundries will have a section honoring the old space; there’s even old leftover product—including old Ponds Cold Cream, Kodak film, Hanes children’s underwear and Tampa cologne—in shadow boxes.

And in the back will be Siller and Pomales’ cafe, a throwback to a 1940s soda shop. It’ll have a walk up counter with eight seats. There’ll be an additional 24-30 seats inside, and the building has more than 2000-square-feet of space in the back (Lesiak's Counter at Pickford Sundries will naturally comply with whatever the CDC requires come opening time). Pomales and Siller think that four to five employees can run the back of the house, with four more working the front.

The food menu features four sections including “Breakfast Served Until It’s Gone” (watermelon brulee, avocado egg salad, thick-cut toast, buttermilk biscuits, hot cakes, rice flour waffles, more), “Things You ‘Could’ Share” (French onion soup dumplings, mole wild mushroom guisado, more), “All For Me” (classic hot dogs made at Cass St. Deli, a hoagie, grilled cheese and Calabrian chile lacquered chicken) and “Sweets” (muscovado milkshake, banana split sundae, egg cream and fruit cobbler). Joshua Weaver, from St. Petersburg’s Bandit Coffee Co., is partnering with Lesiak's Counter to develop and run its coffee, low-ABV cocktail program and most of the front of house operations.

"I was also so drawn to the project with the history and owner still involved since it was her family's s store when they first moved to the area. It’s pretty exciting to bring something back to life but also refresh it," Weaver told CL. He said service at Lesiak's will be an extension of what his staff does at Bandit where customers, experience and affordable, approachable options come first.

"One of the things I personally like and want to continue to focus on is approachability from all walks of life," Weaver added. "This concept will be looking back to a classic dinner setting with a similar ordering to what a modern counter service restaurant is."

Pomales likens the Lesiak's Counter vibe and philosophy to that of New Orleans’ Turkey and the Wolf where badass chefs come together to just cook really good comfort food.

“So we're making a [Cavatappi] mac ‘n’ cheese, or we're doing a meatloaf [tomato Vindaloo, with herb creme fraiche],” Pomales said, “but we're doing it kind of our way, and just having fun with it.”

Siller told CL that she moved to Tampa from Dade City to get immersed into a city and culinary scene she’d come to love. Marie, that granddaughter who’s now Siller’s landlord, even connected with her to tell her that some of the old Pickford Sundries regalia is in an antique shop in San Antonio near Sillers’ hometown. Siller said she’s going to stop in and try to find it to hopefully bring those memories back for Marie. But in the meantime she, Pomales, Hansen and the entire Lesiak's Counter and new Pickford Sundries team get to write their very own page in that story.

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Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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