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Pudgee’s world famous

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Crowds converge in support of local eatery facing fire-code issues

By Eryn Worthington

FLORAL CITY — Parking was tense and lines were extensive. Mouths watered in anticipation of the local flavor customers had fallen in love with. Memories were told as customers waited patiently in line for what could have been their last opportunity for the world-famous hot dog.

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“Every time my daughter comes into town we have to take a trip to Pudgee’s,” said customer and Floral City resident Pamela Oesch.

“Last time my son-in-law flew in, he was getting ready to leave for Afghanistan and he wanted to make sure to get Pudgee’s.”

Upon asking for an interview with owner John Sterling, who was busy cooking, the crowd simultaneously screamed “no.”

“You were in serious trouble then, darling,” said Joan Stainthorpe, who visits from England. “You can’t take him away from his food.

“You can eat the same thing in 50 different restaurants around here, but there aren’t enough mom-and-pop restaurants. We look for that all the time when we are visiting from England. These places are too far and few between. I just hope he gets to stay here. This is a good thing.”

Pudgee’s All American Hot Dogs, a roadside dining attraction on the edge of Floral City, has been given more time to comply with fire code requirements that threatened to shut down the more than a decade old business.

The mom-and-pop eatery received immense attention last week, after Sterling announced he was closing Dec. 29. His announcement was in response to a citation that gave him just over a week to comply.

On Friday, Deputy Chief of Fire Rescue Jim Goodworth met with Sterling about the citation and gave him an extension to conform to. Goodworth is scheduled to return on Jan. 15, to see if Sterling has resolved the minor issues and is able to provide a timeframe for the installation for a fire suppression system.

However, the extension did not stop the crowds from coming.

“I think it’s the quality of food and the character that he has that makes this place,” Oesch said. “He knows and remembers each customer. You can walk up six months after your last visit and he will remember what you want and like. He is even famous in New Jersey and San Diego. Our kids made us a calendar that has our grandson’s picture of him eating here at Pudgee’s.”

What many of the customers kept commenting about was the family connection built into Pudgee’s.

“One of the things that we want to prevent is one of these mom-and-pop operations from failing,” said customer Bryan Melhado. “That’s really the nucleus that America was built on. If you look at today — it is all families here. Anytime I have ever been here, Pudgee’s business is just about families. Not only that, but Pudgee’s and his family are really wonderful people.”

Chronicle reporter Eryn Worthington can be contacted at 352-563-5660, ext. 1334, or eworthington@chronicleonline.com.