An award-winning local Key lime pie empire has gone out of business, just weeks after winning a national television contest.
Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory, which opened on Duval Street in 1999, has closed all five of its Key West locations, and a notice on the company's website indicates they were closed this month.
Calls to the Key West stores and the corporate headquarters in Pompano Beach were unanswered, and the Truman Avenue shop has a "for rent" sign in the window.
Employees at the business next-door had not heard anything about the closure and were not aware that the Truman Avenue shop had closed.
"We are deeply saddened that we must do this and at the turn of events that brought our company to this point, namely: two employee lawsuits, the Gulf oil spill, the dramatic drop in tourists because of the recession, the huge decrease of cruise ships in the port of Key West, which resulted in 2010 being the worst season we have had since opening the business," the online notice states.
The Monroe County Clerk of the Circuit Court's online records show no recent civil suits against the Blond Giraffe or owners Roberto Madeira and Tania Beguinati. Key West port records for fiscal years 2009-10 and 2008-09 show an almost 10 percent drop in cruise ships, to 342 from 378, and an almost 7 percent drop in passengers, to 804,845 from 863,767.
In October 2006, The Citizen reported the company was opening its seventh location at 412 Greene St., and had outlets on Front and Simonton streets in addition to Truman Avenue, as well as a store in Marathon and one in South Miami.
The announcement states the owners plan to reopen under a different name "in the near future." The company's Facebook page was filled with postings from people wondering what had happened, and asking the owners about orders they had tried to place.
Blond Giraffe was voted Best Key Lime Pie during an episode of "Food Wars" on the Travel Channel. The show was filmed in Key West in June, but the episode just aired last month. Beguinati's pie recipe beat that of Theresa Paturno, pastry chef at Blue Heaven restaurant.
The Blond Giraffe empire used a mechanized system for pie-making and used only Key lime juice, rather than juice from traditional Persian limes. There was no information, as of press time, about when the company would reopen, or under what name it would operate.