Scooter Gabel, 41, made headlines locally and nationally last year when he banned loud children from Cappy’s Pizza in Seminole Heights. Turns out he doesn’t hate kids — and that before he started pushing pizza, he was a pretty successful racecar driver. Gabel and his dog Bob Barker sat down with me outside of Cappy’s on a sunny afternoon to talk pizza, cars and Cappy’s evolving neighborhood.
What made you want to open up a Cappy’s in Seminole Heights?
Scooter Gabel: I would visit the Cappy’s in South Tampa weekly. Then it was on Howard, now it’s on Bay to Bay. Me and two of the knuckleheads working inside now would ride down to Cappy’s on our scooters all the time. I loved the food and the atmosphere. There are not a lot of sit-down pizza places. I talked to the owner and we made a deal to open one in Seminole Heights. This building is from 1934, it used to be a grocery store. We opened in August 2006.
What was Seminole Heights like when you were opening?
Same as it is now, but it was harder to open a business. We were in a 51-week battle with the city of Tampa over parking. Since then, it’s been much easier to get past the parking hurdles, which was the hardest part. I’m not the right person to talk to about how it’s really changed. I’m a hermit.
So were you in the food industry before Cappy’s?
Actually, I’ve been racing and restoring cars professionally my entire adult life. I’ve got my International Harvester parked out front, and a Porsche 356 at home. I was the defending champion for the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2007; that was my last race.
Do you still hate children?
(Laughs) I like how you worded that. No, we have no issue with children here. It had become so loud with screaming kids that I couldn’t take calls inside the restaurant anymore. Kids aren’t allowed out on the patio anymore at all now. They’d break the fountains, I remember telling myself this was the last fountain I’d fix because a kid broke it. Since we put up the sign, it’s been a night and day difference. If you let your kid scream now, people will look at you weird.
Did you expect that kind of attention?
No way. I didn’t think it was a big deal. The AP Newswire even picked up the story, and I was getting calls from morning talk shows all over the country. I was on one in Phoenix and got a call from my cousin who lives there going, “Why the heck are you on the radio in Phoenix?” In New York City, there’s a growing trend of adult-only restaurants. I got thank-you cards from all over. I had people driving from the East Coast just to eat here because they heard the story. We actually got business as a result.