For the last four years, Eric and Shere Schiller have been serving up rum, beer and pirate kitsch to tourists and locals alike from their Seventh Avenue restaurant/bar Gaspar's Grotto. But the Schillers' involvement in Ybor City politics and philanthropy stretches even further, advocating for a ban on under-21 bar patrons and raising money for hundreds of nonprofit organizations.
Before retiring in 1996, Eric Schiller was a sea captain on an oil tanker for over 20 years.
Over the years, the Schillers have incorporated a slew of bar gimmicks, from professional wrestling and pirate shows to rum tastings and beer pong.
Eric is adamant that people under 21 should not be allowed into Ybor City bars. "[The other club owners] think I'm stupid, because I'm turning down money, but what kind of money is that?" Eric says. "I just think that's responsible. I'm a father of teenagers, and I don't think teenagers should be around drinking adults."
Eric and Shere estimate they've hosted at least 200 fundraisers for nonprofit organizations from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to the Center for Autism Related Disorders. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society named Shere "Woman of the Year" in 2006. "You get to a point in your life where you ask what is it all about?" Shere says. "Having a venue affords us the opportunity to be generous."
The Gaspar's Grotto mascot is a 4-year-old gray tabby, Tanker Ray, which the Schillers found as a feral kitten on the streets of Ybor City. According to the Schillers, Tanker Ray climbs trees, attacks dogs and tests out all the beers.