As executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, one of the many things I love about my role is that in my 17 years with our organization, no two days have ever been the same. In general, I don’t sleep a lot, so I pack 19 to 20 hours into most days and love every second of balancing my jam-packed professional and personal life. The only two constants, which thankfully have never changed for me, are that I’m beyond blessed to have a great family at home and great teammates in the office!
Since I was born and raised locally (and have never left), I’ve witnessed firsthand our community’s exponential growth over the years. My favorite part about my job is being able to have the opportunity to help market our hometown to the world through hosting sports and entertainment events of all shapes and sizes. It is truly a dream come true. From focusing on the visiting fan experience to strategically showcasing our area to the television viewers watching at home, the invaluable platform that is created through hosting these events is second to none. There is nothing more rewarding than Team Tampa Bay working together to take advantage of creatively telling our world-class story through these unique hosting opportunities.
MY LOCAL KNOWLEDGE
There are so many great places to eat around town, but there are two that I have always loved to bring clients and those are the Columbia in Ybor City or the Columbia Café at the Tampa Bay History Center. While there are countless delicious options, including their famous paella, my go-to is the Mahi Mahi Cayo Hueso. I’ve been ordering that dish since I was a kid, and it’s definitely a can’t-miss if you like seafood.
We don’t get a lot of free weekend days where our kids don’t have activities, which we love watching them play their sports; but when they are off, we love supporting our hometown teams. The Bucs, Lightning, Rays, Rowdies and USF are such a big part of our family and community that any time we get a chance to support them, we do.
Our family has spent a lot of our recent special occasions at Sacred Pepper. Candy DeBartolo created an absolute gem. The food and ambiance are phenomenal. The DeBartolo family’s philanthropic accomplishments in our community have been amazing, and it’s also pretty cool that they created such a great restaurant on the north end of our community. We also love Ulele and have spent many of our family’s birthdays there. I’m a big fan of the owner of the Columbia, Ulele, Casa Santo Stefano and so much more; Richard Gonzmart is a true Tampa Bay treasure. He’s such a passionate and tireless ambassador for our hometown.
My go-to for fine dining is definitely Bern’s. It never gets old and is such a timeless institution in our hometown. The only thing as good as the food at Bern’s is the experience. It’s a culinary journey like no other. (Owner and President) David Laxer is a great friend and board member of ours. His family has done a lot for our community as well, and I can’t tell you how many times visiting dignitaries reach out to us to get our help to try and check off Bern’s from their bucket list. Like the Columbia, it’s on the to-do list of every visiting foodie.
In recent years, we have really loved taking our visitors to see each end of the Riverwalk, including everything to see and do in between. Maybe starting with lunch at Armature Works followed by dinner and bowling at Splitsville at Sparkman Wharf. Water Street and Armature Works are a tribute to how far our community has come in the last few years, as well as where we are going in the future, so it’s always great to have our visiting clients experience each of those areas.
There are so many great museums and cultural venues throughout our community that it’s really hard to name only one. A cultural venue that probably doesn’t get the attention that it deserves is The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art. Tom James, the museum’s founder, has given back so much to our community, and on the very long list of things he’s done, he created one heck of a museum back in 2018, which is unlike any other in the world. If you haven’t already, it’s definitely worth checking out, as are all of our local museums.
I enjoy early morning walks around our neighborhood with my wife, Casey. We lead pretty hectic lives, so that’s a great chance for us to catch up and spend time with each other. If you’re looking for a spin class, Brooke Skelley, who was our Super Bowl Host Committee director of marketing and communications, is an instructor at Camp Tampa in South Tampa and her classes always get rave reviews.
Former USF football player and local entrepreneur Jay Mize has established some great places to catch a game with his Irish 31s around town. We also like checking out the official watch parties that our teams have done. Each of our local franchises has done a great job of galvanizing their fan bases, so it’s always fun to partake in their road game watch parties whenever they’re being hosted. Lastly, I also love watching road games at home with my family. With the unprecedented roll that our teams are on right now, we have so many unforgettable “family room” memories together of our teams’ successes on the road.
I don’t eat a lot of breakfast, but when I do have a breakfast meeting, I like to hit West Tampa Sandwich Shop… or Oxford Exchange. Grain & Berry is also a solid option for something lighter as well.
We’re so fortunate to have the Riverwalk and all of the great parks like Julian B. Lane, Curtis Hixon and many others to spend our time outside at. I’m biased and love attending the events that we help program down there like our Tampa Bay’s Tailgate Taste Fest, which takes place on Oct. 16 this year. From concerts to fan experiences, the Riverwalk and parks have been a game changer for us in going after major events, as it creates such a walkable downtown with things to see and do for both local and visiting fans.
It’s hard to pick just one Tampa Hidden gem, but my son and I enjoy going to Thee Burger Spot. It’s got amazing burgers and I love supporting our local, minority-owned restaurants. There are several other great local, minority-owned restaurants or caterers that I would highly recommend, such as Mr. B’s, 7th + Grove, Ava’s Lowcountry Cuisine and Kay’s Kitchen, just to name a few.