Cigars are a rich part of Tampa’s past, but for one University of Tampa alum, cigars are a part of its future.
Davelis “D.C.” Goutoufas knows how Tampa grew from a small, factory town nicknamed “Cigar City” into a bustling, thriving metropolis. He understands the history of Tampa and hopes to become part of it.
The former Spartan left his mark on the University of Tampa in 1990 by being the first deaf graduate, but today he hopes to leave his mark on the city of Tampa, preserving its cigar smoking past but updating it for future generations.
Last year, Goutoufas and a partner opened Gaspar’s Cigar Shop, a Westshore establishment where friends gather, sit, talk and share cigars.
The thing that makes Gaspar’s more modern in the cigar business is that it is open to members around the clock. They pay a fee for a locker and the access code to the keypad entry.
At night, employees roll out a metal barrier closing off the side of the store with the bar and merchandise, while leaving the lounge and lockers open for customers who want to come in and unwind with a cigar late into the night.
Goutoufas and his wife, Katie, vamped up a former UPS store with warm paints and dark woods. They finished it with plush leather couches, a coffee bar, a few well-placed pirate statues and black-and-white photos of an era that Tampa forgot.
Rows and rows of premium and hand rolled cigars nestle in ceiling-high cases waiting to be smoked to a nub.
It is the ultimate man cave.
“This is an escape,” says frequent customer Jeff Buckingham. “Most of the people that come here and hang out are here to see ‘D.C.’ And, obviously to relax and smoke in this type of environment.”
Goutoufas welcomes everyone with a warm smile and a handshake. His Blackberry vibrates constantly with text messages from friends, customers and fellow Tampanians.
The fourth generation Tampa native is a Freemason, Shriner and member of the Rough Riders Gasparilla Krewe.
Goutoufas says he’s always been a part of something, even in college. He still speaks fondly of his Theta Chi fraternity brothers.
“Some people leave Tampa. Some people stay. Some you never see again. But, I keep in touch with my frat brothers no matter where they go,” he said.
Goutoufas graduated from U.T. with a bachelor of science in business. Today, he explains his business model with two words.
“No fear,” he says.
Though Goutoufas lost his hearing at the age of 4 when fluid built up in his ears, he doesn’t allow his disability to affect how he runs his business or his life.
Always ambitious, Goutoufas even ran for city council when he was just 21.
Although he lost the campaign, he did not lose his drive for hard work. He started a career in the downtown banking world but in the back of his mind, he was always thinking about one day owning his own business.
Years passed before a friend and real estate investor called and asked him to take a look at property near Westshore Boulevard south of Kennedy.
Though he wasn’t looking to open any particular business, where most people just saw an old mail store with a wall of mailboxes, he began to see the same business with a hand rolled twist.
His vision changed the mailboxes into humidified cigar lockers and the UPS store into an ‘Old Tampa’ style cigar den. Instead of getting customers their mail 24/7, he thought he could serve them cigars 24/7, and still secure the store.
But before he could get too excited, he had to make a phone call first.
“My wife Katie said ‘You’re crazy’,” Goutoufas recalled, “But, the more I talked to her, the more she grew to like it.”
He invited 300 of his friends and one roasted pig to the grand opening on the Fourth of July. For this great grandson of early Greek immigrants it was fitting that he opened his dream business on a day that celebrates all that America is about.
“The shop isn’t just about cigars,” he said in a recent Creative Loafing article. “It is an embodiment of something that is uniquely American: the freedom to do and become whoever and whatever you want.”