The restaurant group that operates Trophy Fish, Mandarin Hide and other St. Petersburg establishments has purchased half-interest in El Cap, the neighborhood bar and hamburger grill that’s been a fixture at 3500 4th Street N. since 1958.
Seed & Feed Hospitality bought out Tara Mattiaci, who inherited half of the business in 2019 upon the death of longtime owner Mary Jane Bonfili.
Bonfili left equal stakes in El Cap to Mattiaci and Cynthia Nally, both longtime employees. Nally will stay on as co-owner and fulltime manager.
“This IS me,” said Nally, who started at El Cap 18 years ago. “For a couple more years yet! I love El Cap, and I’m really excited about these guys coming aboard – and I think it’ll be a wonderful thing for us, and for the community as well. Keep this little corner cozy and friendly and welcoming.”
“This was a difficult decision,” Mattiaci wrote on her Facebook page. “However, after meeting with the new partners and learning their long history in St. Pete and the hospitality business, I am more excited than ever for the future of El Cap.”
Investor Blake Thompson is a principal in Seed & Feed Hospitality. He’s also a St. Petersburg native.
“El Cap is somewhere I went when I was 4, and now I’m 40,” Thompson said. “And I’d like to see future generations have the opportunity to do the same. I think there are enough mattress stores on 4th Street, and that we have to do something to make sure that some of St. Pete’s fabric stays in place.”
His partners in the restaurant group are attorney Ryan Griffin, and Griffin’s father Bill.
Tampa Bays Rays co-presidents Brian Auld and Matt Silverman are also investors in the purchase of El Cap, which has a rich baseball history – longtime owner Frank Bonfili, who died in 1997, was a passionate fan and lobbied hard for the Devil Rays – as the team was originally known – to make their home in the city.
Frank’s uncle was New York-based National League umpire Augie Donatelli, who visited St. Petersburg every year for Spring Training (he was on the cover of the first issue of Sports Illustrated in 1954).
Donatelli retired to St. Pete in 1974, and could often be found telling stories at El Cap.
Auld and Silverman are “baseball all the way,” Thompson explained, “and so are we. So we said ‘Why not end up with a bunch of people that not only really love St. Pete, they also love baseball?’ There are people like them who have come from other states, who found St. Pete to be special. And magical. And different.”
Thompson has zero intention of changing anything about El Cap.
“I’m not anti-progress,” he said, “but I am definitely defensive about the things that make St. Pete St. Pete. I love going places and seeing somebody I know, giving them a handshake or a hug, and buying them a drink.”
The purchase, he added, was both sentimental and logical. “When you wipe away 60, 70, 80 year businesses, you just fundamentally change the way the community works. If that’s where parents take kids after soccer practice, or where business people meet for lunch, or where you have a drink after work … if those places go away and you end up at a national chain, you can’t expect things to stay the same. It won’t be St. Pete if we don’t keep some of this stuff.”