This month marks the 12th anniversary of the opening of The Tap Room at Dubsdread, the catalyst in bringing the historic building back to life as a social cornerstone of College Park. While I must disclose that I’m the one lucky enough to steal him away for a date once in a while, it is without bias that I share how Steve Gunter has transformed Historic Dubsdread into an award winning restaurant and event venue. While many of you might feel you already know him, there may be a thing or two about his life that will surprise you.
When you were approached to take over Dubsdread twelve years ago, what made you think you could succeed where others had failed?
Actually, we weren’t sure we could. We knew the place had history and “good bones,” but we were scared to death. It was the many, many people stopping in to encourage us, pledging that “College Park will support you” that led us to finally roll the dice and open The Tap Room. And they were true to their word — CP has been, and continues to be, very good to us.
Was there added pressure knowing you were going to be running your business in a historical landmark?
I feel such a responsibility operating this property that is College Park’s cornerstone. When we first opened, so many longtime residents made sure I knew what this building meant to them. I’ll never forget Sandy Dann [his grandfather founded Dubsdread in 1924] telling me he was glad we were coming, but we had better not screw it up.
What were the challenges in the beginning?
There were three basic challenges. First, repairing the building … it was literally a mess both structurally and aesthetically. We started tackling the aesthetics and asked the City to help us with structural issues. I have to tell you, though, most folks at City Hall had given up on Dubsdread and there was no real budget to fix it. Laurie Botts (City Real Estate Manager and College Park Resident), always believed in us and did what she could to help. The property would never have made it the first few years without her support. Since 2001, we have worked diligently to restore the property into a first class restaurant and event venue.
Second, the reputation was horrible. We knew only time and hard work could fix that.
Third was — and this was the hard part — figuring the place out. In the end the best decision we made early on was to have two adjoining banquet rooms and one casual restaurant instead of one bar, one restaurant and one banquet hall like some of our predecessors. This allowed us the room to have weddings, which has been one of our greatest assets over the last decade, with our catering director Cathie [Ashby] and her crew winning top honors in the industry every year.
With all we have going on, it is a very difficult and expensive place to run properly. Thank God for my management team. They are amazing.
How do the number of events now compare to when you took over?
Back then we did three to five events a week; now we host in excess of 20 to 25.
Year after year The Tap Room and Dubsdread Catering win prestigious awards. What’s your secret?
Barbara Teal (Company’s GM) and Cathie Ashby (Catering Director), who have both been with me since the beginning. That’s my secret. Honestly, we are all pretty obsessive about food quality and customer service, but I would have made a mess out of this place without them. They, too, caught the College Park fever and have worked tirelessly to revive Dubsdread. Now with Carol, Lauren, Dano, and Andres joining our management team we have the strongest management ever. Our regulars, who watch Barb, Cathie and Carol boss me around, must wonder who is really in charge. So let me erase all doubt — they are!!
Giving back to the community and worthy causes seems to be very important to you. What drives that desire?
I have had an incredibly fortunate life. I believe if you’re going to be a part of a community, then you need to be a part of helping make it better. You can’t just take.
This venue puts us in a unique position to help charitable organizations. We try to help as many as we can. Although we host some great fundraisers, the thing that is the most rewarding to me personally is when Ms. Markham invites us over to cook breakfast at Edgewater with her special needs class. Being around those kids charges my batteries.
Though you’ve made College Park your adopted home, you live in Dr. Phillips. That’s quite a drive.
I enjoy the separation. I know I would pop in too much if I lived in College Park. Because I have this awesome management team, I need to leave and let Barb, Cathie, and Carol do their jobs. If I stayed around all the time — which I no doubt would if I lived in College Park — they wouldn’t feel very empowered or enjoy their jobs very much.
Also, because I have a convertible (this is Florida after all), I honestly really enjoy the 20-minute drive every day, and I have many friends on that side of town where I have lived since 1991 … so it works.
When you are in College Park, what businesses do you frequent?
Oh goodness … so many great businesses … but Let us Frame It and Top Drawer keep my house looking better than it has a right to. Ace Hardware practically keeps the Tap Room standing upright, and I’m in Orange Cycle constantly to support my biking addiction. And it’s always a good day when I get to go to Bob’s Sunoco and try to teach Chad about College Football. (I’m afraid I am failing at that though … he is hopeless.) The common thread that all these businesses have is they excel at customer service … absolutely excel at it. When you darken their door they make you number one — I like that.
When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?
I can’t function without exercise, and since I’m now 51 and my knees are shot, my choices are limited, but I swim, do yoga or bike most every day before I come to work. Reading is probably my biggest passion, and I love watching great comedians — the philosophers of our age. On weekends I get to be with my amazing girlfriend, who I’m frankly lucky to have [smiles]. Of course I love golf with friends. During football season my life revolves around trying to squeeze in a few weekends to go to the Ozarks and watch my beloved Razorbacks. A perfect day has me in Razorback Stadium with my family and lifelong friends, watching the Hogs charge onto the field with the band playing the fight song. It brings absolute tears of joy to my face every time … and it always will … even when we are not very good. Like now, for example.
Because you are so welcoming, everyone who comes to Dubsdread “knows Steve.” Do they know the real you?
I’m at both ends of the spectrum. I love people and yet I crave alone time, which surprises some people. I live a very quiet — pretty boring, really — life outside of Dubsdread. In fact, most nights I’m in bed with a book by 9:30, after a long bubble bath to unwind. I actually live a very Seinfield existence … I am very neat (those close to me will tell you I have OCD … they’re probably right), I live alone, have two really cool cats and spend most of my time with the same small group of friends. Oh, wait … Jerry didn’t have cats, did he?
What have you been able to cross off your bucket list?
Twenty years ago I got my pilot’s license, and that was a dream come true.
You have to tell them about the crash.
That was wild. I once crashed a plane upside-down in water and was home in time to watch the story on the 10:00 news. I was so lucky. That was surreal.
What’s one thing on that bucket list that you still hope to make happen?
I would love to somehow, some way, play golf at Augusta National. If any of your readers can make that happen, they can eat free at The Tap Room forever.