Last week, a sign went up. It caused a lot of other stuff to go down.
Hampton Station, a neighborhood craft beer and pizza spot in Seminole Heights put the notice up on Oct. 24, on the front door in fat all-caps.
It’s a local piece of a national conversation. As American breweries and bars become increasingly welcome to families, with laid-back atmospheres, food, games and grassy knolls, should business owners be able to draw the line?
In Tampa Bay, it didn’t take long for diners to take sides: The "this is an outrage" side, and the "it’s their prerogative, and I’m happy there’s someplace I can eat kid-free" side. A Tampa Bay Moms’ Group Facebook page quickly had more than 150 comments, discourse becoming more acrimonious as the number grew.
Troy Taylor opened Hampton Station in 2015, one of a number of casual newcomers that contributed to making Seminole Heights a dining destination for craft brew hipsters and families alike. It had a family-friendly atmosphere, with a patio courtyard and action figures holding order numbers on tables. It’s also situated on busy Nebraska Avenue.
The no-kids decision, he said, was the end result of "a lot of people who couldn’t keep their kids under control." He wouldn’t share specifics, but pointed to a recent incident as the catalyst. He’s sure he would have been sued had the worst happened.
"A kid was in danger and could have seriously been hurt," Taylor said. "It’s a liability and safety issue. After the incident, I thought, this can’t happen again."
He cited the restaurant patio’s unfettered access to the traffic on nearby Nebraska, with unsavory elements lurking in adjacent hotels. When you mix alcohol, dogs and kids, it’s not always going to end well, he said.
"It’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. It’s been gut-wrenching. I’m not a big social media person, but I’ve stayed away from Facebook."
A sampling of the posts:
My question is how does this not fall into some type of discrimination?
That’s horrible just because they had a few bad eggs to ban all kids.
This is a place that neighborhood families rallied around. I mean, this place literally uses action figures as their order markers.
But plenty of people came to Hampton Station’s defense. Courtney Mattina, 28, is a mother of two in New Port Richey who has been a Hampton Station customer. There are plenty of places her kids aren’t allowed, she said — the gym, the salon — and she’s fine with the decision.
"I’m happy to see restaurants are taking a stand and saying, ‘We don’t want kids in here being noisy or messy; we’re going to create an environment for adults only,’?" she said. "I was a waitress for six years and kids running around a restaurant is one of the most dangerous things in the world."
More people bring their kids to dinner these days because of dual-working parents, she posited, and thought more parents are drinking around their kids. Parents are attentive on that first craft beer, and less so by the third.
Hampton Station is not the first to go there. In 2012, Scooter Gabel, the owner of Cappy’s in Seminole Heights, made news when he put up a similar sign, citing parents who would allow children to frolic unsupervised on the patio, causing dangerous situations and damage to the restaurant’s property.
Under federal law, businesses are allowed to call their shots when it comes to kids. The law forbids discrimination regarding race, religion and other categories, but there’s not the same broad protection for children.
McDain’s in Monroeville, Pa., made national news in 2012 by announcing the restaurant would no longer admit children under 6. The issue? Crying and other toddler noise that disturbed fellow diners. Grant Central Pizza in Atlanta made news the same year for posting on the menu that all crying small people should be taken outside. The owners of upscale Mooresville, N.C., Italian restaurant Caruso’s told the Washington Post this year that reservations increased after they banned children younger than 5.
In addition to restaurants, some airlines, cinemas and resorts have established kid-free zones or instituted kid bans, and grocery store chains have offered child-free shopping hours. There are plenty of places, such as Southern Brewing & Winemaking in Seminole Heights, that don’t ban kids, but are pretty explicit about the behavior they expect.
It has a posted sign with a numbered list of expectations: 1) No running; 2) No yelling, screaming or excessive noise; 3) No throwing rocks or other objects; 4) No tampering with the fire pit or fountains or damaging any other property. If your children cannot behave in a manner considerate to our other guests you may be asked to leave.
"The staff was getting frustrated with having to mitigate and intervene," retail associate Charlie McElman said. "Southern wanted to make absolutely clear that we are family-friendly and don’t want to do any blanket banning, but we need to set some ground rules. We as staff said we needed signs that we can point to. I think there’s been a big shift in how people are comfortable disciplining their children, especially in public."
In St. Petersburg, Mike Harting’s 3 Daughters Brewing welcomes kids with plastic hoops, cornhole boards and a giant Connect Four. Discipline problems are seldom, he said, "maybe a handful a year, knock on wood."
"What’s inherently wrong with wanting to have your kids with you?" he said. "Is the place louder or more frenetic because we have kids? Sure it is. I will give you my giant philosophy: In days of old there were only two gathering points, the church and the pub. That’s part of our culture."
While behavior expectations in church are fairly spelled-out, expectations in a pub are a little murkier. And for hospitality workers, different parenting styles and comfort levels with supervision make it unclear whose responsibility is it to keep kids safe.
All sides agree that children’s safety is of paramount importance. But acrimony persists.
"It’s two camps; there’s not a lot of middle ground on this," McElman said. "And people go from zero to nasty when they have access to social media.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.