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El Cap has some new owners: St. Petersburg natives who plan to keep restaurant going

A local hospitality group swooped in to keep the iconic eatery on Fourth Street North going.
 
El Cap is known for its hamburgers, including the "World Champ" Cheeseburger, shown, and original red neon sign with a baseball and bat.
El Cap is known for its hamburgers, including the "World Champ" Cheeseburger, shown, and original red neon sign with a baseball and bat. [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jan. 6, 2023|Updated Jan. 9, 2023

El Cap, St. Petersburg’s iconic Fourth Street North hamburger joint, has been partly sold. But the juicy World Champ burgers within its wood-paneled walls aren’t going anywhere.

Seed & Feed Hospitality, the group behind endeavors such as Trophy Fish and Mandarin Hide, has purchased half of the establishment at 3500 Fourth St. N. Cindy Nally, who has worked at El Cap for roughly two decades, will continue to own the remaining 50%, she said.

Nally decided to put El Cap for sale after operating partner Tara Mattiacci retired.

“The time has come for me to pass the El Cap torch on to another St. Pete native who will carry on the tradition for many years to come,” Mattiacci posted on Facebook in December. “The new partners are born and raised in St. Pete and have all been coming to El Cap for 40 years+.”

“We see El Cap as an iconic institution,” said Ryan Griffin, of Seed & Feed Hospitality. “I remember going there when I was a kid.”

Ryan Griffin, alongside his father, Bill Griffin, and stepbrother, Blake Thompson, are dedicated to preserving St. Petersburg’s old-school charm. When Ryan Griffin heard the beloved restaurant was at risk of being purchased by a real estate development company, he knew he had to act.

“It sparked into me to do my duty and step in and do what I could in my power to help preserve a community asset,” he said.

Related: With inflation, can you really make a cheaper cheeseburger at home?

According to St. Pete Rising, several other individuals are involved in the new ownership structure for El Cap, including Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Rowdies executives Matt Silverman and Brian Auld, consumer justice lawyer Augie Ribeiro and longtime El Cap accountant W.G. Spoor.

Ryan Griffin said he is interested in saving more Tampa Bay gems.

El Cap restaurant in St. Petersburg was operated for many years by the late Frank and Mary Jean Bonfili.
El Cap restaurant in St. Petersburg was operated for many years by the late Frank and Mary Jean Bonfili. [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]

El Cap opened in the 1960s and has remained a St. Pete staple, even as other vintage establishments — like Munch’s and Wilson’s — have been put up for sale.

Even the local wildlife is a fan of El Cap’s grub. Representatives of the nearby wood stork population have been known to hang out in the parking lot ahead of the lunch rush, hoping for a bite.

“They would get so bold that they would get on people’s tables and steal their hamburgers,” Larry Chopard, El Cap’s night manager, told the Tampa Bay Times last year.

Related: What’s the deal with wood storks? Meet Florida’s strange, scaly wading birds

While the new ownership structure may lead to behind-the-scenes tweaks that improve the flow of the restaurant, Nally said the menu and ambiance will remain the same.

Regulars are already happy to hear the news.

“It’s just a new adventure,” Nally said. “They know I’m here with their best interest — the community’s best interest.”