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Candy DeBartolo brings a family approach to Sacred Pepper, her new Carrollwood restaurant

Candy DeBartolo poses in the hallway at her new restaurant. She worked with award-winning interior designer Enrique Crespo of Tampa’s Cres?po Design Group to customize the restaurant.
Candy DeBartolo poses in the hallway at her new restaurant. She worked with award-winning interior designer Enrique Crespo of Tampa’s Cres?po Design Group to customize the restaurant.
Published Apr. 14, 2016

CARROLLWOOD

The recipe for homemade marinara sauce isn't a secret here.

Instead, it's written out in beautiful, cursive handwriting, scrolled across the lofty mirrored wall in the dining room.

The recipe and the handwriting come from Candy DeBartolo, owner of Carrollwood's newest restaurant. For her, the family recipe symbolizes sharing good times with friends and family, and using her own handwriting on the reflective wall is just one way she adds a personal touch.

Sacred Pepper opens its doors on April 19, offering contemporary American cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. Signature menu items include "sacred" meatballs, short rib Cavatelli, veal chop Mianese and petite filet with lobster and crab rotolo. The menu was influenced by the DeBartolo family's culinary travels and experiences.

Feeling that chain restaurants have overrun North Tampa, DeBartolo wanted to offer an authentic and unique dining experience in her family's neighborhood.

"The restaurant is a reflection of my tastes, travels, and things I personally love," DeBartolo said. "North Tampa is home for us, and we want Sacred Pepper to provide this special community with an experience that can't be found anywhere else."

DeBartolo's husband, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., is a 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee who won five Super Bowls as the owner of the San Francisco 49ers. DeBartolo Holdings LLC is one of the largest family-owned companies in the Tampa Bay area, and the DeBartolo Family Foundation has given more than $13 million since 2001.

But the restaurant's concept and creation decidedly belong to Candy DeBartolo, who came up with the restaurant's name after reading about the sacred pepper plant in a cookbook. The ingredient can transform the food it touches, and this is indicative of what she wanted to accomplish at her restaurant.

"Sacred is really how we operate," said Chad Bash, general manager. "That's why at Sacred Pepper, we believe that everything that happens around the table is sacred and to us. Every detail matters."

DeBartolo worked with award-winning interior designer Enrique Crespo of Tampa's Cres­po Design Group to customize the restaurant. The restaurant's interior incorporates organic and modern design components, while materials such as pecky cypress and terrazzo pay homage to Old Florida. Custom wall paintings and abstract pieces of artwork can be seen throughout.

Located in the space previously occupied by Grille 116, the building was completely stripped down and then rebuilt based on DeBartolo's vision for the restaurant.

"I wanted it to reflect how I love to go out and eat with friends," DeBartolo said. "I love the experience of getting some of my friends together, having drinks and dinner, or just grazing at the bar."

Reflecting DeBartolo's favorite way to dine, Sacred Pepper hosts a daily "Social Soiree," where guests can enjoy specially priced cocktails and wine while enjoying shareable plates.

The focal point of the restaurant is the large bar area, set against the backdrop of a bubbling water wall feature. Above it, the ceiling was cut out, the roof was raised, and a series of new windows were installed to let in natural light. From the pecky cypress lined ceiling hang two sprawling chandeliers that were custom-made in Portugal.

"These two chandeliers are the only two of these pieces in the United States," Bash said.

The bar top itself is also distinctive and luminescent, made up of individual pieces of colorful agate that were put together with resin.

Executive chef James Maita helms the restaurant's spacious and state-of-the art kitchen. Pastas and sauces are made from scratch daily, and many of the fresh, high-quality ingredients are locally sourced. The full-service bar offers cocktails, craft beers and wine on tap.

"It's fresher than any wine that's corked," Bash said. "It's always at the proper temperature."

The 202-seat restaurant is only open for dinner, but a private room, complete with its own bar area, can be reserved outside of regular hours. The room can be configured to accommodate corporate meetings and events, or private parties.

"We want to be able to provide that special occasion experience," Bash said.

Of course, for Candy DeBartolo, it's a special occasion whenever you're sharing a meal with friends.

"Great food has served as the centerpiece of many celebrations, memorable conversations and important life moments," DeBartolo said. "We are so excited to open our doors and share our family's passion for food and style with the people of North Tampa."

Contact Danielle Hauser at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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