Gary Rapoport may be the grandson of deceased mobster Meyer Lansky, but in Tampa, he has another claim to fame. Rapoport, owner of 3-G's Gas Service, is the force behind outdoor heating and cooling units for more than 300 restaurants and bars in the Tampa Bay region. The business owns between 500 and 600 patio heaters, plus about 1,500 propane tanks, he said. 3-G's sells or leases those heating and cooling units to bars and restaurants throughout Tampa Bay. Then he or one of his three employees stop by once a week or so to change out the propane tank with a full one, billing the bar or restaurant the cost of fuel. Rapoport's biggest client, he said, is likely the Beach Bar and Restaurant formerly known as Hogan's Beach, which rents out 20 heaters and five or six fire pits each winter. In a recent interview with Tampa Bay Times, Rapoport recently sat down with the Tampa Bay Times' Alli Knothe to talk about business, family and a Cuban hotel and casino that he claims has his family's name on it.
How did you start this business?
I started the business about 10 years ago with a pickup truck and five or six propane tanks. It started out just as a joke really. A friend and I were sitting at a bar, and they ran out of propane (for the heater). I said I have some at home, and can run and get it. That was the birth of the 3G's: Gary's Got Gas. I tried to clean up (the name) and change it to something else but it didn't stick. Our motto is "Bustin' our a-- to bring you gas," and people just laugh when they see me driving down the road.
I've been told that this time of year your back yard looks like a graveyard for heating units.
During the summertime we tend to grow a lot of steel trees in the back yard. Now we've moved them all out to keep zoning happy.
The last couple of winters have been pretty mild in Tampa. How has that affected your business?
We've focused on evaporative cooling for bars and restaurants, like air conditioning for the outdoors (during the summer). I hate those misting fans because you feel the water hitting your neck. I'm selling a new design from a company out of Arizona. Out west they use a lot of evaporative cooling because it was such a dryer climate, and I wanted to try them out here. I bought eight or nine units and left them out for a week at some bars and restaurants. Half of my customers wouldn't give them back. That's the birth of a product line for me.
What's it like to be the grandson of Meyer Lansky?
Meyer was a tremendous influence on me. I grew up with him in Miami. He was a driver for me to learn a lot and get educated. He wanted us to have the same enthusiasm for reading and following your interest as he had. Some people look at him in the negative way. He had a lot of problems when he moved to this country. My grandfather took a beating from the Italian gangs. He kept getting back up and getting knocked back down. His tenacity, his desire to keep going in life got him ahead. Ben Siegel, Charlie Luciano, my grandfather and Frank Costello. They were like the four main guys. Two Italians, two Jews.
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Charlie became the head of the Mafia and my grandfather became the accountant. He was the person who held all the money.
You spent some time as a small business loan officer before you started 3G's. Did you grandfather's career inspire you to get into that field?
It's a long story. I was in the bar and nightclub business for 20 years until I decided to make a change. I went to work for my wife's mom, and we did community mental health centers. I felt it was really rewarding work. The mental health thing ended because we lost government funding. The only other thing I really knew was the bar business. I became co-owner of Rock City, a rock-and-roll steak house. Unfortunately that ended my marriage because you've got to be there at night and my wife didn't want me to be there at night.
After the divorce, I went to work at Home Depot for eight or nine years. When the housing crunch came my best friend said come work with me at Regions Bank. I worked for them for a year. They laid me off, and I sold restaurant equipment for a while and then went to another bank where I did small business loans.
What does the future hold for you?
I developed this business and really stayed with it. Everything I made went back into it to help it grow. I went to all the trade shows, I kept adding equipment and meeting people. I'm a street warrior. It's about finding the right fit for (bar and restaurant owners). Half of their square footage is outside. We help them keep it warm in the winter and keep it cool in the summer. My hobby with my ten propane tanks has turned out to be quite a good business.
There's still money in Cuba that I'd like to get my hands on. (Lansky) is still listed as the owner of the Havana Riviera, and the Del Marina Hemingway with Frank Sinatra. We knew that Castro seized the hotel shortly after they opened and that's where the money stayed.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Alli Knothe at email@example.com. Follow @KnotheA.