LTM: The reason for this interview is because you have been chosen as one of the communities’ Hispanic leaders. How do you feel about that? Louis Capdevilla: Wow! What an honor a privilege. Thank you so much!
LTM: So, tell us a bit about your family history and where you come from? Louis Capdevilla: Ok, so we came back in 1962 we’ll be celebrating 58 years in March that we been here, we came in the freedom flights. came through Miami straight to Tampa and have been here all this time
LTM: So, tell us a little bit about La Teresita, which you are the owner of, and you’re celebrating how many years with them? Louis Capdevilla: 48 years, Yeah, we got here in ’62, and in 1972 mom and dad got a small business administration loan to buy la Teresita grocery. We started as a small grocery store that later became a supermarket, a fish market and then a little bit of café on the side, and then by 1975 we bought the gas station on the corner, and we turned into the counter style restaurant that we have in one our restaurants now.
LTM: Wow, so back then, you were a whole different person than you are now. Can you talk about that? Louis Capdevilla: Well, I grew up with three brothers, we came very poor, so we were always being challenged in one way or another. At the age of 7, I was selling tamales in the street at the age of 10. I learned how to cut meat in my uncle’s meat market. At the age of 15, we bought the grocery store, working from 7 am to 11 pm, so it’s’ been ongoing.
In the process there, I took about six years where I kind of did a detour. During the day I was a businessman during the night, I was a guy that had gone into the wrong crowds and started running drugs, running Cocaine, Marijuana, and Quaaludes. I was pretty much lost, by the age of 24, I was married and divorced twice. My life was a big wreck. Apart from that, I used to steal from mobsters.
Mobsters didn’t keep their money in banks, they kept them in attics and basements, and so I took a part-time job going in after mobsters, and on one of those occasions I got caught, and they put a contract out on my life. I ended up in New York City. Now right leading into that time I had been reading the bible in hotel rooms, no matter if I was in LA or San Fran, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Miami, we would rent these hotel rooms before the drug deals came down and when nobody was around I would take out the bible because I was searching. I was lost. Number one, I didn’t like myself, I was born fat, ugly and poor; some people are born fat but not ugly, others are born ugly but not poor, others poor but not fat, I was all 3. I had a lot of questions for God, “God, if you’re real, why do kids suffer? Why do we go through some of the stuff we go through?” So, I had been reading the bible trying to find answers. Make a long story short, I had arrived in NYC with a contract on my life. I was hiding out for 2 months. I got tired of hiding out and I planned to come back to Tampa. I came in on a Wed, and by the next Sunday, an Easter Sunday evening service, somebody invited me to church for the very first time in my life. A bible-believing church, bible preaching church. I walked in, and there was an Italian missionary that said three things, he says if you come to Jesus, he will forgive you of all your sins, well some people you have to convince them that they’re sinners because they think they’re good, well I knew I was a sinner.
Second thing that he said was that if you come to Jesus, not only would he forgive you of your sins but he’ll give you power, power to change and again that my heart blew up in a sense that how many times had I promised my dad, dad I’m going to change this time. Really! Meaning, wanting to change, but the time nightfall would come, it’s like a demon would drag me back into that world. The third thing he said was if you come to Jesus, not only would he forgive your sins, not only would he give you power, but he’ll give you eternal life, and when he said eternal life! My heart jumped because I knew what death was when you go into steal from a mobster with a bulletproof vest and silencers. You feel death. When you’re running cocaine through the airport, back in those days, we used to run the cocaine through the airports you literally feel death. You knew what death was about, so when he says, he’ll give you eternal life, and with two contracts on my life. I knew what death was about, so when this Italian missionary made an altar call, I ran to the front. Gave my life to Jesus and what happened, was a miracle, I transformed my life.
When I got home that night, my mom said, ‘What happened to you?’ My face was lit up, and I remember telling her, I don’t know what happened, but I met Jesus. Well, in the process, two weeks later, I decide I’m not going to cooperate with this mob company. I let them know I wasn’t going to cooperate anymore, and twice they came in front of my dad and said if I don’t cooperate were going to kill him. I remember raising my hands up and saying I’m not running anymore. I got Jesus in my heart and the guy that put a contract on my life died in an airplane crash. That segment, that page, that chapter of my life switched over. Then from there, my life changed, there was 2 years from home to work, from work to home to church and then finally I met this girl. It was love at first sight! I went to call her on a Sunday night, and I dialed the first 3 numbers and I hung up. I said Lord if this girl is not for me, I don’t even want to go out with her, but if this is the girl you have for my life when I call her to let her tell me she wants ten kids. I call her and in between an hour and a half conversation she says to me by the way, when I get married, I want ten kids, and three months later we were married, and we’ve been married going on 37 years. We have three kids and seven grandkids, ten but in another equation.
LTM: Then you started in the ministry, yet you were still a part of the business. Louis Capdevilla: Yes, I’ve always been part of La Teresita restaurant. It was my dad’s right hand. The many properties that we have I was still involved in acquiring more properties all the building projects, have my name on them, but I was called into the ministry. After two years, I told my dad, “Dad, I feel this call to go into ministry, so I made contact with Christian Retreat in Bradenton, Florida where they have a ministry school, and I remember my dad telling me, “Why are you leaving your future behind? You’re leaving everything behind to go follow something you don’t know a whole lot of.”
Well long story short, I took off to school and two weeks being in school on a Saturday morning I get up for prayer and that morning I hear an audible voice that says, “There is no turning back. There’s no turning back.” That voice was so real I didn’t understand what was meant by there’s no turning back, so I went to the Dean of school and told him what happened, and he says, “Where are you heading?” I told him I’m heading to moms, about an hour away, he says, “Be attentive what’s going to happen.” So, when I arrive at my mothers’ house, and I open the door, the very first words out of my mothers’ mouth were, “Hey! They found cancer in your fathers’ lungs. You’ve got to come back and run the family businesses.” At that point, I heard that voice once again, that said, “I SAID there is no turning back!” With tears in my eyes, I turned to my mom and said, “I can’t come back.” She got scandalized.
My brothers got scandalized. My dad, my aunts, and uncle. What kind of Christian are you? “You can’t come back and take care of your father in times of need?”
So, my mom says, “You know your monthly bills that are being paid by the restaurant? No more. Hey, by the way, the keys to the Cadillac, leave them on the desk there because you don’t have a car no more.” I returned to Bradenton, Florida in a borrowed car. Two weeks later they’re going to operate on my dad, so I borrow a car. I came back to the family and visited my dad at the hospital because he was being operated on. The whole family was there, and I went into the room. I told my dad, “Dad, you’re going to give your life to Jesus, and he’s going to heal you.” Well 2 1/2 hours later, as the operation has taken place, this doctor comes through the double doors with his hands in the air, shouting, ‘It’s a miracle, it’s a miracle”. The cancer’s gone. They couldn’t find it. That day my whole family gave their life to the Lord Jesus. That was exciting for me, and it’s a process.
Meanwhile, the family, myself, two of my brothers were ministers. The bible says with the comfort you’ve been comforted; you can comfort others. Being that I came out of the drug environment, I started ministering to those drug addicts. We’ve been ministering to this community now for going on 37 years. We’re all kinds of ministry, from helping little leagues and schools to churches. We’ve helped everybody a little bit. We are giving back to the community. One of the unspoken rules around here is if somebody comes hungry, you feed them. We’ve always given back to the community, been part of a drug program where we minister to over 70 men and 35 women in a rehab, discipleship program that has touched hundreds of lives throughout the years. It made a difference—many, many testimonies.
LTM: So, you have not only done a lot in the community here, but you’ve also traveled, tell us a little bit about that? Louis Capdevilla: I’ve pastored for 25 years, but in the process, I was called to be a church planter. Planted churches in Cuba, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, and currently, I’m working Pakistan, where we have 34 churches planted in Pakistan and continue to grow. I realize I’ve done enough funerals. You realize, you come into this world naked and you leave with nothing on your back. There are a little people who are successful here, but they have very little success spiritually. You can have them both, you can live good here, and still make a retirement plan in Heaven, because God has called you and he wants you to do things for him. You’ll be rewarded for the things you do here on Earth. The bible says if you love those that love you, what reward do you have? In other words, you won’t have rewards if you just give to those that give to you, those that touch your life. YOU must touch the lives of those you won’t see, and that can’t give back to you. So, we do that, and we support many, many ministries around the world. We give back, always doing something for the community, for the church inside this nation and outside.
LTM: You just recently had a major challenge in your life, touch on that. Louis Capdevilla: I was celebrating MLK day at a friend’s house eating crab. While eating King crabs, I suffered a heart attack. Major heart attack. The place where I had the heart attack is called the windowmaker, the bottom of your heart. In that process, I died 3 times. The last time that I was dead, I was dead for 15 minutes to the point the doctors were recommending to my wife to pull the plug because there was no hope for me because I had died for 15 minutes. I would wake up a vegetable.
My wife said, “No, we believe in miracles.” I was transferred to Orlando in which I was in the hospital for over two months. I was in a coma for a little over a month. I woke up, and from there I was sent to a rehab in Tampa General and one of the questions people ask me all the time is, did I see the light and while I didn’t see the light, for a lot of reasons; I do remember I was taken into a throne. In this throne, I saw many angels. On top of the throne, there was a baby. One of the angels came to me and said, “You see that baby! That baby belongs to Christina”, which is a niece of mine who had two miscarriages. It so happens that the day that I woke up from my coma, Christina and my brother Albert where there, and I announced to Christina that she was pregnant. Two weeks ago, she just had her baby, Camilia. God is a God of miracles; God does great things for us.
LTM: You are a walking miracle. Louis Capdevilla: I am a walking miracle. The head doctor in Orlando said, “you have had a divine intervention,” she said. She said, “never forget that.”
LTM: Were all thankful that you’re are here. Louis Capdevilla: I’m thankful to be here, ha-ha.
LTM: Being a Hispanic leader in the community, what does that mean to you? Louis Capdevilla: La Teresita has always been that we’ve consistently helped people. We have 100 employees of which many have made La Teresita a career and others have used it as a steppingstone. The longest working employee we have has been with us 38 years, we have many employees that have been with us from 25 -35 years. We are the people’s restaurant. We are the restaurant that people look to when there is a need. We are visited by thousands of people every month, every week, we have 16,000 sq. Ft. facility where people from all walks of life, as well as the local. Something we’ve learned is that we’re grateful we don’t take anything for granted. Without our clients, our patrons, we cannot be we are today. So, we’ve helped the immigrants here as well in the Tampa Bay area, always looking out for them.
Always making sure they are taken care of one way or another. We are always recommending. Always counseling. I come to work with 3 appointments a day and by the end of the day, 12 – 15 appointments people have come thru here. We do a lot of counseling and a lot of praying/ministering to people while we are here. I tell people we are a church, pray for the people. We minister to people. We lead people to Jesus Christ. We tell them, if you die without Jesus, you’re running the chance you will end up in hell, not because God sends you to hell but because we choose to go there because God has given us a way through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross to not to have to go to hell. God doesn’t send anybody to hell. We choose to go there. It’s like seeing a house on fire and doing nothing to save that person from the fire. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it’s always done with the best intention of people, trying to lead them to Jesus Christ and Heaven.
LTM: That being said, as a business and business leader, you guys have helped, and we’ve met a lot of your employees that are very successful in other ventures as well. If there is one thing for sure about la Teresita, it is a blessed place, and it stands apart from all the rest. What I love about it is that you don’t hide anything about it, that it’s expressed through your family though your employees and they are families to you as well. Louis Capdevilla: Yes! Yes, they are. We have one employee who still works three days a week, which has over 45 homes/houses. He even comes to work three times a week because he says La Teresita is his office. This is where people bring deals to him. We have several employees like that.
We encourage our employees to go into business, even the restaurant business. I can’t tell you how many people we’ve helped get into the restaurant business, but there is a blessing in that; In helping others become successful so that we are successful.
LTM: Now here’s an important question! Out of all the Latino food that you have eaten, and I’m sure you’ve tried everything. Which is your most favorite? Louis Capdevilla: Oh! That’s a hard question! Well, let me say this, when my wife wants to do something to make me happy or let me know that I’m loved, she makes one of two meals.
One is picadillo, with white rice and plantains, or pollo fricassee, with white rice. I can’t say I have a favorite because I love eating. A lot of times I like to eat the chicharrones, which are the pork rinds with fat on it. Can’t say there is one dish here at La Teresita. There are many dishes and after eating 48 years here, you rotate the menu after 48 years from eating the menu here. What’s helped us love everything here is the full spectrum of what we have.
LTM: What advice do you have for up and coming restaurant owners and businesspeople who are trying to be successful in their business? Louis Capdevilla: I wrote a book, “How We Did It,” with 28 chapters. In that book there are a lot of lessons to be learned, number 1, You got to work hard. Number 2 You take risks; 60 % of restaurants don’t make it. But the fact that you don’t make it. One does not mean you don’t get back up, God has something else for you. You don’t quit.
I’ve traveled the world over. I’ve asked these questions, and the answers to the problems have been the same worldwide. How many people want to be ugly? Nobody wants to be ugly! How many want to be presentable? Everybody wants to be presentable. How many people want to be sick? Nobody around the world wants to be sick. How many want to be healthy? Everybody does. How many people want to be poor? (Shakes head no) How many want to prosper? Everybody wants to prosper.
Inside our hearts, the way we were created. We were created with a shadow of the will of God in our hearts. So, we can know that it’s the will of God for us to prosper and be successful. In the restaurant business, you’ve got to understand you deal with the public, and one of the things that’s made us successful is we take the time to help many organizations, whether religious or secular. Give them so and get people to give back. We get many calls, “Hey, I’m in the plumbing business, can you use our services?” I never tell them no. I’ll ask them to come to see me because, as you know, you can’t have 40 plumbers, 50 electricians. There can only be one, but I take advantage of sitting them down to greet them. Thank you for thinking of us, and give them some advice, customer service. If you’re going into business, you got to deal with people. If your character is not a peoples’ person, you might want to stay at your 9-5 job because if you’re going to open a business, you must deal with the public. My father always taught us that the customer is always right. It’s worked for us, so with that in mind, here where we’re at; It used to be called Boliche Blvd. because there were so many restaurants down this Avenue here. That’s not the case no more. My dad used to say the sun shines for everybody. We were never in competition.
We always worry about us being the best, and never speak badly.
LTM: Who in your life has always been your inspiration, hero, and has had a tremendous effect on what you are today? Louis Capdevilla: Well, number one for sure. Jesus Christ changed my life to this day. I still follow him so in love with him today, then when I first came to him. My father was a big inspiration too. I learned a lot from him. He was a man of value, a man of integrity. There have been many others throughout the years that have been a real inspiration to me, Bobby Cruz, Joe Dirstein. A lot of people have been inspirational to me.
LTM: What can we expect from La Teresita? Forty-eight years, are there any new projects going on? Louis Capdevilla: People have always asked why we haven’t done an expansion. The truth is we were in expansion mode. We had up to 5 restaurants and we went to try and franchise them out. We didn’t spend a lot of money and wound up selling them. While we had them, they were very successful but once we tried to franchise, people had a lot of problems. Right now, I’m at the age where I told my kids, hey listen sometime soon you’re going to have to send me a check somewhere. I don’t know where, but you’ll have to send me a check. There are still a few things in our sleeves. We are one house away from owning 3 city blocks. We’re going to put up a hotel, right across the street from us and make it a boutique hotel, and we still have two buildings on our properties surrounding us. We had the most popular Latin discotheque for 18 years. We closed it down for several reasons, after being very successful for 18 years. We also have a bakery, and we want to rearrange the configuration of our properties around us. Make them a part of the new community.