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Open Invitation

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  • | 8:08 a.m. September 3, 2010
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Try as you might, you probably can't build a party place as nice as Tom Pepin has had for the last three years. There are three pool tables, big-screen TVs all around, a display of mammoth tusks (male and female) and a giant bear felled at close range by his father — and that's just the trophy room.

The rest of the 19,000-square-foot place has everything you can think of for a wedding, charitable event or a great big party. There's a bar with multiple beer taps off to the side and a full kitchen in full view of guests, including a wood-fired pizza oven.

Now the chairman and CEO of Pepin Distributing Co. in Tampa is willing to share his place with the general public, whether for corporate or private meetings. You don't have to know somebody to get access to it, just book it like any other hotel ballroom or event center in town.

The biggest differences with TPepin's Hospitality Centre, besides being located next to the Anheuser-Busch InBev regional distributorship at 50th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, is that it tries to operate more like a restaurant, with a 500-person capacity and greater personalized service.

A lot more items are included in the overall price, such as photo and electronic visuals and a complete sound system that would normally have to be arranged separately.

Rental rates for the facility start at $650 per hour Sunday through Friday, $1,000 per hour Saturdays, with a five-hour minimum. There are other charges for food and drink, but what guests get for the money is more of the point.

“It's not about price — it's about the value you think you get when you go there,” says Andy Brouillard, general manager of TPepin's. He says the facility is willing to work within a guest's budget, though he points out that the need for special events hasn't gone down with the recession.

Brouillard has plenty of experience doing events, having worked previously for Walt Disney World, Sandals Resorts and Hilton Hotels. He will argue that TPepin's is the nicest facility of its type that he has run, adding, “Once you hold your event at a facility of this caliber, you're not going to want to do it somewhere else.”

Pepin, who took over the reins in 1982 of the Budweiser distributorship founded by his father Art Pepin in 1963, built TPepin's as part of an overall expansion of its east Tampa facilities. The additions, which also included a truck maintenance center and a library for the company's 275 employees, were intended as what he called “a basic investment in their well-being.”

Employees were allowed access to the center for private functions, along with the various charitable groups Pepin Distributing supports. But getting the word out to other prospective users became a bit of a challenge because the center was largely considered private.

“Our business is word of mouth and awareness,” Brouillard says. Now, TPepin's is pouring on its marketing efforts, starting with appearances at local bridal shows that quickly resulted in additional bookings.

“I'm turning away business now because of those,” he says. Because most weddings are scheduled on Saturdays, the same as most charity banquets, he and events manager Nicole Briggs have to convince brides-to-be and their families that other days of the week may be more to their cost advantage.

Up to five events per week are now on the books at TPepin's, resulting in the need for roughly $300,000 in upgrades to the center for the first time since opening in April 2007. An enhanced air-conditioning system and an enclosure of its outdoor Beachwood Bistro are among the improvements.

“It just shows there is demand for a facility our size,” says Brouillard, who previously managed the French Pavilion at the Epcot theme park in Lake Buena Vista. “The biggest thing I learned from Disney is if you do everything right, the money will flow.”

Many of the prior touches to TPepin's will remain in place, such as seating in circles of six or eight (rather than 10), menu service that doesn't limit guests to only a few dinner choices and the ability to watch food prepared in a show kitchen. If you like beer, plenty more draft taps are available with a wider variety of choices resulting from the AB InBev merger.

With management of the center handled in house, Brouillard says TPepin's has made arrangements for its own dedicated catering services through Orlando-based Puff 'n Stuff. This makes it easier to accommodate any guest request, no matter how extreme.

“Our philosophy here is 'yes' is the answer, what's the question,” he says. “You can always find a way to do anything.”

By the way, those renovations were required to be finished by Aug. 28. That's when Pepin was scheduled to return for his own local wedding reception after honeymooning in Europe.


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