CARROLLWOOD — Tavo Mendez doesn’t mind making a buck or two.
He also doesn’t mind giving it right back to the Carrollwood community.
Mendez is the general manager of Red Elephant Pizza and Grill on North Dale Mabry Highway. He is community-minded and, while he does a great deal of business, he’s more concerned with helping the community. Just look around his restaurant. Yes, there are some red elephant statues, but there are far more photos of Little League baseball players and other people who have reaped the benefits of Mendez’s efforts.
Mendez, who has five children of his own — “They can be a handful,” he said — doesn’t advertise the Red Elephant very often. It’s all about word of mouth. A typical Saturday night consists of a packed house with people yelling hellos to each other across the room. It’s a family atmosphere and Mendez said that it beats any kind of paid advertising.
“We are like ‘Cheers’ on the television show,” Mendez said. “Everybody here knows everybody else. We are more of a family than a corporate chain. We believe more in helping the community than making a ton of money.”
Mendez has been working with many community agencies including the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. When presented with projects, he often donates 15 percent of a night’s proceeds to their cause.
“We donate because it is important to be a part of the community,” Mendez said. “We donate to Little League, parks, charities, and any other things we can do. It can be expensive, but if it helps schools, anything we can do is worth it.”
But Mendez’s business doesn’t just walk through his front door. He caters at Carrollwood Day School and also caters parties and other events. He feeds doctors at local hospitals and caters everywhere from Dade City to Sun City Center. There are eight Red Elephants throughout Florida and another in Alabama, and there are more to come, but Mendez said the Carrollwood location has become the prototype.
“We are about a lot of things,” Mendez said. “We want to be able to cater to families, and provide quality food to everyone. Still, working in the community is our main goal. Anyone who wants a great meal can call us. We try to make people feel good. That’s what we do”
The Red Elephant offers a full menu and a fully stocked bar. It’s not just a pizza place, although there is a playroom hidden away in the back of the restaurant.
Steinbrenner High outfielder Sammy May began his chemotherapy for adult T-cell acute lymphoblast leukemia last fall. Mendez decided to help.
He raised more than $1,200 during a benefit last spring. It was the biggest fundraising benefit Mendez has hosted, but he’s determined to do more.
A native of Mexico, Mendez is now a naturalized United States citizen and said he is just doing his part as an American.
“I love people and I love food,” Mendez said. “This is the best I can hope for. I am living the American dream.”
The Carrollwood Red Elephant is located at 14391 N. Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. For information on booking events, call (813) 908-7492.