Everyone loves a winner! This is a story of how husband and wife team, Cary and Beth Liptak, turned Champs Sports Bar into a champion, and a winner of a restaurant called Champs Sports Bar & Grill
Originally from New Jersey, Cary and Beth both grew up working in the restaurant business. From pizza parlors to Greek restaurants to breakfast diners they worked as teens and through college in the food service industry. When they started their professional careers they were working at an upscale restaurant in Pennsylvania where Cary was chef and kitchen manager while Beth served and managed the dining room.
In 1997, while they were visiting Cary’s father in Lakeland on a whim they decided to look at restaurants that were for sale. Their dream had always been to own their own restaurant and within a month they struck a deal and became the proud owners of Champs Sports Bar & Grill.
For those who can recall, back in the 80’s there was a sports bar way on the Southside of Lakeland in a dilapidated building called Champs. I had been to this dive a few times in my younger days partaking in the festivities of football and…other stuff. It was a good place to hang out for sports and beer, and to be honest not so much for the food. Back in those days sports bars were pretty much just bars like the name implied, and food wasn’t the main focus. If you liked “bar food” then you were in heaven, but they did have good burgers and wings.
There is no doubt when you have a dream combined with talent, hard work and determination you can do just about anything. I think that pretty much describes Cary and Beth, and the transformation of Champs Sports Bar into Champs Sports Bar & Grill. Cary recalls, “When we first bought Champs, I would describe it as the “deep fried” menu restaurant. Everything you could imagine was deep fried, and that was not the kind of restaurant we wanted.”
In 2006, they took a chance and moved Champs into a brand new 4,500 square foot building in Christina Plaza next to Tapatio’s Mexican Restaurant on South Florida Avenue. They expanded the menu adding fresh made quality food, not food distributor food. “My love is cooking and now I have a real kitchen and the room to cook real food,” says Cary. And then Beth added, “It was sort of scary because we didn’t want to alienate the customer base that loved the sports bar look, feel and bar foods we served. So we slowly integrated Cary’s new ideas into the menu and people loved it!” But don’t think for a minute they forgot how to serve a cold one in their new location with 35 seats in the bar area and more TVs’ than there were channels in the 80’s.
On the dining side of the restaurant there is plenty of room where you don’t feel you are right on top of someone with over 100 seats available and more TV’s than the human eye can see at one time. There is also a kids’ video game area that is visible from every seat in the restaurant just in case a little one needs some attention from mom and dad. As you walk through the door there is a black board of nightly food and drink specials with prices that make it affordable for families to dine out.
On a Monday when I was writing this feature here is what their specials were in addition to the extensive menu items they serve:
Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Soup $3.50 Black & Bleu Philly Flatbread $8.99 Blackened Sword fish over our house salad $8.99 50 Cent Tacos beginning at 5pm $2 Margaritas and 1$ domestic drafts 5pm-close Citrus Rainbow Trout, broiled and served with two sides $12.99 Strawberry Shortcake $3.99
For those who are creatures of habit, you can rest assured that the 85 food items on their menu will never let you down. And this doesn’t include their thirteen different sauces you can have on your buffalo wings, shrimp and tenders, and a kids menu of six selections that won’t leave the little ones hungry. It is the food that makes Champs different than your typical sports bar and even different from your typical sports bar restaurant.
I personally love their wings, oysters and burgers, and they serve them up with a side of the Sunday game. What I like about Champs Sports Bar & Grill is the variety of dishes they serve. I know there is something that everyone in my family will like, and in my book that is a winner every time!
Champs Sports Bar & Grill 6645 South Florida Avenue, Suite 13 Lakeland, FL. 33813 863.647.5900 ChampsToGo.com