Gabriel Fassler knew he was destined to be in the restaurant and bar industry when he took his first job working at a mom-and-pop diner in Detroit at just 12 years old.
“I used to wash dishes for 20 bucks and got free doughnuts on Saturday afternoons,” he says.
By age 16, he had aspirations of opening his own restaurant, but life has taken him in a different direction.
Fassler got his first taste of the laid-back beach and Village lifestyle in 2003, when he took a break from opening restaurants and live music venues in Kentucky and Tennessee to vacation on Siesta Key.
“I liked it so much I went up and packed up all my stuff and came here,” says Fassler, a Siesta Key resident who bikes to work and loves to fish.
He took his first job at Sharkey’s on the Pier in Venice, alongside good friend Geno Pedigo. He later learned of the Pedigo family’s plan to open a bar in the Village called Siesta Key Oyster Bar, otherwise known as SKOB.
“I walked in and asked if they needed helped and I started the next day,” he says.
Fassler shared the owner’s vision of a live-music venue with good food and, most importantly, good people. And, although he was hired as a server, less than a year later he found himself as the friendly face behind the bar. He began making lifelong friends through his interactions with his customers — and he still got to listen to the live music that he loves.
During his first month as a bartender, Fassler came up with a way to keep all of his memories fresh, thanks to a seasonal couple from upstate New York — his first regulars. Not wanting to forget them, he jotted down the date, their names’ and their favorite drinks in a small book in which he still writes.
“It was kind of my Facebook before Facebook came along,” says Fassler, who, ironically enough, doesn’t have a Facebook account.
Fassler’s first regulars still call to wish him a happy birthday each year.
Eight-and-a-half years and a slew of regulars later, Fassler has maintained an impressive rapport with his clientele, to the point his book is nearly full.
Although Fassler is a long way from his home state of Michigan, he feels lucky to have such strong connections with the SKOB owners, as well as the people who visit the bar.
“I’ve spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with (the owners) and we’ve even vacationed together,” he says.
Fassler also visits seasonal regulars when he vacations on their turf.
“There isn’t a state where I don’t know someone,” he says. “I get in trouble if I don’t stop by.”
But, ultimately, Fassler says he doesn’t like taking vacations because he doesn’t like missing his friends sitting across the bar. It’s clear he is now in it for the people — not free doughnuts.
“This is their bar, I just work here,” he says. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.”