BackStreets Sports Bar celebrates 25th anniversary
Twenty-five years ago, Shelly Walton took a risk.
She leased a building on the “back streets” of downtown Cape Coral and in 1995, she opened a bar.
Like its location at 915 S.E. 47th Terrace, BackStreets Sports Bar has exploded in popularity since it opened over two decades ago.
At the time, Walton was working at the Dolphin Key Resort, formally the Del Prado Inn. But she wanted to make a job for herself.
“I wanted to stop living paycheck to paycheck, barely able to pay the bills, and build something for a real future,” Walton said.
And she knew she had what it took.
“I know this business and I happen to be really good at bartending,” Walton said. “I could see what people needed. I wasn’t in la la land. I would look at my bar and I would go and get them a drink and move on to the next one and I would never take my eyes off that bar. So, I did really well and I knew I could succeed in my own spot.”
Walton saw that BackStreets’ building was for sale. She secured a partner, Stu Pepper, who gave her enough money to set things in motion.
Walton financed the equipment and the liquor license.
“I took my credit cards and financed everything on my credit cards,” she said. “Everything.
“I took a chance and it worked.”
According to Walton, hers is also the longest-running, single-owner bar on Southeast 47th Terrace in Cape Coral’s Entertainment District.
Walton also believes she’s the longest running female bar owner in the city.
She said the key to success is good product, good service and consistency.
“Consistency is really, really big in any business, but especially in this business,” Walton said. “You’ve got to put out the same products, you’ve got to have a certain level of service. You’ve got to be consistent in your promotions and events and what you do. “
For example, BackStreets, formally The Upper Deck, has been doing karaoke seven nights a week for years.
“People know they can come here for karaoke and we’re busy for it because people love to sing,” Walton said.
There’s live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Walton added acoustic acts in 2007 when the outside bar was added.
For many customers, it’s a home away from home.
“People have their certain seats they sit in,” Walton said. “It even looks funny to me when they’re in a different seat.
“Everyone is really consistent with how they are when they come in here and they like it here because they receive really good service,” she said.
Buddy Brantley has been coming to BackStreets since 2001.
“I got two steps in and the girls knew my name and knew what I drank and they were bringing it to me as I was walking in the door,” he said. “And before my glass was that far down, they were bringing me another one. I didn’t have to say anything. And that’s what got me.”
On opening night on Dec. 1, 1995, Walton was nervous people wouldn’t come.
But, they did.
Later, Walton learned that a friend, named T-bone, told everyone he knew that a bartender friend from Champs was opening a new place.
“He did that for me,” she said. “He packed my bar.”
For the Dec. 1, 2020 anniversary, due to the pandemic, Walton couldn’t have a large parking lot event.
Instead, she bought drinks for people on her VIP list. There was also a birthday cake.
Before working at the Dolphin Key Resort Tiki Bar, Walton worked at Champs, a popular sports bar in the Coralwood plaza where she gained a lot of her bartending experience.
But it was working the front lines at TGI Fridays that gave her the experience she needed to be successful at running BackStreets.
When she was 17, Walton began working at Fridays as a busser, and they immediately promoted her to a cashier.
“They recognized that I was pretty good at my job,” she said. “They wanted me to either become a bartender or the controller.”
Even though it was only for six months while her coworker went on maternity leave, Walton took the controller position.
“What I learned in those six months was great,” she said. “I learned about the books, I was front of the house manager.”
The bartender opportunity would have also been a good option.
“It would have been a really good bar education,” Walton said. “But I took another opportunity instead of the bar. I wanted to learn how things operated.”
After her divorce was finalized in 1998, Walton bought out her ex’s interest and secured an agreement to pay off her investor.
But the $10,000 down owner-finance agreement to purchase the building had expired, and the new agreement required a $50,000 down payment.
Struggling to find a way to make it happen, a friend again stepped in to help.
“She asked if I’d remembered driving her everywhere, never complaining,” Walton said. “She wanted to help me — to give me the money to purchase the building. Without her, I would have lost the bar.”
In 1998, Walton also changed the name from The Upper Deck to BackStreets Sports Bar.
Walton’s favorite part about running the bar is the opportunity to help people.
She loves throwing benefits.
“I’ve raised thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars for people who need it,” she said.
In addition to fundraisers for individuals, she’s also done events for local organizations like the Cape Coral Animal Shelter.
This year she wasn’t able to do some events due to the pandemic.
Each October, Walton normally does something for Partners for Breast Cancer Care in Fort Myers.
In November, she usually does a fundraiser for the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library in Cape Coral.
“That’s my favorite part about owning a bar, is being able to be a house that can rally up your customers and rally everybody up to do things like that,” Walton said.
In 2007, she added the outside bar.
In July 2019, the bar closed for six weeks to undergo a $1.3 million remodel.
It was gutted and contractors redid the interior. There’s a new ventilation system, new back room, new kitchen, new walk-in refrigerator, new bathrooms, all new plumbing and all new electrical.
Most recently, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the bar was closed from March to May, and again from June to mid-September.
Walton used that time to revamp the menu and finish renovation projects like the inside floor and storage units.
“I couldn’t just stay home and wait to re-open,” she said. “So I brought in culinary director Kelli Doyle to help re-imagine the menu and train the kitchen.”
Some new menu additions include chipotle lime chicken, nachos, beer braised pork back “street” tacos, a Cuban Italian sandwich, queso dip, chicken salad and a triple threat grilled cheese.
BackStreets has shown that it’s here to stay and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down.
“It wasn’t easy and I took a lot of chances,” Walton said. “But I believe if you really put your heart into something and have faith in the people around you, you can do anything.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for everyone who believed in me — that includes my family, lifelong friends, and the BackStreets customers and staff.”
For additional information, please visit backstreetssportsbar.com or call 239-945-7555.