The idea of submarine sandwiches in Central Florida wasn't accepted back when Paul Gabriel first opened his restaurant, Gabriel's Sub Shop, in 1958. But thanks to his hard work and passion to introduce something new, the shop stands as a landmark in College Park next to Edgewater High School.
"I remember when someone said to him, 'No one down here is going to eat that stuff,' " said Gabriel's wife, Doris.
But locals grew to love the large sandwich, as well as the family that introduced it.
"Even as we would go higher in status, Gabe was always friendly," Doris said. "People loved him for it."
Gabriel, self-proclaimed "Submarine Captain," died Sunday. He was 88.
When patrons walk into Gabriel's Sub Shop today, the atmosphere hasn't changed much since the day it was relocated in the 1970s to its current spot.
Old pictures of the Gabriel family cover the walls throughout. Awards deeming the place the "best survivor," as well as a proclamation from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer naming Jan. 26, 2008, as "Gabriel's Sub Shop Day," help document its rich history.
But if the pictures and accolades don't impress new patrons, they do resonate with the regulars.
"I first came here in 1979 when I was a freshman in Rollins," said one customer who ordered a sandwich called "The Regular" that consisted of the shop's well-known spiced ham and sweet pickles.
"Those folks are the ones who made us," Doris said.
As successful as the restaurant is now, it had a humble beginning.
After marrying Doris in 1945, Gabriel started working at a refinery company called Sun Oil. Doris said he showed the same determination back then that he showed when opening the restaurant.
"He would not leave Sun Oil's employment office until they gave him a job," Doris said. "They said, 'Gabriel, we're going to give you a job just to get you out of the employment office.'"
Eventually, Doris said, Gabriel decided he was not progressing fast enough. So he chose a different career path.
Following a suggestion from a family member who ran a sub shop in New Jersey, Gabriel thought he'd take a chance and open one in Florida.
"He was taking a very big chance because he had such a good job at home, but felt he would be successful somewhere else," Doris said.
Initially, he wasn't. Moving to Florida, Gabriel opened the shop with the help of his parents and sold sandwiches for 50 cents. He was making only $7 a day, and sometimes less.
But after six months of slow business, things started picking up, and lines began forming out the door.
Years later, 19 Gabriel's Sub Shops were operating, including one in Atlanta. But the whole family pitched in at the Edgewater location.
"I still remember making the hamburgers with saucer dishes," Doris said.
Since Gabriel's retirement in 1990, all of them have closed except two. The main location, run by Gabriel's son Kevin and his grandson Kyle, is as busy as it ever was.
"It's a family place," Kyle said after he greeted a customer. "People who doubted him at first now eat with us."
DeGusipe Funeral Home and Crematory, Maitland, is handling the arrangements.