It's fall, students are back on campus at Drake University, and the tantalizing aroma of catfish and shrimp are drifting down University Ave from Rico's, the newest sports bar in town.
Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Rico Gafford always knew he wanted to serve his community, but didn't imagine it would come in the form of catfish and shrimp.
In December of 2019, the Des Moines, Iowa, native started formulating investment ideas with his father, Katray, but opening a restaurant-style bar in his home state wasn't the first thing that came to mind.
"To be honest, for the last I'd say year-and-a-half now, I've been talking with my dad about getting something going," Gafford told. "We were thinking to jump into real estate, buying a bunch of houses, fixing them up, and putting them on the market, and do all that type of stuff, but with COVID-19 coming and affecting the world, we thought it would be harder to do."
Avoiding the real estate market due to the pandemic was a major contributing factor, but regardless, real estate didn't match Rico's personality and it didn't feel like the best way to impact the community.
After further thought, Rico and his father met with their business partners, Thi and Tony Truong, and came together about starting a restaurant-style bar in Rico's likeness.
On June 19, Rico's at Drake was born.
"We all had the vision of doing something together, so we came up with the bar, Rico's," he said. "We've been open four days now and we've gotten a lot of feedback and support from the city. We just love to bring everyone together, but we're still practicing social distancing, and we're doing what we can to combat that.
"It was great, honestly," Gafford said when asked about the grand opening. "With COVID going on right now, we knew we weren't going to have the turn out had there not been COVID, but even with the circumstances we still had a crazy amount of people show up."
Decorated with Gafford's jerseys, various sports memorabilia, and wall-mounted TVs, Rico's is ready to host all ages, while giving the students at Drake a spot to decompress. Equipped to display the biggest sporting events and provide a diverse menu, Gafford was adamant about giving the community a place to congregate.
"I'm a person who loves to sit and converse and meet new people, and just be myself and give what I have," Gafford explained. "The opportunity that I have to be where I am in life right now, I just want to give that back to the young and the old, and just be myself."
The 24-year-old is filled with joy any time he's able to make connections, but strengthen the relationship with his dad has been an added bonus. Through the years, Rico and his father have had a good line of communication, but opening a business together has allowed them to grow closer.
"Honestly, it just helps us interact a lot more," he said. "We've interacted pretty well through the years, but it just brings a lot more [to the table]. We see each other almost every day now. I see him a lot more, it just is a great feeling to go into business with him."
Investing in something outside of football was the objective, but the bigger goal is being a forward-facing member of the community, according to Rico. The three-year NFL vet remains focused on his football career, but he wants to show the younger generation that you can be something outside of just an athlete.
"I'm going to continue to do my part as far as being a leader in the community, being someone that kids can look up to," he said. "With football and without football, I speak a lot on high school, grades, and all that stuff. So, just being myself and continuing to give back to the community and being a leader showing by example no matter where you come from you can make it to the top as long as you put your mind to it."
Rico's catfish and shrimp have made it to the top of their menu, and are a best-seller at the sports bar. Even though the bar is in its infancy stages, Gafford has plans of opening at least two more locations and making a bigger impact in communities throughout the Hawkeye State.
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