When Asphalt Beach Skate Shop owner Steve Larios realized Nashville’s deadly March 2020 tornado hit his store, his first reaction wasn’t worrying about the inventory or even the building itself — all he could think about were his shop cats.
Larios arrived as soon as he could after the tornado passed. The wreckage on Woodland Street was so bad that he couldn’t drive up to Asphalt Beach. He had to get out of his car and walk to the shop — or what was left of it. The building was in ruins. A wall was blown out, and in some places, skate racks were the only things holding up the fallen ceiling.
At first, Larios and his employees couldn’t find either of the shop’s two cats, Duzy (aka Duzy Jr.) and Fabiola (aka Fabby). They searched and called for hours with no response. Eventually, around 5 or 6 am, Duzy appeared from under one of the remaining skate racks.
“She was freaked,” says Larios.
After more searching, they still couldn’t find Fabby. They called it and took Duzy home. When Fabby didn’t show up after additional searching, they asked neighbors to keep an eye out for their other shop cat. Later, about 19 hours after the previous night’s tornado, Larios returned with a cat carrier and a flashlight.
“It was quiet,” he says. “I started calling to [Fabby]. And I heard a little something, I thought it was the wind.”
Larios followed the sound to a pile of rubble, with gridded racks used to display skating accessories. “It was full of these fat roller-derby knee pads that had fallen on top of her, and then the wall [of] cinder blocks fell on top of that, so she was buried. But [the kneepads] kept her alive.”
The shop and most of its inventory were destroyed. But unlike beloved pets, skates can be replaced, and these good girls had been a fixture at Asphalt Beach for years. They even lived at the temporary Elm Hill Pike iteration of the skate shop while Larios was rebuilding the East Side location.
Duzy, a white shorthair, came to Asphalt Beach first — after a customer told Larios she had some kittens up for grabs. “The hardware store down the street had cats, and I thought, ‘Hey, we could have a cat.’ Duzy was named after a former employee and skater.
Fabby, named after Brazilian skating champion Fabiola da Silva, arrived at the shop later. A tiny, feral tortoiseshell kitten, Fabby had climbed up into a customer’s car in the heat of August. They eventually found her and brought her into the shop — Larios wrapped her in a towel and skated her down to the vet.
At first, the vet wasn’t sure she would make it. “She had everything wrong with her a feral kitten could have,” says Larios. But Fabby is a survivor — she pulled through and has been with the shop ever since. In the old building, she would get up in the ceiling’s joists and swat ping-pong balls that people would toss up to her. Nowadays the ceiling is too high for that, but you can usually find Fabby lounging in the corner on her beach chair, surrounded by plants and overlooking East Nashville.
Though Duzy survived the tornado, sadly you won’t find her patrolling Asphalt Beach anymore — she died from oral cancer last year. Larios says Fabby felt the loss; Duzy was like a mother to Fabby, and once she was gone, Fabby lay in all of Duzy’s old spots.
Despite her absence, Duzy is still a part of the shop, now reopened in its original location. There are pictures of her all over the place and art that she inspired, and Larios still keeps her toys, couch and ashes in his office. There’s also the “Tornado Cats” mural that immortalizes both Duzy and Fabby in the front entrance. You may notice that Duzy looks a bit chonkier than Fabby in the mural, and that probably isn’t an accident. “She was very food-oriented,” says Larios. “[At] Dinner time, she would come get me and I would sing ‘Duzy Dinner Time,’ ” says Larios. A poster reading “It’s Duzy Jr. Dinner Time” commemorates the ritual.
Along with the new shop, Larios also acquired a new shop cat. They call him Biggie, named after both another skater and The Big Lebowski. Larios’ wife took Biggie in when his former owner almost took him to the pound. He’s at least part Maine Coon, and though he started off living downstairs, he’s upstairs on the day the Scene Visits, checking himself out in the mirror and lounging on skate boxes. Larios says he’s a sweetheart, but his and Fabby’s relationship is “a work in progress.”
Asphalt Beach is a gem for many reasons. It’s a longtime local fixture. The staff is welcoming, and will answer all your questions whether you’re a novice or a longtime skater. But it’s the cats who make the shop extra special — it wouldn’t be the same without them.
The organization helps foster pets whose owners are facing housing and health emergencies — and later reunites them