Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Business

New owner of Little Lady Cafe reaches out, entices with home cooking

BROOKSVILLE — Almost hidden in plain sight, a little downtown dining spot is drawing in new customers through a Facebook campaign while continuing to dish up breakfast and lunch to a line of regulars who have a year's acquaintance with new owner Rory Steele.

This month, Steele bought, with silent partner Brent Gaustad, the Little Lady Cafe, which the Brooksville native managed for 14 months. The previous owners opted for retirement.

Across Broad Street from the Hernando County Government Center, the 49-seat barn-red cafe is tucked into the rear of its plot, an easy miss for passing drivers. The cafe's small parking lot fronts onto the street. The parking is a plus, Steele said, while other downtown eateries complain about limited street-side parking.

To inform prospective customers who might have missed Little Lady, Steele has ramped up the cafe's Facebook presence.

"Social media is the way to go," Steele said. "People are always on their phones."

She pointed out the cafe's 1,106 followers on Facebook, with "41 just this week," she said. "If I get 10 percent (of those) coming in each week, then I've reached them."

And yes, she said, those online followers are translating into diners.

Aside from garnering new customers, county government employees are a mainstay.

"They walk in, and we write up their ticket," Steele said. "We know what they want."

When courts are in session, jurors' lunches are ordered from Little Lady. Also, "We're with Back the Blue," she said, explaining that the cafe caters to law enforcement workers.

Then there are night-shift workers, punching out at 6 a.m.

"They come in for dinner at breakfast time," Steele said.

The cafe's breakfast and lunch menus are served all day.

What brings in customers?

"Everything is homemade," Steele said. She started baking fresh bread and muffins at the age of 8 or 9 with her mother, to help feed her six siblings.

Now an entrepreneur at age 34, she admitted, "I don't get to cook as much as I used to."

Still, the cafe builds dishes from her recipes and those of head cook Dan Wisniewski, a 12-year veteran of the cooktop and Steele's "right-hand man."

Steele said customers' leading choices are "definitely, the country-fried steak and pressed Cuban sandwich."

The fried, thin-sliced sirloin beef is hand-breaded with . . .

"Can't tell you," she said with a grin and a shake of her head. The recipe is secret.

"We sell 20 or more Cubans a day," Steele said.

With meats that are hand-cut off the slab at the time of a customer's order, the sandwich is fresher tasting. It's concocted on authentic Cuban rolls from the famous La Segunda Central Bakery in Ybor City.

"We were nominated last week" — one week into her ownership — "for the Cuban Festival in Ybor on April 1 and 2," Steele said.

From Wisniewski's recipes, a favorite of his and diners is the cafe's mac-n-cheese, a baked dish with American and cheddar cheeses, no flour added.

It's the top tuck-in choice for the half-pound stuffed burger.

Sturdy fare aside, Steele said the cafe is "in the process of adding lighter, fit menu items, more wraps and salads. We do veggie-egg white omelets."

Also coming: the addition of an outdoor patio, upping seating to 70.

A rare cohesiveness rather than competition exists among the several restaurants in downtown Brooksville.

"We all work together," Steele said. "We help each other out. We swap, run out, borrow. We buy locally when we can."

Similarly, the eateries share customers, she noted.

"If we don't have what they want, I'll send them to where they can get it," she said. "We share the wealth."

Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]

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