Sunday, June 24, 2018
News Roundup

Owner of Steph's Southern Soul in Dade City puts inspiration in every dish

DADE CITY — It's lunchtime at Steph's Southern Soul Restaurant, and the parking lot is packed with pickup trucks. Customers, many of them farmers who have completed a day's work, seek the comfort of food and a friendly hostess. They move cafeteria-style past Stephanie Reaves as she serves steaming meals seasoned with the special ingredient she credits for her success.

"Inspiration," Reaves said. "It's all straight from the heart. I'm motivated by the belief that wherever you guide, you provide."

Seven days a week Reaves, 55, rises at 4 a.m. to meditate and is on site by 5:45 to start breakfast. She serves three meals a day including fried chicken, meatloaf, ribs, chicken and dumplings, rice dishes, vegetable casseroles and pastries. Fresh greens and fruit arrive on a rotating basis from Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

Last December Reaves and her husband of 20 years, Herold, purchased the long-vacant property at 14519 Fifth St. from the Findlay family. Many locals remember the site once operated as a barbecue restaurant. The couple spent the next three months brightening the 1,500-square-foot space with renovations — new bathrooms, installation of appliances and 16 tabletops.

On March 23, Reaves opened her doors to a community that, 32 years prior, had changed her life. She was running away from her first marriage and had friends in Dade City. They helped her build a support network.

"I'd left Plant City with three young boys," Reaves said. "After spending one night sleeping in the car, I said never again."

She accepted a dishwashing job at the old Crest Restaurant in Dade City. On her first day she was promoted to cook. For eight years she supervised the popular downtown eatery, shared stories about her farming background with locals and created a special bond with her first landlord.

Claudia Madani was looking for a tenant to live in her mother's former home. She loved that Reaves would fill the Coleman Avenue property with irresistible aromas, and the two mothers visited each other to share and test recipes. Madani's husband, Dr. Behrouz Madani, delivered one of Reaves' sons and their children played sports together.

"We developed a deep connection," said Madani.

In 1989, Reaves returned to her rural roots in Plant City to cook at Buddy Freddys restaurant. Her recipes contributed to the business expanding and earned her a promotion to manager. She coordinated a staff, conducted all the ordering, oversaw ingredient inventories and spread more of her love.

This year, she needed all her time and energy to establish Southern Soul. Yet she agreed to devote two days a week to Buddy Freddys when one of her favorite customers lamented, "Who you gonna train to be Stephanie?"

As a proprietor, Reaves remembers her regular guests' preferences and watches their waistlines closely.

"I'm concerned," she said. "I see the weight gain and can't let them do like that."

That's when Reaves gently steers a few toward the many dishes not cooked with ham hocks or fat.

"Soul cooking is more about gravy than Southern cooking," she said. "The difference is that I know my produce and won't use lard or MSG."

Not that any of her dishes are easy to resist. Dade City structural engineer David Smith is a regular.

"Every other day I got to have the meatloaf," he said. "And the peach cobbler is better than my grandmother's."

Reaves buys 400 pounds of chicken a week. Every dish and dessert is prepared fresh daily. A meal with two side orders and corn bread costs $7.99. Smaller plates also are available.

"She and Mr. Herold are amazing," said her friend Madani. "The food is her testament."

Last week she catered a Fourth of July party for 150 and regularly cooks for business events. Her ultimate goal is to expand Steph's Southern Soul to five more locations — one each for her sons — perhaps in New Tampa, Atlanta, Wildwood, Leesburg and Ocala.

Meanwhile, there's a "help wanted" sign in the window. Reaves is expanding from a staff of seven.

"My husband always says we don't play radio here," Reaves said. "It's all about the work."

     
Comments
Rays team up to beat Yankees again 4-0

Rays team up to beat Yankees again 4-0

ST. PETERSBURG — With all that's been said, tweeted, ranted and written on these pages and elsewhere about the Rays' odd, unorthodox, weird and some days downright wacky pitching plan, this might be the craziest thing yet:It's working.Like, rea...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Greg Auman answers your questions about NFL’s investigation into Jameis Winston

Greg Auman answers your questions about NFL’s investigation into Jameis Winston

There are many unanswered questions and discrepancies about the story of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and the March 2016 Uber ride in Arizona that has led to his upcoming three-game suspension for violating the NFL's conduct policy.The Bucs won't ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Will this be Jameis Winston’s last season in a Bucs uniform?

Will this be Jameis Winston’s last season in a Bucs uniform?

A t his introductory news conference after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Bucs in 2015, Jameis Winston said to judge him on his actions moving forward."Actions speak so much louder than words, or what they may have read or what they may have hear...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Besides the continual evolution of their intriguing pitching plan, the primary topics of conversation for the Rays over the next several weeks will be trades and prospects. And not mutually exclusively.Some sooner than others, the Rays are going to c...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

It's rare to see an NHL draft pick with Tampa Bay ties, but the Jets used a third-round pick Saturday on center Nathan Smith, 19, who played for Mitchell High School in Trinity and most recently for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL.Smith was ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Despite limited salary-cap room, the Lightning is among at least five teams expected to talk with Islanders All-Star center John Tavares, who can be a free agent July 1, when the courting period begins Sunday, ESPN reported.Tavares also is expected t...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Strangers are coming together to honor two killed in Bayshore crash

TAMPA — John Reisinger has seen miracles since his niece and 21-month-old grand-niece were killed while trying to cross Bayshore Boulevard 30 days ago. Some, he says, are too painful to talk about. Others he’s still trying to make sense of, such as h...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rays journal: New confidence carries over for Willy Adames

Rays journal: New confidence carries over for Willy Adames

ST. PETERSBURG — The key to SS Willy Adames rapping two of the biggest hits in the Rays' 4-0 win Saturday actually took place the night before.An RBI single that snapped an 0-for-12 and a second hit two winnings later in Friday's game restored ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Another small, quick forward headlines Lightning’s draft picks

Another small, quick forward headlines Lightning’s draft picks

Even without a first-round pick, the Lightning wrapped up its draft with seven picks Saturday, starting with Gabriel Fortier, an undersized 18-year-old forward from Quebec in the second round."They were guys that we really wanted," Lightning director...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Yankees game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Yankees game

INF Daniel Robertson has only played two games after a short DL stint, but it seems like he has already made a half dozen great plays. Willy Adames and Jake Bauers get the attention, but Robertson has the skills to steal the show any night.It is obvi...
Updated: 7 hours ago