BROOKSVILLE — Five years ago, four Brooksville friends — all of them dedicated food enthusiasts — decided it was time to put their cooking passion to work, and they launched a catering company that specialized in down-home Southern cuisine.
From a kitchen in the back of St. Anthony Catholic Church, the quartet prepared mouth-watering family recipe-inspired fare like baked chicken, barbecue ribs, fried catfish and red potato salad that wowed guests at weddings, parties and holiday get-togethers.
In November, the owners of Southern Ladies and a Gent decided to spread their culinary joy even further by opening a cozy downtown restaurant in the historic Jennings Building. For the most part, things went well, as more and more customers came in to sample what the new establishment had to offer.
But after eight months, owners Robert Smith, Nikki Stanford, Shirlee Hodge and Cheri Kripps discovered what a lot of downtown business owners have long known: Convenient parking isn't easy to find. The lack of consistent parking was probably the largest complaint from customers, according to Stanford.
"We knew we were going to have to do something about that if we were going to survive serving breakfast, lunch and dinner," she said. "We had to find another location or face the fact that we would probably never grow."
Relaunched last week in the former home of John's Corner Family Restaurant on S Broad Street, the Southern Ladies and a Gent owners said the move provided them an opportunity to make some subtle changes. While the eatery's main focus will still be on serving hearty breakfast items such as layered French toast ($7.99) and dinner favorites such as country-fried steak ($7.99), they decided to retain select traditional Romanian dishes from the establishment's previous owners.
"We're lucky in that we inherited a lot of John's Corner's former customers, who loved things like knackwurst and stuffed cabbage," Stanford said. "Since we have kitchen staff who know the former owner's recipes, we decided to offer them."
Stanford said that while the restaurant may have a new address, she and her partners intend to continue their tradition of sticking to scratch-made cooking.
"All of us know that you can't take shortcuts without hurting quality," Stanford said. "We've always had pride in being able to tell customers that everything, including things like tartar sauce, salad dressing and remoulade, are made in-house."
Stanford said that while the restaurant's new menu leans heavily on favorites, customers arriving to dine are likely to find a lot more freshly created daily specials than before.
"People have their favorite foods, the comfort foods that they go to again and again, but a good restaurant is also a place where you should expect exciting variety as well," she said. "We want to be a restaurant where you will find both."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.