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Gourmet meets grub

Organic produce, soy milk and gourmet coffee: Aisle 1. Moon pies, root beer and strawberry twizzlers: Aisle 2.

Welcome to Rheda's Roadside Country Store, an old-fashioned emporium that's trying to be various things to a lot of people.

Is it a health food store? A little bit. A place to get pickled sausage and cigarettes? That too, with a whole lot of history behind it.

To understand Rheda's, you need to meet Rheda Weeks and her former husband, Jerry Weeks. The couple, though divorced, are still close. The organic hitachi mushrooms? They're Rheda's idea. Cigarettes and Jimmy Dean sausage biscuits? You got it.

Rheda Weeks, a retired nurse and former Sierra Club officer, is big on buying local. She's also a big believer in recycling.

"I use everything, from composting to giving bruised apples to the horses across the street,'' she said.

Jerry Weeks, 49, lives about a mile from the store. He worked as a financial auditor until a stroke disabled him four years ago.

"His ability to mix with people is great,'' Rheda said. "Jerry greets customers at the door. It's almost like having your own personal shopper.''

Beer and mushrooms

Rheda's opened on Nov. 8 on Boy Scout Road in the same building as the original Dey General Store, built in 1954.

"There was a gas pump out front where customers could get their oil changed while they drank their Grape Nehi inside,'' said Jerry Weeks.

Today construction workers stop by for cold drinks, smokes and beer. Lots of beer. Jerry Weeks stocks 40 brands from around the world.

But man cannot live on beer alone, and Rheda Weeks is looking out for health-conscious suburban homemakers.

"I have mothers with young kids who will only give their kids organic,'' she said.

Rheda's also sells prepared foods, a venture that has united both sides of the aisle.

"With the two of us cranking out the best pulled pork or beef and barley soup, people will be waiting in line,'' predicted Rheda, for whom the store is home. She lives in an apartment upstairs that faces an orange tree-shaded acre along a curve in the road just south of Tarpon Springs Road.

She found it while looking on the Internet for available properties in the area. "The picture came up,'' she said. "It just spoke to me.''

It took the Weekses a year to get the building and grounds in shape for customers. The place is still a work in progress, but there are signs of things to come: markers pointing horses and bicycles to their respective parking spots, and a sign out front that reads, "Open Monday through Saturday, "7 to 7-ish.''

"We opened last Sunday to see what kind of traffic there was,'' Rheda Weeks said. "And Jerry opened early one morning to cater to that traffic.''

Borrowing from a character in a Tom Robbins novel, they put a plastic dinosaur out front when they are open for business.

"I wanted this to be reminiscent of the old Florida roadside attractions,'' Rheda Weeks said.

The Weekses also want to offer outdoor seating under shade trees. And they plan to paint a map of the area on the side of the building where locals can pinpoint their homesteads.

For now, customers must be content with historical memorabilia housed in a glass case by the register and a couple of rocking chairs out front.

That '50s vibe

Longtime resident Cathy Gurr remembers when Odessa had no supermarkets and when Dey's was one of the few places where you could pick up a loaf of bread.

"It was the predecessor of the 7-Elevens,'' she said. "It's nice to get it back to its original use.''

The Deys sold the store to Wil and Vivian Kortum and their son Ken in 1973. By then, it had become a landmark and gathering spot. Boy Scouts from nearby Camp Brorein used the store as a halfway point for their hikes. And Gurr, 58, remembers how the bus driver would sometimes stop at Dey's on Friday afternoons.

"If we had 5 or 10 cents, we could buy penny candy,'' she recalled.

Those are the kinds of memories 54-year-old Rheda Weeks, who grew up in Ruskin, hopes people will once again be able to create. She wants it to be the kind of place where customers feel comfortable congregating.

"There's been a lot of curiosity to find out what's happening, and a lot of neighbors want to see me do well,'' she said. "But I've had to prove myself a bit.''

Jackie Ripley can be reached at or at (813) 269-5308.