Weeki Wachee resident Felicia Johnson doesn't get to downtown Brooksville that often. But on a hot summer afternoon, she finished her business at the courthouse and headed to Main Street Eatery for a quick bite before heading west.
The enduring cafe had been recommended a few times, Johnson said, prompting her to give it a try. She ordered a cup of spicy-sweet bean soup and a half turkey on rye. "It was fantastic," she said. "And the service was excellent."
Main Street Eatery has been serving customers on the corner of Main and Jefferson streets in downtown Brooksville for decades. "We opened in May of 1989," said Peggie Bell, Main Street Eatery's owner. She and her husband, Bill, created the restaurant with a dream to ground a cozy establishment in the hometown where he grew up.
They crafted a lunch menu that brought out their creativity, filling it with succulent sandwiches and hardy homemade soups. And they decorated the eatery with items you might expect in a little Southern diner, including nostalgic pictures and testimonial letters from happy customers.
Once the doors opened, the Eatery attracted an influx of different customers, from those who work the downtown area to others who travel from outside of town. They made it their forte to offer comfortable service, good food and an attractive place to share a quiet lunch or early dinner.
"Our main clientele is people that work close by," Bell said.
Not to say that the Main Street Eatery didn't have some obstacles to overcome. Bell lost her husband in 2004. She struggled to keep the doors open while dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of his deteriorating health. But she remembered having some very empathetic employees who insisted she do what she needed to do without concern for the day-to-day operations of the business.
"I was able to take Bill to his chemo and doctor appointments," she said.
The support from her staff and the downtown Brooksville community were directly responsible for helping Bell hold things together.
Her customers are the foundation, she said. Yet they've attracted others from all over, some who have visited for years. Many remember her name or what they ordered or the name of the waitress who was working, especially during the time that Bill was sick.
Main Street Eatery continued to thrive, despite the economic downturn that took other businesses in the area. Somehow, the quaint kitchen persevered, barely jolted as downtown Brooksville experienced a few structural changes.
She remembered the struggles when the streets in front of her business were being renovated. The necessary progression is certainly appreciated now. But while in progress, she felt some strains.
She described the scene as broken concrete and a makeshift walkway that connected the street to her front door. Customers hesitated about crossing through the construction, she remembered, even though they could see the restaurant was operating normally at the time. But she survived the growing pains and the aftermath is a softer, cozier appeal to downtown foot traffic.
The interior hasn't changed much in its 25 years. They recently removed the original wallpaper and painted the walls. The color change added brightness to the atmosphere but kept the same friendly aura that greets customers as they walk in.
The menus, which were handwritten by a friend of Bell's, retell the Eatery's history on the front and display a myriad of memories in pictures on the back cover. Photographs of the Bell family when Peggie's boys, now adults, were young and their father, Bill, was still alive are arranged in a silent tribute to the foundation of the business.
The items inside the uniquely crafted menu, mainly homemade soups and sandwiches that are identified by numbers, have detailed descriptions. The sandwiches were once named after Brooksville streets, Bell explained. But that became too complicated.
Most popular are the pressed Cuban that Bell boasted uses authentic Cuban bread from Ybor City. Made in the traditional style, the Main Street Eatery adds a special touch in their homemade and signature spicy or regular honey mustard.
The soups are crafted each day and salads are made fresh with choices like chef, pasta and Greek.
"I had heard the food here was very good and very fresh and it is," Johnson said. Her soup choice was another popular item that combines tender beans in a spicy sweet sauce. "Really, I wish I knew the recipe," Johnson added.
She was immediately hooked, she said, and would return to Brooksville again. "And I'll be telling my friends about it."
The Main Street Eatery is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit its website at themainstreeteatery .com.
Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame can be reached at email@example.com.