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Stop 82: Johnny’s Barbecue and Steph’s Soul Food

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AUDIO NARRATION*
Copyright © 2024
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The 1960’s Building at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard and 5th Street (14519 5th Street ) in Dade City initially housed a laundromat facility but emerge into a location that created some incredible and authentic soul food delicacies: Johnny’s Barbeque and Stephs Southern Soul Food.

 

      As visitors trekking to Nashville want to procur some ‘hot chicken,’ unique to the Tennessee city, or ‘New York-style pizza’ in New York City, folks will also want to dine on some genuine ‘soul food’ at Stephs Southern Soul Food in Dade City in contemporary times!

 

   Johnnie’s Barbeque Restaurant transformed the space as he moved into the 14159 5th Street location in 1990.  Johnny Clower purchased the former laundromat building and adjoining building, and then redesigned the inside of the laundry, making room for a spacious kitchen. 

 

    Clower credited his father Wilie and mother Annie Mae with impacting his ability to barbecue. Clower’s barbecue pit and the special secret barbecue sauce recipe from his mother combined to create a sought-after barbecue experience. For many years, Clower catered weekly civic groups including Kiwanis of which he was a member and Dade City Rotary. Historian Carol Hedman noted that he was honored by the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce as a Small Business Person of the Year, he was beloved by all. Posthumosly, the “Richard Tombrink Lifetime Achievement Award” was presented to his wife Betty in 2000 for Clower’s commitment to the community.

 

    When Johnnie Clower passed away in 2000, hundreds gathered for the memorial which was held at the Pasco High School gymnasium/auditorium. Remembered for his extraordinary cooking but more for his kind generosity, he was revered in Dade City. Laura Beagles, former President of Kiwanis and chair of the Historical Preservation Committee remembered that she noticed Johnnie placing boxes of leftover food near a space where homeless folks would gather before sundown one day and later asked Clower about it. He told her it wasn’t attention he was after, just the simple satisfaction of helping others. 

 

Beagles added:

 

…this was just one example of the many acts of charity that made Clower one of the city’s most honored men. Adding, the former owner of Johnnie’s Barbeque was known as much for his savory ribs as his generous spirit but just as important was Clower’s breadking down of racial barriers.”

 

  For a number of years after his death, Johnnie’s wife Betty who was known for the baking delicacies and his son, Aaron who was the “only’” recipient of the secret barbecue sauce, operated the restaurant.

 

    Soul food lived-on at the location a few years later. Stephanie Reaves added to the soul food authenticity. Stephanie was a restaurant manager for 45 years including more than 24 years at Buddy-Freddy’s Restaurant in Plant City and at the Crest Restaurnt, an iconic restaurant you heard about on Stop 57 in the Neal’s buiding.  Christy McLaughlin, Times Corresponent announced in her column in December of 2012, that Stephanie Reaves and her husband, Herold had purchased the vacant property from the Findlay famiy. Subsequently the couple spent three months brightening the 1,500 square foot space with renovations…new bathrooms, installation of appliances, and sixteen tabletops.  “Steph opened her doors to a community that changed her life. She accepted a dishwashing job at the Crest Restaurant in Dade City around 1980, and on her first day was promoted to cook. For eight years she supervised the popular downtown eatery. In 1989 she returned to her rural roots to cook at Buddy Freddy’s in Plant City, and coorinated a staff, completed the ordering, and spread goodwill.”

 

    Stephanie and her husband Herold have operated the restaurant as Steph’s Southern Soul Food Restaurant for over ten years. Steph’s history of culinary and community caring continued the tradition of the location. Columnist Stacey Hudson wrote, “Steph’s Soul Food will not only please your palate but warm your heart.”

 

     At the opening, Steph explained, “The food is southern soul food just like it says in the name. Fried chicken, sweet potato souffle, macaroni an cheese, fresh collard greens and fresh fish, and oh, you gotta have peach cobbler.”

  • 1960-1990

    As an original part of the W.C. Sumner’s addition to Dade City, the building is believed to have been built by Gordon R. Larkin and Josephine Lee Larkin.) It had the earliest function as a laundromat.

  • 1989

    Johnnie Clower operated the famiy owned Johnnie’s Babeque Restaurant.

  • 2007

    Armentha “Ment” Finley and Walter Finley operated Finley’s Soul Food Restaurant for a short time.

  • 2013-Present

    Stephanie and Herold Reaves owned and operated Steph’s Southern Soul Food!

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