Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Old Florida: Wave Goodbye to Flora and Ella’s – an Institution in LaBelle

April 1st, 2011 · 4 Comments

Flora and Ella's /photo by Ken Steinhoff

It finally happened: Flora and Ella’s, a homespun cafe in LaBelle, has closed. It’s weathered a number of recessions, a couple of moves and diet swings away from its signature country cooking.

But the financial wolves finally won.

Photo by Ken Steinhoff

The restaurant on State Road 80 at a bend in the road in La Belle closed March 26 after being in business of some form since 1933. It was the landlord who had the final say.

In a story from the Fort Myers News Press, representatives from the Bonita Bay Group, said it was a tough call to make. Vice President Gary Dumas said, “With this economic downturn, we can’t continue to subsidize the restaurant’s operation.”

Debbie Burchard Klemmer, manager of Flora and Ella’s, and granddaughter of co-founder Ella Burchard, told reporters it was a very hard weekend – but inevitable without a savior. She wasn’t complaining, she said, because Bonita Bay Group had been “good to me.”

Economic times what they are, few are dining out and once the snowbirds from neighboring communities go home, what business they have slows to a crawl.

The place with handmade wooden counters and glass display cases was known for its famous pies – coconut meringue, to be exact. It was a best-seller. Collards, catfish, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes and other Southern comfort foods also were beloved, but it was the pies everyone will miss.

“If there’s better pie made in the universe, I haven’t found it,” said former Palm Beach Post photo chief Ken Steinhoff.

“Flo and Ella’s, which became Flora and Ella’s, was a place I always stopped if I was anywhere near LaBelle,” he said.

It became well known in recent years as foodies discovered its pies and got coverage in national magazines, as well as on the Travel Channel. Young adults who ate here in its early years later brought their grandkids in to try the pie. Many bought gifts or preserves or country decor from the adjacent gift shop. Or they sat on the porch and rocked, and chatted with neighbors, catching up on news of the day.

“In the early days of the ’70s, when I was dispatched to cover the Swamp Cabbage festivals, Flo and Ella’s was the hub of downtown activity. It may have served as the bus stop, Post Office, coffee shop and Western Union office for all I know.

“Long before Twitter and Facebook, the small (hometown) place was the social media of the day. It didn’t happen in LaBelle if it didn’t get talked about at Flo and Ella’s,” Steinhoff said.

These days, he taps it and other eateries nearby  while cycling around Lake Okeechobee. Now there’s one less cafe to rely on.

Echoing sentiments of others who’ve had their fair share of pie, he said, “I’m going to miss that place.”



Tags: Old Florida · Talking Tables · Uncategorized

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Scott Simmons // Apr 1, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Truth be told, my last couple of visits to Flora and Ella’s were something less than stellar. I have stopped at the Log Cabin BBQ, just east of Flora and Ella’s, a couple of times, once for takeout and once for lunch. Everyone was just lovely there, and the food was quite good. Chicken smoked to lovely mahogany. They offered complimentary homemade cream of chicken soup my last visit, and tried to give me free fresh-churned ice cream for dessert, but I had to refuse because I was stuffed. Here’s the website: http://logcabinlabelle.com/

  • 2 Merrie Lee // Apr 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    This was a great ‘ole Florida institution to say the least. Too bad they didn’t get more publicity about their situation so the occasional visitor like myself could visit again. It is not exactly on my regular route, but we have gone out of our way a time or two to visit. As Flora and Ella always said, “Life is uncertain. Eat the dessert first.” Amen to that!

  • 3 Charles Passy // Apr 4, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Oh no! A must stop when heading to the West Coast. Actually remember having some very good fried green tomatoes there, too.

    Anyone been to the Clewiston Inn lately? Had a pretty decent weekend Southern-style brunch there a couple of years ago.

  • 4 Jan Norris // Apr 5, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Yeah…sad to see any long timer go. Haven’t been to Clewiston Inn in a while. Long time since I judged the Sugar Festival cakes.
    Scott Simmons tells of a great spot west of La Belle called Log Cabin, so if you’re down and go that way, it’s an option. Otherwise, go the top of the Lake and get fried green tomatoes at the Seminole Inn. There’s a new restaurant at the dike in Pahokee, too, though I haven’t yet been. More to come on all…keep reading.

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