Local News

Food on the go

SEBRING - For quite a few employees at Tractor Supply, Saturday has become barbecue day. They walk a small distance to Nut'n Fancy Grillin, a new mobile food vendor, who may lack the atmosphere of other eateries but has food some describe in glowing terms. "The food is absolutely phenomenal and the service is wonderful," said Jessica Webb, the manager of Tractor Supply. She said many of her employees regularly eat there. Just a couple of months ago, it would have been illegal for Robert and Mary Strenth, the owners of Nut'n Fancy, to have set up their business in the parking lot of Tractor Supply.
The land is within the boundaries of Sebring, and until about a month ago, the city did not permit such mobile food vendors. Avon Park and Lake Placid officials say they still do not allow such businesses. Highlands County allows them, but the owners must get approval from several agencies and the landowner, and the land must be zoned for such businesses. That Sebring now allows such businesses is not surprising to Charles and Evelyn Butcher, who have operated Loafin' Around Cafe for around two years in Highlands County. Evelyn Butcher said she expects more mobile food vendors to open up in Highlands County. She said she and her husband intended to open a regular restaurant in a permanent structure, "but we couldn't get financing." When they became mobile vendors, the challenge was to find a spot, she said. Downtown would have been perfect because of food traffic, but the city didn't allow it, she said. For a while they operated in various locations in unincorporated areas before setting up shop on a long-term basis in the parking lot of Lowe's, which also is not in the city limits. "We feel like we're making good progress," she said, as more and more people are becoming aware of the business. "When we first started, people just thought we were a loading truck." Sabrina Wheaton, a regular customer, said she finds the food hard to resist. "It's fresh and delicious. It's not greasy." Just like the Butchers, the Strenths found it challenging to find a good spot in an unincorporated area. After Robert Strenth cooked at several events, some peopled urged him to get into the business. He and his wife contacted the city about getting an ordinance that would permit them to operate in Sebring. "We had everything worked out before we went to the city," Mary Strenth said. City Planning Director Jim Polatty said the city was already revamping its zoning and was making changes that were business friendly. The city didn't change the rules just for the Strenths, but the Strenths might have helped push along the change several months earlier than it would have occurred, he said. For now, Nut'n Fancy is only open on Saturdays, but later in the year, the schedule may expand a year. Robert Strenth said he initially prepares the food the day before and estimates the number of customers. It would take a lot more cooking to open it several days a week, he said. Evelyn Butcher said operating a food truck has been fun. She said she enjoyed participating in a large food truck rally in Tampa and may try to organize one here. She said generations of her family have been in the restaurant business and her husband has managed a restaurant. "It's (the business) is kind of in my blood and he (her husband) likes it," Evelyn Butcher said. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834