Liz Barry

Liz Barry grew up in Bethedsa, Md., and has a B.A. in English from Davidson College. She served as the editor-in-chief of Davidson's student newspaper, The Davidsonian, for two semesters, during which she initiated the launch of The Davidsonian Online. After Poynter, Liz hopes to work at a small to mid-size newspaper as a news or feature writer.


Personal Narrative – Liz Barry

A black sedan with chrome rims and a rust-red bumper cruises by. Its bass thumps the beat of a hip-hop song I don’t recognize. I’m at Bad to the Bone Auto Shop and Accessories on 34th Street S, interviewing for a story about chrome car accessories.

“Liz,” calls a voice from behind, “why are you doing a story about chrome?”

A man who seems to be in his 40s walks toward me. He has a wiry frame and mocha eyes. He works at the carwash connected to the shop and must have overheard me talking with his fellow employees.

“What do you mean?”

He looks me in the eyes. “Why are you writing this story?”

I don’t know how to respond.

He leads me to a patch of shade. The air reeks of gasoline and hot metal. “You see that corner across the street? Go to that corner in the evening and you will find a woman there who is homeless. She has an infant child. Talk to her. She has a story.”

Walk around the neighborhood at dusk, he says, when the residents get off work and the streets buzz with life. The people who stay at the old motels, the prostitutes who walk the streets – they have stories. Chrome, he says, is not your story.

The man does not give me his name. Soon I will forget his face. But I do not forget his words.

***

That afternoon, I meet Arletha Jackson. She is at Bad to the Bone getting chrome added to the most chromed-out car I had ever seen. Arletha is 41 years old and a mother of five. From her neon fingernails to her gold chain-link necklaces, Arletha appears just as flashy as her car.

Arletha invites me to her home. What I thought was going to be a 15- minute interview lasts at least an hour. She told me more than the story of her car. She told me her story.

When I started reporting, I never guessed that I would meet someone like Arletha. She led me away from the shop and into her neighborhood. There I began to understand. For Arletha, it’s not just about chrome as a car accessory. It’s about pride, and behind that pride, anger. She wants the police to pull her over so she can prove she got her car the honest way.

***

Arletha lives in the “south side” of St. Petersburg, just a mile from Bad to the Bone. It’s a poor, mostly black neighborhood. I had read the stories in the newspaper. Shootings. Crime. Drugs. But I know there is more to this neighborhood than the crime it is known for. You rarely read those stories. I just want to learn and understand.

I grew up the bubble of an affluent suburb of Washington, DC. I went to Walt Whitman High School. Its nickname was “White-man.”

Mary, my colleague at Poynter’s summer journalism fellowship, wanted to write about a similar topic for her narrative – looking for stories in a supposedly “bad” part of the city. Mary grew up in a poor neighborhood in Seattle. She thought her background would make finding a story in a poor black community in St. Petersburg easy.

Although I met Arletha, I still want to go back at dusk to see if I can find the woman with the infant child. When I told Mary, her eyes lit up. “I’ll go back to that corner with you.”

***

We team up and go back to 34th Street South at dusk to look for the homeless woman with the infant. We park at Shirley’s Soul Food, three blocks south of Bad to the Bone. It is dusk; the sky is a swirl of orange and pink. As we walk, cameras slung around our necks, a man on a bike passes by. “God bless ya’ll,” he says in a southern twang. His voice is friendly, but I’m white in an all-black neighborhood and I’m nervous. What will the people who live here think of me?

Mary wants to get off the main drag and explore. I want to go, but I am hesitant. It’s getting dark. We detour into the neighborhood.

We walk half a block and a car approaches. It slows down as it passes. I feel the gaze of the passengers inside. I want to turn back and get onto 34th Street where there is more light, more people. Mary agrees. She wants to make sure I’m comfortable. Plus, she’s kind of scared, too.

We’re back on the main drag when a car pulls up next to us. The window rolls down. “Ay girl, come here,” says a voice from within the car. “Where your man at? Where can you make room for me in your life?”

Mary slips effortlessly into street slang. She lets him down easy. The car pulls away.

We walk to the corner across from Bad to the Bone. The homeless woman with the infant is not there.

***

I am surprised by the places the chrome story took me. Not only am I now well-versed in the aesthetic appeal of chrome rims and gas cap covers, but I also got a glimpse into the personal reasons behind one woman’s love of chrome. By leaving Bad to the Bone and hanging out on Arletha’s front stoop, a story that I thought was flat took on another dimension.

I know that not every story I write will be like this. But I don’t want to forget the nameless man at the carwash and his question – Why are you writing this story? Read more

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Catchin’ the blues

This time, he lets me try one. He drives the boat, as I stand with the gaff. We approach the buoy. I slide the wooden pole into the water to hook the line. The boat glides by. I miss the rope by a foot.

He circles back around and we try again. Triumphant, I hook the line. That was the easy part.

He helps me pull the trap aboard and now I am face to face with what seems like hundreds of menacing crabs. (It was more like 10.) They snap their claws and glare at me with beady eyes.

I turn the trap on its side and rap it against the side of the boat to dump out the raw bait.  

I’m scared.

***

I’m a guest on Mike O’Leary’s boat. O’Leary, 50, has been crabbing for 30 years. Each morning he sets out just after daybreak to collect the crabs that were lured into his traps the day before. By midafternoon, he delivers his crabs to the Crab Market on 49th Street South in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla.
 
O’Leary doesn’t catch crabs. He hunts them.

“Like the old saying goes,” he says, “if they called it catching, everyone would be doing it.”

O’Leary strategically places his traps along the shores of south Tampa Bay. Buoys mark their locations.

***

To understand crabbing you must know about crab traps.

Each trap, also known as a pot or cage, has four holes for the crabs to get in. These entryways are called funnels. The crabs are lured in by bait — red herring and raw chicken — which is stored in a protective wire casing known as the bait holder.

Inside the trap, the crabs pass through the baffle, a layer of metal wiring that divides the trap in two parts. The baffle gets its name from its function — “baffling” the crabs from escaping. 

***

O’Leary dispenses fisherman’s wisdom throughout the journey. You can tell the female blue crabs from the male blue crabs by the red on the tips of their claws. Nail polish, he calls it.

He pulls another crab from the trap.

” ‘V’ for virgin crab,” he says, pointing to the v-shaped abdomen on its white belly. “Put it in a trap and it will attract the males.”

He splits open a blue crab for an anatomy lesson. “Devil’s lungs,” he says, pointing to what look like a pair of soft white pouches.

Why are they called devil’s lungs?

“You’re a girl from Maryland and you’re asking me that,” he says with a grin. “You ought to be ashamed, coming from a big crab-eatin’ country.”

I am ashamed. It’s no excuse that Bethesda is a suburb miles from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. I studied crabs in third grade. The blue crab is Maryland’s state crustacean. I should know these things. But devil’s lungs?

“If you eat them you get sick,” he tells me.

***

I want to ask O’Leary if I can wear his bright red gloves. Maybe the bite will hurt less if I’m wearing those. 

I’m still scared of getting pinched.

Finally, I raise the trap over the wooden box and start to shake it. Nothing happens.

“Shake it some more, girl. Shake it like you’re dancing.”

I muster all the strength I can and shake the trap harder this time. A few crabs drop into the crate, but some big ones with beady eyes linger at the top, unwilling to let go. I give up.  

O’Leary takes over the trap and with a single jerk of his arms the rest of the crabs fall neatly into the box.

He makes it look so easy. Read more

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Day in the life of a crab market

The smell of paprika and car exhaust permeates the bustling parking lot. A scruffy dog wanders through a maze of legs. It’s 3:55 p.m. and the line outside the Crab Market is 15 strong and growing.

If you passed by in the morning, you would think the whitewashed shack along 49th Street South was long abandoned. By late afternoon, the Crab Market sizzles with life.

The Crab Market specializes in blue crabs boiled in a tangy mix of herbs and spices, but also sells sides like corn-on-the-cob and homemade garlic butter. Open Monday through Saturday, its hours are determined by many forces — the whims of its owner, the demands of is customers, and, of course, the crabs.

“Every day is different,” says owner Mike Whaley, 50. “If you have a whole bunch of crabs, you gotta start early, try to sell all the crabs every day.”

On this day, the shop opened just after 4 p.m. But the work began much earlier.

***

At sunrise, Mike O’Leary, 50, hits the boat. He is one of a handful of local crabbers that deliver to Whaley’s shop. He pulls wire crab traps from the waters in south Tampa Bay.

Once crabs are caught, he sorts them with metal tongs, checking them for size and weight. He tosses the crabs that are too small or too light over the side of the boat. Crabs must measure 5 inches across the widest part of their shell to be legally harvested.

In the afternoon, O’Leary delivers his catch of live crabs to the Crab Market. Today it’s enough to cover the cost of gas and bait, with some left over for the bills.

***

Whaley’s work begins around 9 a.m. He makes biweekly runs to a farmer’s market in Tampa for fresh vegetables. By noon, he’s at the shop, answering the phone, mixing spices, chopping vegetables.

The light is gray inside the room from which Whaley sells his crabs. By the small take-out window hangs a small tapestry of Bob Marley, woven in threads of black, red, yellow and green. The colors of the Rasta.

Born in Manhattan and raised in Jamaica, Whaley doesn’t believe in self-promotion. He prefers to stay in the shadows. He does not advertise. All of his customers are referred by word of mouth.

A vegetarian who eats seafood, Whaley does not serve meat at his market. People have suggested that he start serving sausage, but for him it’s out of the question.

Whaley looks around and sees too much self-gratification when it comes to eating habits.

“People are bamboozled into thinking they gotta have meat, gotta have sausage, gotta have junk food, period.”

***

A worker sorts crabs in the back area with long metal clamps, tossing the dead ones into a black bucket. His white rubber gloves are stained crab-red.

The live ones go into white buckets and are sent to the pots for boiling. “I hate to kill ‘em,” he says, “but people love to eat ‘em.”

The boiling room is stifling on an already hot Florida evening. Pepper floats through air, choking the uninitiated. Faye Jackson, who has worked at the Crab Market for one year, takes off her rubber gloves, showing a rash that looks like pock marks from an allergy to the pepper.

***

Outside, the line gets longer. Customers new and old wait to get their plastic bags of boiled spicy crabs.

It’s 4:05 p.m. and Herman King, 69, has been standing in line for 30 minutes. His wife, Bettye, waits in the air-conditioned SUV. They drove from Tampa for their weekly fill of crabs.

Whaley’s been in the St. Petersburg crab business for a long time.

“The people I’ve been selling to, some they were little kids when they started coming,” he says. “Now their kids are coming. It makes me feel like an old man,” he pauses, tossing an empty water bottle into an empty crab bucket, “but that’s OK.”

Before opening the Crab Market, Whaley ran Bottom Dollar, another crab shop, on 31st Street. He bought the 49th Street location from a former crabber five years ago and fixed it up. His new location was safer and better for business. Many of his customers followed him.

King’s one of them. He’s been coming to Whaley for crabs for as long as he can remember. Though the wait was long tonight, he leaves satisfied again. Read more

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Beneath the chrome: Why spend cash for all that flash?

A silver Chrysler 300C glitters in the parking lot.

“That’s my baby,” she says with a flick of her prismatic pink fingernail.

Arletha Jackson, 41, calls herself the mother of seven — five children, one husband and her car, Spoiled Rotten. She got the Chrysler in January as a birthday present from her husband. Five months and $6,000 later, her baby is chromed out.

But she’s not done yet. When Jackson wants her next chrome accessory, there’s only one place she will go — Bad to the Bone.

Bad to the Bone Auto Shop & Accessories is a hot spot for chrome accessories in St. Petersburg, Fla. Over the past three years, the shop’s profits have increased by 40 percent due to a leap in chrome accessory sales, says owner Leo Calzadilla, who has run his shop on 34th Street South for 20 years.

Chrome accessories, which range from sleek gas cap covers to elaborate grills, are part of the growing $34 billion aftermarket industry. Once the domain of car enthusiasts who wanted to enhance the look or performance of their rides, the aftermarket industry is becoming mainstream as everyday drivers look to personalize their cars.


Inside the shop, Calzadilla, 45, a Brooklyn native, wrestles a chew toy from his dog Xina, while her buddy, Hurcules, crouches on the glass counter, ready to pounce. A neon sign on the back wall glows pink and purple — “What’s Your Pleasure?”

Outside, Eddie Hawthorne admires his midnight-blue Chrysler 300. Silver hair peeks out from his black baseball cap and chrome outlines the curves of his car.

Hawthorne, a local nightclub owner, brought in his Chrysler to have a decal reading “Fly Blue Toy” applied across the top of the windshield. For Hawthorne, the story behind his decorations is simple: “I love blue and I love chrome.”

Chrome accessories are Calzadilla’s second-most popular product, after car audio. Chrome sales at Bad to the Bone took off about two years ago, after Calzadilla became a manufacturer’s distributor.

By buying chrome accessories directly from the manufacturers, Calzadilla pays 30 percent less than when he was buying from the smaller distributors. The manufacturer requires him to stock more, so he must sell more. And sell he does.

Phyllis Kitchen, 51, of Palm Harbor, sits in a lawn chair under a strip of shade by the garage, waiting for her 1999 Ford Expedition. She wears white capris and a bold flower-print shirt. Her gold-capped tooth gleams when she smiles.

Today, she spent $2,000 on chrome accents.

“I just told him to chrome it all up for me,” says Kitchen, who runs a home day care.

Some customers add chrome to their cars gradually — piece by piece. Verdie Ingram, 52, grew up in St. Petersburg and has been coming to Bad to the Bone for years. Three months ago, she moved to Tampa, but she still comes to the shop to make her car beautiful. She stops in on payday to get new additions to her 2007 Dodge Magnum.

Chrome accessories are making a comeback after getting a bad rap during the 1980s, when they were considered gaudy and associated with pimps and drug dealers. Now chrome reflects class and luxury and is seen more frequently on high-end cars, says Myles Kovacs, president and co-founder of DUB Magazine, which follows urban car culture trends.

For Jackson, chroming is not just about looking good on the road. It’s about pride. Jackson says she wants the police to pull her over so she can show them her papers and prove she got her $35,000 Chrysler the honest way. She says she resents the lingering stigma that tricked-out cars are connected with the drug culture. Jackson is especially sensitive about the stereotype because her husband, Tyrone Jackson, spent time in jail for dealing drugs and now is clean. The Jacksons now run a landscaping business together; Arletha Jackson earns extra money for her car by working a part-time job as a waitress.

But chrome’s not for everyone.

Tom Murray, a lumber yard sales manager and avid outdoorsman from Palmetto, came to Bad to the Bone to boost the technological capabilities of his 2006 Ford F250. For safety, he bought a navigation system and backup camera system. For fun, he bought amps and a DVD flip-down monitor.

Strips of leaf-print camouflage line the tops of his windows and the bumper of his car.

“In my neck of the woods,” he says from behind his dark sunglasses, “it’s who’s got the best mudders, who’s got the best camouflage.”

He refuses to buy chrome accessories for his truck.

So does Mittie Cooper, but for different reasons. Cooper, 36, goes by “Nukie,” the nickname tattooed on her right forearm. She’s waiting for her car to be detailed at Bad to the Bone. She likes the way chrome looks, but believes that flashy cars are targeted by police.

“I won’t put chrome on any vehicle I own,” she says. “It calls too much attention to the police. … The police might think this is a drug car or whatever.”


Before Calzadilla opened up Bad to the Bone in 1987, he sold car alarms out of the back of his car. He chose the property on 1446 34th St. S because most of his prior business was coming from that area.

“That location that I choose, most people would not have opened there,” Calzadilla says. “It was considered an undesirable piece of property, an undesirable area to be in.”

Due to the high crime and poverty in the surrounding areas, Calzadilla struggled with drawing clientele from middle- and high-income areas. Though the area has changed in the past 20 years, attracting wealthier customers is still a challenge.

Calzadilla believes he made his mark in the community by holding customer appreciation parties and by supporting local entertainers, such as local inspirational singer Tanya LaReese, who sang at a recent car show in Tampa.

Over the years, his reputation as a reliable salesman solidified. “My philosophy: sell something good and make sure it doesn’t come back,” he says. “That way you have people who are satisfied.”

Calzadilla compares the leap in chrome accessories sales to that of car alarms 10 years ago. Aftermarket shops had a monopoly on car alarm sales until leaders of the car industry realized they were losing sales on the popular item. Now, virtually every factory car comes equipped with an alarm system and aftermarket sales are down.

He thinks that chrome accents will be a standard features on most new cars, but that there will still be a market for specialized chroming on older cars.

And Arletha Jackson will still be adding more glitz to her Chrysler. Though dressing up her baby has been expensive, she’s not finished yet. She figures she has $8,000 more to go. She wants a flip-down television, a navigator system, and, of course, more chrome. Read more

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Ready for the next step

Sennatra Priester woke up later than usual. She dressed slowly, took her time doing her hair and makeup. It was her first day of high school, but she wasn’t concerned with looking good for her classmates.

She was afraid.

Hands clasped in her lap, Priester shifts slightly on the brown couch in her family room. The 18-year-old tells stories about middle school. The group of girls who tried to choke her. The daily threats. The physical abuse.

She didn’t understand why.

During the first week of high school, Priester found any excuse to miss the bus. It worked. She never stepped foot in Gibbs High School. That was almost four years ago.

Today, she is three days away from graduating from the Life Skills Center, an alternative charter school in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. With her credits fulfilled, Priester has more pressing matters on her mind.

“I don’t have an outfit for graduation,” Priester says with arms crossed, mugging a pout before she laughs. “I’m trying to get one, but I’m a little on the broke side right now.”

She might not have her dress yet, but she has a vision.

Elegant. Classy. Polka dots.

***

Priester is one of 33 graduates who walked across the stage at the Palladium Theater this week. The Life Skills Center, one of 37 nationwide, provides an alternative education for students ages 16 through 21 who have not excelled in traditional public school settings. Like any public school, the Life Skills Center is state-funded and free. But as a charter school, it has greater freedom with its structure and classroom approach.

June’s graduation marks the greatest number of students to earn diplomas since the Life Skills Center of Pinellas County opened in 2005.

Life Skills will undergo an expansion this summer, adding enough computer stations to accommodate 250 additional students by the fall. Right now Life Skills is at full capacity with 400 students.

The expansion reflects the growing popularity of charter schools amid widespread disenchantment with the traditional public school system. The Florida Department of Education reports that the number of charter schools in Florida has grown from five to more 356 since 1996, with over 40 new charter schools opening in the past year alone.

Since the charter school movement is still young, however, there is debate surrounding the effectiveness of these nontraditional settings.

But for Priester, the Life Skills Center was the answer.

***

Priester sits poised on the couch with legs crossed. The family room is dim. Beneath the window lies a twin-sized mattress with a rumpled sleeping bag and several neatly folded blankets. Her voice is calm as she recounts her experiences at Tyrone Middle School. Deflated by the bullies and problems at home, Priester drew inward. She didn’t stand up for herself. She got pushed around.

As a result, her grades suffered. In sixth grade, she started off with mostly C’s. By the end of the year she was making F’s. “My mind wasn’t on education at all,” she said. “I was trying to fix the things that was going on in my life.”

By eighth grade, Priester had started to rebel. “I just didn’t care anymore,” she says. “I was like, maybe if I act out or be rebellious then they’ll pay attention to me.”

Her parents, Robbie Reid and Loneryl “Dee” Reid, met repeatedly with teachers and school administrators to address the situation, but to no avail. Robbie Reid said he lost faith in the public school system.

“We don’t really think they were serious about educating our kids,” he said.

***

After Priester refused to go back to public school, her parents decided to homeschool her. For three years, she studied under the direction of her mother and made friends with other homeschooled kids in the area. She lived in a rough neighborhood, where people told her she would never get a high school diploma.

“A lot of the girls around here are pregnant, already have children,” Priester said. “You know, I just see the struggle and I don’t really want to go through it ’cause I don’t like what I see. I don’t want to be in that situation.”

Priester’s parents were strict and always stressed the importance of education. They didn’t want her to repeat their mistakes.

Dee Reid was seven months pregnant with Priester when she walked down the aisle for her high school graduation. Though she was allowed to participate in the ceremony, she had to spend two years at junior college before she got her high school diploma because she failed to meet all requirements.

Reid said she likes to keep it “raw and uncut” with her daughters when it comes to discussing men, because she would rather them learn it from her than out on the streets.

“That’s one of my accomplishments, that she didn’t get pregnant during her school years,” Reid said of Priester, her oldest daughter.

One of the biggest challenges of homeschooling was the expense, said Robbie Reid, a cable construction lineman. Between providing for the family and paying off bills and debts, money for education materials was tight.

“With homeschooling,” he said, “you are the school system.”

Priester’s mother heard about the Life Skills Center from her next-door neighbor, also a homeschool mother. The Reids wanted Priester to get her diploma from an accredited high school. Returning to public school was not an option.

“We wanted a system that knew how to get her graduated,” Robbie Reid said.

***

To graduate from the Life Skills Center, students must earn 24 credit hours in traditional high school subjects and electives, including courses in life management skills and practical arts. As with any public school, the students must also pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, FCAT, which measures student performance in writing, reading and mathematics.

The Life Skills Center has three classrooms, Triumphant, Victory and Excel, with about 30 computer stations at each. Students are allowed to listen to music on their MP3 players while they complete their computer-based assignments. Four teachers are assigned to each classroom to provide individual help to students.

Michael Stubbs, 35, a math teacher at Life Skills for two years, gained the nickname “Coach” because of his hands-on teaching style. He serves not only as a teacher, but also as a mentor and friend to many of his students, who come to him with personal or family problems.

“I’ve lived the street life,” he said. “I know what it’s like and I know that if I’m able to change, they are able to change.”

There are no grade levels at the Life Skills Center. Upon enrollment, each student receives Individualized Academic and Career Plan based upon their needs. In order to fufill credits, students attend class for four hours a day, five days a week, including the summer. Most students transfer the credits they earned in high school and apply them to their graduation requirements at Life Skills. Students must also maintain good attendance and work or volunteer for a period of 90 days before graduating.

For Priester, that meant a short stint at Dunkin’ Donuts.

The Pinellas County Life Skills Center is still new, only two years in operation. After its first year, the school met only 69 percent of the criteria outlined in the Federal No Child Left Behind Act to gauge adequate yearly progress. The data for the 2006-07 year is still
being evaluated.

Due to its emphasis on targeting at-risk students and high school dropouts, it is difficult to do a straight comparison between Life Skills and other schools in the county and state. Each year, an independent evaluator analyzes student performance and determines whether a school needs to reevaluate its goals. Life Skills is using the data from the first year served as a baseline for future improvement.

***

Though homeschooling allowed Priester to rebuild her confidence and forge a close relationship with her mother, she closed up again when she started at Life Skills last fall. She seldom spoke. She answered with barely audibly, one-word answers only.

Supportive teachers and a safe environment helped Priester open up.

“After a while I started breaking out of my shell,” Priester said. “I met a lot of my friends at Life Skills. The people who mean the most to me came from Life Skills.”

With the help of the Life Skills staff, Priester applied to college in December but has yet to be accepted. If all goes well, she will attend St. Petersburg College for two years before transferring to University of South Florida and get a degree in elementary education.

“None of my family members have graduated from college,” Priester said. “Most dropped out from high school. I want to be someone to say I made a difference in the family.”

But in the meantime, she is looking forward to her graduation party, which her mother insists on throwing. Though the party was her mother’s idea, Priester admits that she’s looking forward to it.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’ll get funky and fresh for the party. Have some fun.” Read more

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Is this the next fast food?

After volunteering at a youth sports fundraiser in June, Curtis McGee scoured U.S. Highway 19 for a bite to eat. His only requirement: the food had to be baked or grilled.

Curtis, a conditioning coach and trainer, drove past Arby’s, Taco Bell and KFC before pulling into Fresh Go Wild Market & Natural Grill.

There, his needs and taste were satisfied.

“Very yummy,” McGee said between bites of his Spicy Monterey Chicken Wrap.

Fresh Go Wild Market & Natural Grill in St. Petersburg, Fla., which offers healthy alternatives to fast food, will celebrate its one-year anniversary June 28, 2007. Its cook-to-order menu features burgers, sandwiches, salads, take-home dinners and more made with locally grown produce, Tampa-baked breads and all-natural meats that do not contain growth hormones or antibiotics.

Fresh Go also has a drive-through window, catering services and an in-house market.

First-time customer Joe St. Pierre considers the prices to be “a little on the high side,” but said he is willing to pay more for quality. St. Pierre, who grew up on a farm in Maine, appreciates the fresh product that Fresh Go offers.

For instance, the basic burger is $6.95. Fries are $2 more. St. Pierre’s friend, Denise Sammons, ordered the Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad Wrap: $6.95. But it was worth it, Sammons said.

“It’s crunchy and juicy and hit the spot,” she said.

More customers like St. Pierre and Sammons are looking for healthy food. Organic items and locally grown produce are growing in popularity at restaurants, according to National Restaurant Association research. A 2007 survey found that 71 percent of adults are trying to eat more healthfully in restaurants than they were two years ago.

Fresh Go is one of several area restaurants touting healthy fast food options. Tampa-born Evos, which has a location at 2321 Fourth St. N, pitches itself as a “burger, fries and shake restaurant” that uses all-natural meats, airbaked fries with less fat than traditional fries and shakes made with milk from free-range cows. Evos, which has two other Florida locations and one in Nevada, launched in 1994. Evos’ co-owners recently sold the rights for 107 stores to be developed in 12 states out West and 21 in North Carolina and the Atlanta metropolitan area over the next five years.

Evos and Fresh Go have similar menus, but don’t see themselves as competitors.

Evos co-owner Dino Lambridis supports the emergence of other health-oriented restaurants because they benefit the community and open up the market.

“We don’t look at competitors,” he said. “We are who we are.”

Schulte does not believe Fresh Go has any competitors in the market right now.

“As far as trying to reach mainstream America with the product and the price points we are offering, from sandwiches to gourmet-level prepared dinners, I don’t know anyone else who is doing that.”

With a year of business under her belt, Fresh Go owner Jolene Schulte is searching for a second restaurant location in Pinellas County. Since she is still in the negotiation phase, Schulte would not discuss details of the sites she is considering. She hopes to open four more sites in the Tampa Bay area within five years.

Finding suppliers that provide all-natural foods in bulk has been a challenge for Schulte, who said the industry gears its products more toward retailers than restaurants. To keep prices close to mainstream and compensate for the higher cost of all-natural products, Schulte and her employees are vigilant about keeping waste to a minimum.

“A lot of times restaurants have high spoilage,” Schulte said. “We’ll run out before we over-order. We try very hard to estimate exactly what we need.”

Although one-third of small businesses fail within two years of opening, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Schulte is confident that Fresh Go has staying power. Sales have risen steadily since opening day and customer feedback has been positive, she said.

Schulte started Fresh Go as an answer to her own personal and family needs for healthy food. When she turned 40, she became more aware of what she was putting in her body. Between working full-time and shuttling her 11-year-old son to soccer practice, Schulte found little time to prepare healthy meals for her family.

Fresh Go’s role in the community has stretched beyond providing healthier food options, according to Sheila Bertoncini, a member of the Kenwood Neighborhood Association. Bertoncini meets at Fresh Go once a month with her colleagues at the American Reverse Mortgage Corporation. In exchange for free access to a back meeting room, American Reverse Mortgage Corporation’s monthly meetings bring regular business to Fresh Go.

Before Fresh Go, 600 34th Street N was home to a Chinese restaurant and a cafe. Schulte drew inspiration for Fresh Go’s design and decor from a cruise to Italy.

Tamarah Walcott, 17, of Jordan Park has worked at Fresh Go since its opening day. Her job has made her more aware of healthy eating habits.

“My friends are not into this kind of stuff because they feel it’s too expensive, but I’d rather pay more and eat healthy than pay less and die,” she said.

Chris Rose, a personal trainer and repeat Fresh Go customer, said he does not think that the health food craze is a passing trend. As a trainer, he’s noticed more people taking responsibility for their health, rather than passively following the doctor’s orders.

Fresh Go chef Aramist Thomas, who has worked in the restaurant business for more than 11 years, said that the appeal of cheaper, more familiar fast food options may be hard for some to give up.

“It does have staying power if the public is serious about what they are putting into their body,” he said. “And that’s a big if.”

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Click on the image above to open a pop-up window for “St. Pete’s Growing Health Food Business,” a Web site associated with this story. Read more

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Welcome to West of 34th!

The hodgepodge of neighborhoods that we call the “West of 34th Street” beat includes places as diverse as Childs Park, the Central Avenue business district, the Route 19 corridor and Fairmont. It’s bordered on the north by 12th Avenue North, on the east by the “East of 34th Street” beat and on the south by The Point. Gulfport and 49th Street create its eastern border.

Here, you’ll find soul food at Shirley’s, bingo at St. Therese and cannonballs at the Childs Park pool. But don’t forget to spend some time with the local Red Hat Society or try your luck at one of the weekly yard sales that dot the neighborhoods. Or spend some time on a busy street corner some Sunday with the folks hawking newspapers. Or even improve your swing at Twin Brooks Golf Course. Either way, you can read some earlier stories about the beat here and here, but check back on Wednesday, June 13, for a new perspective and new stories on the beat west of 34th Street.


LeeAnn Watson

Augustana College
(Photographer)

Bill Couch

University of Michigan
(Designer)

Chasity Gunn

Belmont University
(Writer)

Liz Barry
Davidson College
(Writer)
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