Plant City businesses and churches continues to grow

In recent years, Plant City has experienced a wealth of community growth in many areas, including businesses and religious buildings.

Plant City — despite its small size — is home to more than 100 religious centers, including churches, worship centers and, since 2007, a center for Scientology.

In 2007, Plant City saw the opening of its first Dianetics and Scientology Life Improvement Center. The center opened in the heart of downtown Plant City in a historic 11,000 square foot building it purchased for over $600,000.

The grand opening included “bounce” houses, a slide, a bake sale and other activities. The grand opening also coincided with the opening of a St. Petersburg location for the Church of Scientology that same weekend. The church plans to use these two centers as examples as it works to expand to at least six more cities in the area in the years following the opening of these two centers.
Plant City has seen the juxtaposition of new churches opening near existing ones, which has redefined the architecture of the town. One new church is New Hope Worship Center, which opened New Hope @ Cornerstone in November 2016. The building was previously home to First Baptist Church of Plant City from 1923 until 1994, when the church moved to a newer, larger building. From 1994, until the opening of New Hope, the structure sat vacant.

Currently, First Baptist Church of Plant City is working on building a new, even larger, location in Plant City off of James L. Redman Parkway. The  building is expected to be completed in either December 2017 or January 2018.

Plant City has also worked hard to promote the growth of local business, and many small businesses have been born in recent years. New establishments have popped up across the street from, and even directly beside, older establishments. In addition Plant City, properties are regularly opening up for lease and rent.

Previously, a thrift shop and gun store, 1916 Irish Pub, opened in August of 2016 and recently celebrated the success of its first year in the community. Home to the winner of the 2017 Best Bartender recipient, the new business has seen a growth in clientele, advertising and partnerships with the Plant City Chamber of Commerce and other local organizations.

Similarly, establishments including Mr. Sebas, Krazy Kup and College Hunks Hauling Junk have taken over properties that previously were home to different businesses.

Mr. Sebas Ice Cream and More is a family-owned ice cream shop that opened in March 2015. The owners are the Ruiz family who also own other businesses in downtown Plant City. The family opened the ice cream shop not only to break into the food trade — but also — they say, to create a safe hangout for local teens.

Krazy Kup is a coffee shop that opened in downtown Plant City in October 2013. The two story building includes a coffee shop with pasties downstairs, a space upstairs where open mic nights are held, a conference room and an outdoor patio space in the alley. The owners of Krazy Kup , Frank Trunzo and his wife, Wenda Trunzo, dreamed of opening a coffeehouse for years and spent that time collecting the eclectic memorabilia on display at the shop.

The Plant City location of College Hunks Hauling Junk is owned by Plant City native and mayor’s son, Trent Lott. Lott grew up in Plant City, graduating from Plant City High School in 2012. He worked for College Hunks Hauling Junk, before deciding to make the jump to franchise owner. He opened his location on March 2016 at the age of 22.

Lott is also, involved in a local organization called RISE. The goal of RISE is to encourage young business men and women to stay in Plant City and promote economic growth locally, instead of commuting to nearby cities like Lakeland and Tampa. They hosts events regularly at new, upcoming businesses in Plant City to encourage not only the business owners, but also to encourage the growth of patronage at each establishment.

RISE has held events at local businesses including 1916 Irish Pub and The Corner Store. The Corner Store opened its doors in December 2007 aiming to create a local store where Plant City residents could not only enjoy some “slow food,” but also purchase ingredients. The owner and cook, Cynthia Diaz, opened The Corner Store after many trips made to other cities in search of just this sort of place. Celebrating its 10th  anniversary in Plant City next month, The Corner Store has become a fixture in downtown Plant City.

Plant City’s Best Bartender 2017

This year, for the first time, FOCUS Magazine’s Plant City Edition included a Reader’s Choice Award for “Best Bartender” in Plant City. 

While Reader’s Choice Awards have existed for “Best Server,” “Best Soup” and “Best BBQ,” as well as many others, this year there was a new addition to the competition and Chris Stovall, 37, became the first recipient of the “Best Bartender” award. 

Stovall was born in California, but has lived in Plant City, Florida since he was seven months old, graduating from Plant City High School in 1999. He began serving at Ruby Tuesdays at the age of 18 and soon after was promoted to bartender. 

“We had a horrible bartender and I kept making jokes that I could do it better than him,” Stovall said. “One day I came to work and he said ‘Remember how you said [you could do a better job]? Well you’re bartending.’ So, I was kind of thrown to wolves. I didn’t go to school for it.” 

Stovall always wanted to work for the people, initially planning a career in radio. As a bartender, however, he found that he was able to connect with people “face-to-face” on a regular basis and thrived on the feelings that came with making other people smile. 

“I can pretty much connect with anybody,” Stovall said. “When people go out to any kind of bar they go for the atmosphere. They go for someone to talk to. Sometimes it’s a good talk. Sometimes it’s a bad talk. Sometimes it’s very hitting people on a personal level and helping them out with something you didn’t know you were going to and sometimes it’s football and taking a knee.” 

Stovall has worked in many bars across the state of Florida and he currently works as a bartender and manager at 1916 Irish Pub in Plant City and at Duke’s Brewhouse in Lakeland. His coworkers describe him as hardworking and funny. 

“I think he was chosen [best bartender] because he is not only well-known, but also well liked,” said Stovall’s longtime friend and current coworker, Chelsea Noriega. “He’s good at what he does, whatever he does.” 

Stovall’s coworkers also say that it’s easy to get into a good rhythm when working with him. 

“Normally we have a good flow,” coworker Devon Blackburn said. “Once customers start coming in we get in a good rhythm working together. He is attentive to your needs and always remembers, even if it takes a minute.” 

Noriega discussed how she can see that Stovall cares for people and how she hoped people realize how much Stovall cares about his customers as individuals. 

“He has the biggest heart,” Noriega said. “He’s definitely nosy, but he is really caring. He is kind of an open book.” 

On top of his work, Stovall is also a father of two. He says that his kids are one of his biggest hobbies. When he isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his children, Jaxon, 5, and Sophia, 5. 

“As much as work is work, work is also my hobby,” Stovall said. “I work so that I can do cool things with my kids. It used to be so I could have a cool pair of shoes. Now I want my kids to have the cool pair of shoes, so it’s a little different.” 

Stovall’s coworkers see the dedication he gives his children as well. 

“I think people should know how good of a dad he is,” Blackburn said. “Dad’s don’t tend to get a lot of credit, and especially in his crazy situation, I think he gets written off a lot. From everything I see and hear, he is a great father and people should know that.” 

Stovall’s caring and desire to make people happy are major factors that led to him becoming the reader’s choice for “Best Bartender” in Plant City. Stovall says that his favorite thing about his job is the people. 

“I mean it’s the only reason that it’s fun,” Stovall said. “Sometimes it’s making fun, sometimes it’s having fun. There’s always something to talk about. I like making conversation. I have a magnetic personality and I can make people who don’t normally talk talk and feel comfortable.” 

Stovall said when he found out he won he felt surprised and that it threw him off. He said it made him feel like the time he spent in his town meant something. 

“Everything I’ve done was not lost,” Stovall said. “I haven’t sat here and sewed my roots and got to know everybody in this town and, you know how some people feel like they did something for nothing? I feel like there was a cause. There was a purpose. Nothing like recognition to make you want to do something better.”

‘Make your own’ style at Florida Strawberry Festival

The Florida Strawberry Festival is the talk of the town in Plant City, but the talk of festival, is the “Make Your Own” Strawberry Shortcake booth. Whether you want cake or a biscuit, or little or a lot of whipped topping, Saint Clement Catholic Church gives visitors the chance to make their perfect shortcake. 

Saint Clement’s booth is one of the three booths that sell shortcake on the festival grounds. The “Make Your Own” style is what makes the church’s booth stand out from the rest. With the help from parishioners and volunteers, the booth has been running for 43 years. The organization has two coordinators that make sure the project continues to be successful. 

“I think it’s an astounding event and I love to be a part of it.”, said co-coordinator, Paul Hetrick. 

Hetrick has been a coordinator for three years, but has volunteered since 1987. His hard work and dedication to the project would not be complete without his co-coordinator, Kevin McFaul and committee. 

“The committee, it just makes this whole thing smooth. I mean there are just so many things going on. That are a part of this operation.”, Hetrick said. “And as coordinators, we are not necessarily checking up on them on a regular basis. They’re taking care of, because the people that are running them are autonomous.” 

There are over a 150 volunteers that contribute to the success of the booth. The committee and volunteers spend many hours of their day preparing berries, washing buckets, and working the booth at the festival. Some volunteers, like Joseph Herrmann, have been helping out since the project first began. 

“I’ve been here since the start. 43 years.”, Herrmann said. “And the first day we actually cut berries by hand with the prairie knives.” 

Now, there are machines that cut and wash the berries, which makes the process easier. 

Hetrick hopes that people visiting the festival not only get a delicious shortcake, but a friendly and welcoming experience. 

The booth is running all 11 days of the festival. Tickets are four dollars and can be bought at eight different Publix locations beforehand.

 

Lott invests into hauling junk

Trent Lott recently graduated from the University of Tampa and is already making big moves, as he is now a College Hunks Hauling Junk franchise owner.

College Hunks Hauling Junk is a moving company that also specializes in junk removal. The company originated in 2003 and now has over 60 locations. Trent Lott will be adding to the list when he opens his location.

Lott’s relationship with College Hunks Hauling Junk started over the summer when he was hired as a mover.

“The first couple of weeks I was just kind of doing the job to get money,” Lott said. “then I really started loving the company.”

His drive for entrepreneurship motivated him to start his own franchise.

He started doing his research and asking his general manager, Brandan Underwood for some guidance.

“It was a breath of fresh air to sit down with someone and kind of talk to them about the business side of things,” Underwood said. “I think he saw the potential here in kind of like the same way that I did and he wanted to go forward and purchase a franchise.”

After looking for a couple of months, Lott found an old tire shop in Plant City to use as his location.

Since January he has been planning and remodeling the location. Lott expects to have the College Hunks Hauling Junk Plant City location up and running by March 1

 

Florida Focus: Hillsborough County high school receives honor from Nike; Humane Society holds pumpkin patch fundraiser

In this episode of Florida Focus:

  • Nike pays homage to the success of Plant High School’s football team through a special Plant Panther shoe.
  • A St. Pete man is in critical condition after his girlfriend allegedly set him on fire. The girlfriend will be charged on aggravated battery.
  • South Florida wants to become the 51st state.
  • The Humane Society of Tampa Bay offers a pumpkin patch promotion to raise money to help support the animals at the shelter.

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