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Over Coffee April 3, 2008
By Penny Fletcher
Apr 3, 2008 - 7:00:35 PM

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A romantic gazebo surrounded by gardens. The sound of a fountain. An old-fashioned porch, complete with white, wooden rocking chairs. Southern Comfort Bed & Breakfast offered so many quietly simple places to drink my coffee, yet somehow, I ended up in the elegant formal tearoom with the resort’s owners, Joe and Cathy Green, listening to the highlights of their story.

I’d gone there to hear about the festivities they’re planning for their friends and supporters next week, but gradually found myself more interested in how they had remodeled what used to be known as the old Todd place they bought in 2002.

Although I had been there twice before, this was the first time I had seen all the rooms and talked to guests and absorbed the ambiance of the place. The Governor’s Suite– with its Williamsburg fireplace and canopy bed; the Terrace Suite and Dolphin Cove Room; all different, and interestingly, all recently remodeled with the goal of an allergy-free “green” atmosphere, aided by air purifiers and all natural cleaning products.  

It was a welcome change to find a place with rooms resembling an old Southern mansion rather than “traditional 21st Century lodging” tucked away on a quiet street in the residential area of Ruskin.

As I walked through the suites, all of which now have either sitting rooms or kitchens or both, the lengths to which the hosts go to welcome their guests was evident, from chocolates on their pillows and fruit and snacks awaiting their arrival to the white, terrycloth bathrobes provided for leaving the pool and hot tub. It’s no wonder why so many locals frequent the place for their weddings, private dinners and teas, or why people come from far and wide and choose to lodge there instead of one of the area’s hotels.

A private pilot (along with managing the Kings Point Clubhouse in Sun City Center);  pastor with Assemblies of God and teacher at Life Christian University, Joe Green says one of his favorite things is taking guests on air tours over Tampa Bay. The bed and breakfast is run mostly by Cathy, who has a lengthy background in hospitality.

A nurse and school teacher by trade, Cathy spent a lot of time while growing up in Rhode Island with an uncle who worked as a chef, learning about foods that compliment each other; “secret” recipes, the difference between relaxed and formal table settings and a whole lot more.

People like Lane and Carlotta Richards from Pittsburgh – who were guests at the B&B when I had coffee there recently – say they always choose bed and breakfasts over hotels because they give travelers more personal attention and they meet and get to know new people there.

Sometimes I think interesting coincidences follow me around and I often wonder if it’s the camera and notebook they’re attracted to. After five minutes with Lane Richards, I learned his father’s name was John Ruskin Richards, named after John Ruskin, founder of Ruskin. It seems his grandfather was reading the works of John Ruskin when his son (Lane’s father) was born.

But the Richards’ stay in Ruskin wasn’t planned because of the name connection, but because of an Internet ad for the B&B. The coincidence did not escape me though as I wandered the grounds and looked through the albums of weddings and romantic dinners that had taken place not far from the land where the original Ruskin College had been.

While there, I examined a national publication written by certified etiquette consultant and previously-published author, Brenda Santelises, describing what she considers the best 65 Florida tearooms, Southern Comfort included. (I didn’t know there was such a title as “certified etiquette consultant!)

The author has visited tearooms all over the world, including the Grande Dame of tearooms, the Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee in London, which have become the subjects of some of her other books. She will be autographing her book about Florida’s tearooms, “My Proper Tea,” at the B&B’s community “thank you” celebration April 11 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Southern Comfort, 2409 Ravine Drive.

Cathy and Joe have personally invited members of all four South County chambers of commerce and many area civic and religious groups, as well as scores of individuals who have supplied them with goods and services in their five years in business. But they also made it clear that their celebration was open to anyone who had touched them in any way, or been part of any of the events that have taken place there.

I was so interested in what was going on around me that I forgot about my coffee, leaving it to get cold in the formal tearoom as I wandered the grounds taking in the variety of luxuries offered and listening to the history of the place, followed by the Green’s 18-week old Australian shepherd, Runway Rudy, who wanted everyone to play with the Frisbee he carried in his mouth.

If all goes as planned, Rudy will have plenty of guests to tap with his Frisbee as his owners play host to the many who have frequented Southern Comfort at their community  soirée April 11.

* Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause; or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important.

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