Huge renovation converts former tavern into family restaurant

Published on: August 30, 2012

Turner is doing a million-dollar renovation that will allow a Fred’s Southern Kitchen to open in mid-September.  Penny Fletcher Photo

Turner is doing a million-dollar renovation that will allow a Fred’s Southern Kitchen to open in mid-September. Penny Fletcher Photo


RIVERVIEW — All this week, through Friday, Aug. 31 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., officials from the local Fred’s Southern Kitchen chain will be interviewing for 80 full and part-time jobs that will be needed to operate its new Riverview location.

“We’ll be hiring about 80 people for a mix of full and part-time jobs,” said Fred Johnson, one of the family that founded and still operates the 50-year-old chain.

They aren’t just taking applications. They’re personally interviewing those who show up at the River of Life Christian Center, 6605 Krycul Ave., Riverview, said spokeswoman Lauren Elmhorst.

Elmhorst is spokeswoman for all four of the existing Fred’s Southern Kitchens, which currently operate in Lakeland, Bartow, Winter Haven and Plant City.

The chain plans to open on the southwest corner of Krycul Avenue and U.S. 301 in mid-September, she said.

John Turner, a Riverview resident born in Tampa who has lived in this area all his life, is the owner of the property, which has been home to bars since 1960. The last bar to operate there was called Fubars.

“I was approached by at least 30 businesses that wanted the location after Fubars closed,” Turner said. “But I said no. And since then, I have been thanked at least 500 times for bringing in something that will be good for the quality of life in Riverview.”

Turner is so committed to the project that he is paying for a million-dollar renovation of the property, inside and out.

Fred’s Southern Kitchen has a different take on “Southern cooking,” which usually means a lot of frying, fatback and grease, Fred Johnson said.

“I like to say our kind of cooking killed my daddy,” Johnson joked. “You see, Daddy died at 95. He ate healthy and worked hard and lived life to the fullest. His eating habits were a good part of the reason for his long life.”

The dishes at Fred’s are cooked in healthy ways, he continued. “Our motto is ‘Eat Better, Love Life, Live Longer,’ and that’s what my daddy did.”

Fred’s dad Elton and his mom, Evelyn, started the chain with a gas station and selling sandwiches on the side in Plant City in 1954. Before long, their business became a restaurant known for down-home cooking in a healthy way.

In 1998, Elton’s son Fred and his wife Tammy continued the family tradition when they opened Fred’s Market. This gave them access to the State Farmer’s Market and therefore year-round access to the best fresh fruits and vegetables. Then, in 2003, the pair decided to bring back Elton’s old favorite — barbeque.

Now a third generation of Johnson’s is managing the barbecue portion of the business. Fred’s oldest son Owen took over that challenge.

Another of Fred’s sons, also named Fred, will be the on-site assistant manager at the new Riverview restaurant. Its general manager will be Vicki Sharer.

“Some of these family recipes are more than 50 years old,” Fred Sr. said. Besides barbecue, one of the best family specialties is sweet potato soufflé.

The restaurant will seat 100 people at a time and have dinner specials for children as low as $1.99. The website, names many other specialties, and prices as well.

“We’re looking forward to bringing traditional southern dining to Riverview and will be looking to better the community in any way we can,” Fred Sr. said. “It is an amazing place to live.” He said he has always known that. “It is just now that Riverview has been named 65th in ‘100 Best Places to Live in the U.S.’ that others are finding it out.”

Fred Sr. was referring to the recent article in CNN’s Money Magazine.

Staff asks that to find out more visit the website or show up at the “mass hiring” instead of trying to call.