News | April 17, 2020

WGCU

WGCU’s ‘Curious Cuisine’ takes diners off usual culinary path

My dad tells people I started in the restaurant business dusting the floor with my diapers,” says Debbie Klemmer, co-owner of Two Peas Café in LaBelle.

That’s the kind of colorful talk that makes a documentary crew happy. It clearly pleases WGCU videographer Tim Kenney and freelance producer Chelle Koster Walton, who are shooting a segment at Two Peas Café in LaBelle.

This finished feature is now among a series of six short segments on area restaurants that began airing in late March on WGCU-TV as “interstitials” between regularly scheduled programs. They are each about 2 1⁄2 minutes long. “The criteria for selection was to find unique places that explore culture through food and family,” said Amy Shumaker, WGCU associate general manager for content.

Debbie Klemmer comes through the saloon doors from the kitchen to the dining area, pie in hand, at Two Peas Café in LaBelle. Photo: Dayna Harpster/WGCU

On this February weekday morning, Kenney, Walton and WGCU Director of Production Services Sheri Coleman are meeting with Klemmer and her business partner, Vicki Reynolds. Klemmer’s grandmother was Ella, of Flora and Ella’s Restaurant, a popular stop for home cooking for 78 years in LaBelle, a small town about an hour northeast of the FGCU campus.

If there were a pie hall of fame in Florida, Flora and Ella’s definitely would be so honored.

Klemmer said she grew up in Lakeland and spent summers in LaBelle with her grandmother. Summer days from elementary school-age and beyond, she’d get up at 5 a.m. and go downstairs where the pie-making had begun.

When Klemmer was a teenager, Reynolds was hired to work in the restaurant. “And we just hit it off,” Klemmer said. “We just started hanging out and having good times and running the roads like teenagers do.”

“We grew up here,” Reynolds says. “Every second person that comes in the door is Debbie’s cousin, probably. We just know everybody.”

They must have very large extended families because there are few empty chairs in the 74-seat restaurant even during the odd hour or so between breakfast and lunch. They opened Two Peas Café seven years ago in August, naming the restaurant for something “Grandma Ella” used to say. “She always called us two peas in a pod,” Klemmer said. “And that wasn’t really a good thing. Except that I’m the good pea.”

“That depends on the day,” Reynolds counters with a smile.

Flora and Ella’s Restaurant’s reputation extended far and wide for more than seven decades. But they were getting on in years by 1989, about the time they sold their restaurant to Klemmer’s parents. Then in 2009 her parents sold the business and it closed in 2011.

“When that happened, I thought my life was over,” Klemmer said. But then, just as Reynolds was getting ready to move to Texas, she approached Klemmer with an idea. “She came to me and said, ‘We really need to open up our own little place.’”

They found a location, and a good friend to invest, another to buy all the Fiestaware and found friends from church to help paint the café-to-be. They use Flora and Ella’s recipes for pie and also serve regular breakfast and lunch fare.

“Curious Cuisine” producer Walton says the series features “local food, but off the beaten path,” including Havana Café of the Everglades in Chokoloskee, Fify’s Caribbean Cuisine in Immokalee and Ephesus Mediterranean Grill in Port Charlotte, among others.

But to be sure, Two Peas is a direct route for plenty of people who like Klemmer’s idea that visiting the restaurant should be “like going to Grandma’s.”

WHERE TO WATCH

Although production on new “Curious Cuisine” segments was halted by the closing of restaurants during the coronavirus shutdown, you can watch previous segments on YouTube.