Serenity Stables

Name: Serenity Stables

Location: 20052 Bowman Road, Spring Hill 34610

Telephone: (352) 796-0238

Website: serenitystablesfl.com

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The banking crisis that led to the economic downturn cost Allen Bornscheuer his job. But like many who were forced to change direction on a dime, Bornscheuer looked to his passion for Saddlebred horses and turned it into a business. On a quiet 10 acres off Bowman Road near Masaryktown, Bornscheuer and his daughter, Cat, purchased an abandoned farm in foreclosure. Bornscheuer intended to gradually fix it up as a part time hobby and eventually build it into an income source. Four years later, Serenity Stables operates at full capacity as a facility where boarding, training and recreational equine-themed activities are common place. Every weekend, something is happening inside the arena, round pen or inside the covered barn. Just the weekend prior, Bornscheuer had hosted a birthday party for 12 little girls. Some had never been near a horse before. All were given 15 minute mini lessons on Dolly, Miley and Charlie Bay, all mature Saddlebreds who follow their handlers instructions perfectly. The party goers even made Tre, a bay Saddlebred with deep brown eyes, a decorative banner to hang over his stall. Tre participated in the party, eating many carrots and capturing the little girl’s hearts. Bornscheuer’s passion for horses, particularly Saddlebreds, began after he left the cold in New York and moved to Tampa, following opportunities in the banking industry. He started going to horse shows as a way to meet people. “The gym wasn’t really my speed,” he said, and he wasn’t into golf. “The people were super, super nice,” he said, “and they invited me out to their farm after the shows were over. I started riding and before long I was addicted.” Bornscheuer began showing Saddlebreds in local shows and the addiction grew deeper. “I became something of a ham,” he said. His enthusiasm only heightened as he got better at his craft. Bornscheuer now shows professionally. His daughter, Catherine, 18, shows in the amateur division. Bornscheuer introduced Cat when she was 4, and she was an instant natural. “She was addicted likewise and still is today, 14 years later,” he said. But living in Tampa and boarding their horses became expensive, especially considering both were heavy into showing. So when it was time to purchase a property, it was Cat who suggested her father find something with land where they could keep their own horses. Bornscheuer hadn’t planned on moving so far north. But when he stumbled on the 10 acres, complete with cozy farmhouse and an extensive set of stalls, he saw the potential. The farm had been a boarding business but had since become overgrown with weeds. It would take work to bring it back to its previous stature. But Bornscheuer was intrigued. He negotiated with the bank and closed on the deal. Serenity Stables is the home of 22 horses, 10 of which are customer boarders. The other 12 Bornscheuer owns, most of which are Saddlebreds. “Everything is long on a Saddlebred,” Bornscheuer said, “long head, long neck, long legs, long body, long gate.” Each horse has a certain personality that makes them unique. 24 year old Dolly, for instance, is mother to a small goat. She is used for beginner lessons because of her extensive training and because she knows her commands, often before her handler has a chance to say them. Dolly, Bornscheuer said, is emotionally attached to Stanley who is nicknamed Grouchy Man. “He’s been grouchy all his life,” Bornscheuer laughed. “We’ve got a few relationships here,” he said. He described the Bachelor’s Club where the young geldings tend to hang together. Bornscheuer described each horse with intimate detail, hinting that his love for horses, which he cares for each day, runs very deep. The main function of Serenity Stables, he said, is the riding lessons it provides to as many as 25 students a week. Students are as young as 4 and learn basic lessons up to show preparation. Bornscheuer also explained that camps during winter, spring and summer breaks are also very popular. “Each camp ends with a horse show for family and friends so that the kids can show off what they’ve learned during the week,” he said. “Ribbons are awarded to every rider!” There is a whole Academy for showing, Bornscheuer explained. It involves riding barn owned horses for lessons, not expensive show horses. “That’s how people start to show,” he said. “All the Saddlebred barns in the Tampa Bay area cooperate in this Academy program.” Shows are held in different places, from the Florida State Fairgrounds to area farms, like Serenity Stables. “There are at least 8 shows a year you can to go, from little barn shows to the big shows. And the kids have a blast doing it.” Many eventually graduate out of the Academy and go on to compete in A-Circuit shows. That’s where Bornscheuer and Cat compete. Serenity Stables also trains horses, from breaking to behavior training to performance skills like “popping” their feet, a Saddlebred specialty. Parties are another part of the Stables, providing an opportunity for groups like the Girl Scouts or other private parties to engage with the horses. They are a big hit, especially with kids who have never even been around horses. They learn to groom, saddle them up, and get a basic riding lesson. Bornscheuer is passionate about everything he does at Serenity Stables, from feeding to hosting parties to training. But teaching kids and watching them perform is a big part of what heightens his excitement. “Seeing them go from petrified to controlling this 1000 pound animal, and doing it with confidence, is my favorite part,” he said. “I like to show and ride. But it’s personally satisfying to see them doing it.” Looking back over the process that brought Serenity Stables to this point, Bornscheuer realized just how amazing the ride has been. “If you can take your passion and make it your job, you’re never really working,” he said. The name, he explained, is significant. They wanted it to begin with the letter S because the curves in the letter sort of looked like the shape of a Saddlebred’s head, neck and front leg. “We landed on Serenity,” Bornscheuer began, “not because we wanted sleepy, serene horses, rather we preferred horses with spirit. What we did want was for our riders to be serene; to be calm, cool and composed. “This kind of rider is in control of their ride and of their horse. This kind of rider is a safe rider. This is what Serenity is all about.” Kim Dame is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at Damewrites@yahoo.com.

Gator Nutrition 579224

Name: Gator Nutrition

Address: 342 Beverly Court, Spring Hill

Phone: (352) 684-2323

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Before organics became all the rage, Chris Ruppe had already discovered the unbelievable benefits of a healthier lifestyle. After losing nearly 30 pounds since college, Ruppe is now a lot smaller than he used to be. His new body and mind weren’t the main reason he opened Gator Nutrition in Hernando County 15 years ago. But it certainly helps deliver the message that better food in equals a better, healthier body out. The biggest prompter for Gator Nutrition, through, was his entrepreneurial spirit and a passion to work for himself. “I’m the best boss I’ve ever had,” Ruppe said with a chuckle. Evidently, Ruppe found his secret to a balanced life. There is a clear pep in his step, an almost rhythmic way he glides between the aisles of his very well-stocked, comfortable store on Beverly Court, just off Commercial Way. He stocks nearly everything, from organic supplements, beauty care, pet foods, and supplements to frozen foods and meats. The idea, he said, is to build a better lifestyle from the inside out. In 15 years, Ruppe has seen fluctuations in customer trends. And he has observed and listened intently, his best technique for building his inventory. “If the customer wants something, I get them what they want.” And he can turn around and sell the products cheaper than his competitors because his business model is different. “We don’t have any employees,” he said. “I pretty much run things myself.” Ruppe co-owns the store with his wife, Kristie, a well-respected defense attorney in private practice, and receives a much needed reprieve from his father, Ron, who helps out at least one day a week. But for the most part, Ruppe runs things himself, from ordering to stocking to taking care of his customers. And he does it with a continuous smile, engaging in comfortable conversation about health topics, their families, or hanging Christmas lights. He makes a point to remember special details and often greets customers by their first name. Business would certainly be better if the economy was better, he admitted. But Gator Nutrition has held its own through three moves, all within the same block near County Line Road. Organics are a little more expensive, he said. But the benefits are becoming better known. Most of his customers are already well-informed on the topics of better health. Others have a basic idea based on what they’ve heard or a new ailment they are suffering. While he never gives medical advice, Ruppe does offer his suggestions in terms of how he has managed to change his own habits for the better. It is a lifestyle he adopted for his entire family. The biggest culprit in modern diets, Ruppe said, is fake food. “We used to eat real food,” he pointed out, like cheese and butter. But the warnings to stay away from those foods launched the creation of substitutions that turned out to be more harmful. “It’s those versions that are loaded with hormones and antibiotics and pesticides,” he said. “If they’re grown clean, your body can process them.” Most of his customers are looking for preventative methods to avoid health issues later. “One of the best things about a place like this is you prevent from getting sick in the first place. It costs money to keep from getting sick.” But the costs are much cheaper than healing the illness later. “I always tell people; better food first,” Ruppe said. “Once they start eating better foods, a lot of the problems go away.” But convenience and price are strong motivators for choosing processed or fast foods rather than going back to sensible food preparation and simple healthy choices. More people would be onboard, Ruppe believes, if they understood how they would actually save money in the long run. And there are creative techniques to eating healthier on a budget just by knowing what to buy and where. With organics, it’s best to start with meats and dairy items, he said. Fruits and vegetables can be purchased at farmers markets at a fraction of the price sold in supermarkets. Once the decision is made though, and good results are experienced, habits can change. Like one loyal visitor to Gator Nutrition who adds flax seed to her smoothies every morning to combat hot flashes associated with menopause. The customer, who asked not to be identified, swears by the trick, noting nothing else has worked as effectively. Spring Hill residents Frank and Pat Morgillo visit Gator Nutrition about once a month for specialty juices and supplements. The store is friendly, Frank said, with good prices. “It’s very helpful,” he added. Pat liked the selection, especially on specialty items like gluten free products that she stocks when her daughter visits. Helping his customers get what they need plays a big part in why Ruppe loves what he does so much, especially when he can sell it to them for less. “They save money so they can buy more of what they need.” While he had no background in health stores other than a year working for GNC, starting Gator Nutrition from scratch seemed like the right path. Through hands-on trial and error, and his degree in business management from the University of Florida, Ruppe has built a solid foundation. Fifteen years later, he still loves going to work every day. Of course it helps that he decorated the store in his favorite team colors. “You might not realize what you’re supposed to be doing with your life until you’ve done it for awhile,” Ruppe said. “I realize this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” Gator Nutrition is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Kim Dame is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at Damewrites@yahoo.com.

Pendragon Acres

Tucked away in a secluded part of northern Hernando County is a little known secret.

Surrounded by 10 foot tall fencing and fronted by massive iron gates, a canine wonderland exists where top pedigree German Shepherds are bred and trained. But these canines, with DNA tested bloodlines originating back to Germany, are more than the makings of future cherished family pets. They are changing the quality of lives.

Michael Giannetti, owner of Pendragon Acres U.S. K-9, sees a much broader scope than simply breeding for quality his world famous shepherds. Many of them reside in homes of celebrities and influential people who wanted to protect their families and their property.

“I want to help people have a better quality of life,” he added.

These shepherds are bred for protection and as assistant service canines for people, including children, with disabilities. Larger in size than other German shepherds, Pendragon canines are the epitome of health.

Pendragon shepherds aren’t cheap. Pups begin at $2000 each, require an application for adoption, and afford a future of benefits including limited or full breeding contracts with Pendragon. Clients become part of the Pendragon family and build lifelong relationships.

“I’m not some backyard breeder,” Michael said. “I don’t breed them to make a fast buck. I don’t need money.”

He stressed again, “I do this to give people a better quality of life.”

Pendragon Acres U.S. K-9 is well deserving of praise. Through a history of prime canines, the Giannetti’s have perfected the line and how they train not only shepherds they place but others that are brought to the facility.

Chris Dyals, a decorated war veteran who served in Iraq, brought his German shepherd to Pendragon for training. A resident of Ocala, Dyals wanted a canine to protect his family and to perhaps one day help other wounded veterans.

“I can’t say enough about German shepherds,” Dyals said. “I used to tell my soldiers if they were a dog, they should be a German shepherd because they are good at everything.”

Dyals’ 9 month old pup, Barrett, has been training with Pendragon for a few weeks. Dyals is already noticing improvements in Barrett as the canine learns through a process that cultivates the foundation with positive reinforcement.

“It builds the relationship,” Dyals said.

Although he didn’t purchase Barrett from Pendragon Acres, Dyals was immediately welcomed into the family. “I’m getting a lot more than training,” he said.

Clients that purchase a pup often return for additional canines or to board their pup in the luxurious kennels, reserved for clients only. “They don’t trust anyone else to take care of their shepherds when they’re gone,” Michael said with a firm nod of the head.

That is because anyone who experiences the Pendragon compound learns immediately that this is no typical facility. The canines command quality because they are produced in a system that leaves nothing to chance.

The Giannettis live and breathe their business. Michael is a well established promoter and facilitator. Ruth Ann runs the daily activities, treating the canines like her children.

No cost is spared these pups, which are given the best in quality veterinary care, feeding products and training. In fact, Pendragon has perfected training methods that build confidence in the canines, bonding their loyalty for life.

Pendragon Acres’ newest endeavors include placing pups with physically challenged families. “We work with children with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome,” Giannetti said.

In fact, Pendragon Acres recently placed a 12 week old pup with a local family raising 5 children, 3 with cerebral palsy. Pendragon donated the puppy and is facilitating fundraising to raise the funds to train him as a service canine.

The cost of the training runs about $35,000 for a special service canine and will be covered through high profiled media events, like Mixed Martial Arts Challenges, sponsorship, drawings, and ticket sales.

Pendragon recently signed a two-year commitment along with Dion De Lauder, the Producer and CEO of the Florida Combat Network, CBS Radio 98.7 The Fan, and Channel 10/10 Action Sports to sponsor and market the Mixed Martial Arts Showcases both nationally and internationally.

“We aren’t a charity,” Michael explained. “We choose a family, work with them on getting the canine, then raise the money to train them.”

Those who donate to help the cause can follow the progress of the canine since Pendragon spotlights the family through an assortment of media coverage.

Pendragon Acres U.S. K-9 is also associated with Cigar Dave, the creator and host of The Cigar Dave Show, which is nationally syndicated and devoted entirely to the Cigar Lifestyle. “Cigar Dave has a Pendragon canine,” Michael Giannetti said.

In fact, Pendragon will have a special booth at the Tampa Cigar Festival on December 1 at Cotanchobee Fort Brook Park in downtown Tampa. Several of the shepherds will be onsite during the festival.

Michael Giannetti’s family has been raising German shepherds for more than 35 years. “I’ve had shepherds my entire life,” Giannetti said.

Michael and Ruthann Giannetti launched Pendragon Acres 15 years ago to carry on the legacy his parents started. They built the state-of-the-art training facilities, luxury kennels, even a maternity ward equipped with everything necessary to guide nature’s progress.

“We know exactly when the pups will arrive,” Michael said. He expects three litters will drop by Christmas.

Michael is also working to place shepherds in the homes of wounded war veterans. Special discounts for purchasing the pups and training as assistant service canines are available.

“People come here and they like what we do,” Michael said. “They become part of our family.”

Name: Pendragon Acres U.S. K-9

Address: 15006 Eckerley Drive, Weeki Wachee

Phone: (352) 596-3414

Website: www.pendragonacres.com

Ruppe Law Firm

Defending clients in criminal cases may not be where Kristie Ruppe saw herself when she graduated from Rutgers Law School in New Jersey. “I thought I’d be an executive attorney working in stylish suits on Wall Street,” she said with a chuckle.

Yet spending five minutes with Ruppe in her downtown Brooksville office inside the newly renovated Lowman Law building makes it unmistakably clear. She chose exactly the path she was meant to travel.

Ruppe stands no more than 5’4″. She is slim built, tiny by some descriptions, with a demeanor that is much too sweet to battle aggressive prosecutors in a cold courtroom. But make no mistake. She not only goes head to head in defense of her clients, she doesn’t back down.

In fact, her sweet nature is one part of Ruppe’s dynamic personality that builds trust with her clients.

“She really cares about her clients,” said Tammy Smith of Brooksville. Smith battled a prescription drug addiction which landed her in jail, a rehab program and house arrest. As Smith’s attorney, Ruppe was responsible for facilitating the court ordered rehab and house arrest instead of a jail sentence. And she was a vital player in getting Smith’s house arrest terminated a year early.

Ruppe, of course, takes only some credit with humility. “(Smith) did everything she was supposed to do,” Ruppe said. “She accomplished what the system was meant to do. She deserved to be rewarded for it.”

Like many young and eager law students, Ruppe began her journey in law with a vision of how her career might unfold. She was fiercely independent with a passion for the truth. And she approached Rutgers Law School in Camden, New Jersey with an unbridled enthusiasm.

As part of her internship, Ruppe worked with a team that fought for the rights of special needs children in public education.

Children with disabilities, she explained, are guaranteed the same public education as full functioning children. “The school is still responsible for that child and giving them a free appropriate education as the law requires,” she said. “We volunteered on cases for disabled children to make sure they got all the services they needed.”

After completing Rutgers and passing the Bar, Ruppe did another year interning for the Office of Administrative Law in Trenton, New Jersey. All special needs cases went through the Office of Administrative Law. “We worked on a lot of decisions for the judges and helped them draft their opinions on each case.”

Within a year, Ruppe was drafted by a special education law firm. “I represented all kinds of children with all kinds of disabilities, from mildly hearing disabled to serious brain dysfunctions and everything else.”

Ruppe has fond memories of her time spent up north, gaining momentum as a special needs attorney. But her family, who lived in New Hampshire at the time, relocated to Florida. “I had nothing holding me there but my job,” she said. “So I came to Florida, retook the bar, and started all over again.”

Within a few months she was hired at the State Attorney’s Office in Pasco County where she worked while studying to take the Florida BAR.

And that’s where Ruppe got much of her fight training, working as a prosecutor on tough criminal cases. She eventually took the plunge and branched out on her own.

She now resides in the Lowmans Law building as an independent criminal attorney with a unique compassion for her clients.

Any day can bring a new challenge or adventure. But Ruppe said most of her cases center on DUIs.

The holiday season right around the corner will likely affect how busy her office will be toward the end of January. Many of the arrests made for DUIs in November and December won’t process until well after the first of the year.

Common during the holiday season, drinking and driving becomes an issue when the driver is over the legal limit of .08.

“But it’s not illegal to drink and drive,” Ruppe explained. “Many people don’t understand that. It’s illegal to drink and drive to the point where you’re faculties are impaired. You can have a glass of wine and drive. That’s not illegal.”

Knowing whether or not you are physically and judgmentally impaired is the difficult part. “Someone who would blow a .05 is probably ok to drive,” Ruppe said. “They should still have all their faculties. But everyone is different.”

But the only true way to know for sure is if the breath or blood alcohol level is above the legal limit of .08 or the driver fails a field sobriety test.

While many of her cases center around common themes, no two clients are the same. And Ruppe has been blessed to represent clients who have made dramatic impressions on her, making her work that much more meaningful.

“I’m most compassionate about anyone who gets in trouble who has never been in trouble before,” she said. “That’s either someone who made a bad decision or was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Ruppe takes those cases seriously because the wrong plea might ruin any chance for getting the case expunged later, keeping it off the client’s permanent record. “I hate to see them ruin their lives, their careers, lose their driving privileges for a bad five minutes,” she said.

Like Tammy Smith who was at the height of her life when several illnesses after the birth of her third child lead to a prescription drug dependency that sent her down a path of destruction.

“I had never been in trouble before,” Smith said.

Smith just started a new job, was reissued her driving privileges and is walking the path to a much better future.

Thanks to Kristie Ruppe, Smith said. “I absolutely love her. She’s so professional but at the same time very caring.”

Website: www.RuppeLaw.com

Biz at a Glance

Name: The Ruppe Law Firm

Address: 31 South Main Street, Suite 3, Brooksville

Phone: (352) 650-3657

Website: www.RuppeLaw.com

Minimum wage change for 2013

The Florida minimum wage is $7.79 per hour, effective January 1, 2013. Florida law requires the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to calculate a minimum wage rate each year.

The annual calculation is based on the percentage increase in the federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers in the South Region for the 12-month period prior to September 1, 2012.

On November 2, 2004, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment which created Florida’s minimum wage. The minimum wage applies to all employees in the state who are covered by the federal minimum wage.

Employers must pay their employees the hourly state minimum wage for all hours worked in Florida. The definitions of employer, employee, and wage for state purposes are the same as those established under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employers of tipped employees, who meet eligibility requirements for the tip credit under the FLSA, may count tips actually received as wages under the Florida minimum wage. However, the employer must pay tipped employees a direct wage. The direct wage is calculated as equal to the minimum wage ($7.79) minus the 2003 tip credit ($3.02), or a direct hourly wage of $4.77 as of January 1, 2013.

Employees who are not paid the minimum wage may bring a civil action against the employer or any person violating Florida’s minimum wage law. The state attorney general may also bring an enforcement action to enforce the minimum wage. FLSA information and compliance assistance can be found at: http://www.dol.gov/dol/compliance/comp-flsa.htm.

Florida Statutes require employers who must pay their employees the Florida minimum wage to post a minimum wage notice in a conspicuous and accessible place in each establishment where these employees work. This poster requirement is in addition to the federal requirement to post a notice of the federal minimum wage. Florida’s minimum wage poster is available for downloading in English and Spanish from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s website at: http://www.floridajobs.org.

The federal poster can be downloaded from the U.S. Department of Labor’s website at: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/posters/flsa.htm.

good food to go

John Sellers is a chef. He chops, simmers, sautés, sears, and blends ingredients into masterful dishes that are pleasing to both the eyes and the pallet. And like most chefs, Sellers is an artist in the kitchen, utilizing his flat cook top, convection oven and deep basket fryer with a cadence similar to that of a painter with his brushes.

But Sellers does it from a mobile unit, often traveling while food is cooking, and brings his creations directly to the customer. What must be prepared onsite he completes when he gets to his destination.

“I just roll down the highway and cook while I’m driving,” he said. “When you’re mobile like this, you have to be on the edge of everything.”

Food trucks are not so uncommon. But for Hernando County, a fully-equipped kitchen on wheels that delivers the kinds of choices Chef Images offers is indeed unique. Juicy rib eye or prime rib steaks, sautéed muscles in wine, scallops or shrimp scampi, oven baked lasagna, cooked to order and with all the condiments, are only samplings of what Seller’s has prepared.

A traditional chef for 25 years, Sellers took a gamble after being laid off and decided to shift his career to operate his own facility. “I have worked in hotels, restaurants, other catering companies,” he said. “My last big job was as the executive chef and food and beverage director at MOSI.”

Tired of “renting” kitchens from someone else, and rather than risk opening a restaurant in a dragging economy, he instead purchased a trailer, had it customized to his specifications, and filled it with the type of equipment he preferred to work with.

A flat cook top, a warming oven, and a refrigerator that almost instantly drops temperatures to 32 degrees are his signature tools; all of which he found at different supply houses across the state.

Everything fit perfectly into his small space, allowing for ventilation as required and in conformity to all Florida food service codes.

He was even told by the Business & Professional Regulations in Tallahassee that it was a “well thought out trailer.”

Sellers had never done anything like this before. But he was a seasoned chef. “I just knew what I needed,” he said. “I punched it out and everything came together.”

He picked the trailer up in early December, empty except for the cabinetry, air conditioning, and windows. In mid April the unit was ready to travel the roads, equipped with everything Sellers needed to prepare his amazing dishes.

Six months later, Chef Images schedules events five days a week, some overlapping two or three times in a single day.

On Monday evenings, the trailer stops at the Hernando Beach Marina, preparing and serving dinner specials like $8 rib eye, $10 grouper, and $10 muscles. Sellers also provides concession foods like conch fritters, grouper baskets with fries and cole slaw. Tuesday afternoons the trailer is parked at the Spring Hill campus of Pasco Hernando Community College where different wraps, chips and fresh iced tea are on the menu.

“I am out every day except Thursdays and Sundays,” Sellers said.

Chef Images offers full catering services for weddings, parties, or any scheduled event. But Sellers doesn’t use a standard menu. “I use a ‘guideline’ that explains my prices”, he said. “The ‘menu selections’ are personal to each client. It reflects their personality.”

Chef Images is licensed to go anywhere in the state of Florida. But Sellers chooses to stay within a comfortable radius so he can provide the quality and attention each client deserves. It is a focus on detail that makes each event special.

Sellers has perfected his craft, learned to be fluent and accurate as he plans each event with precision. He often works alone, sometimes even serving when necessary, and does it with an infectious enthusiasm that indicates John Sellers is indeed following his dream.

While stress is typical in any business, maintaining a sense of calm in the fast paced food service industry takes organization, dedication, and focus. But Sellers has a healthy appreciation for the emotion. “If you don’t have stress, you lose the edge.”

Biz at a Glance

Name: Chef Images

Telephone: (352) 428-4848

Email: john@chefimages.net

Website: www.chefimages.net

Manzi Metals

Keeping any business afloat during a recession takes no small effort. But consistently increasing its worth, building on an already solid client foundation, and maintaining quality employees and their pay-scales are efforts to be admired.

Barbara Manzi, owner and President of Manzi Metals in the Airport Industrial Park, has proven time and again that she is no ordinary business woman. She has built a multi-million dollar business, with the help of her son and devoted employees, and has kept it thriving for 23 years in Hernando County.

That is quite a track record for any business, let alone a local raw metal supplier that is both minority and woman-owned.

Consider that Barbara Manzi is tiny in size, with an infectious smile and demeanor that warms up to everyone. But make no mistake. She is a viable force in a small package, leaving no detail left to chance.

Even the design of the building on Flight Path Drive, its interior and exterior décor, had a purpose. From green hued flooring that Manzi said helps impassion the sensation of making money to huge wall framings of the space shuttle Columbia to the strategic placement of office furnishings, Barbara Manzi had her hand in every detail.

“The layout is my layout,” she said. “And my son did all the etching. He had great vision.” Barbara Manzi originally partnered with her son when the business was opened in 1993. He has since gone on to pursue other ventures.

The structure speaks quality and professionalism. Even the offices, which were planned by Barbara Manzi, had a fundamental purpose.

Manzi Metals has inhabited three different locations, all on Flight Path Drive, before settling into their new innovative building in the early 2000s. Theirs was one of the earliest buildings constructed in the park.

It is fitting, Manzi said, because the company works with the Aerospace and Energy and the Department of Defense, supplying raw materials. Some of these materials go into top secret entities.

“We are about 100 percent quality and lean,” said Manzi, who built her foundation on 100 percent quality and safety. The company’s resume is crammed with high-profiled client contracts from Rolls Royce, the Department of Defense, and other prime companies within the Aerospace and Energy industries.

A deep rooted dedication to detail and a dynamic team are the main ingredients that make the Manzi Metal story such a success. Often indentified as the county’s best kept secret, Manzi Metals employs some of the best in the industry.

Like Linda Hoffer, General Manager, who holds a Master’s degree in Engineering and Richard Ernst, the Quality Assurance Manager, who is also a retired rocket scientist.

Ernst attended a job fair, looking for an opportunity to teach, when he met Barbara Manzi.

Hoffer and Ernst brought a level of professionalism that analyzed what had already been accomplished, what they described as “a very quality system”, which is required within the Aerospace Industry.

Ernst designed a swim lane flow chart system that tracks the company’s complete progress. “When we do business with companies like Rolls Royce and Boeing, they come in here and they see something they are used to,” Ernst said. “They haven’t only been exposed to this type of approach, but they have used it. So we can talk on a very level basis.”

Manzi has developed special divisions within her company where Eric Baker is an 8-year veteran specializing in Aerospace and Energy purchasing of raw materials. Baker is a specialist working with companies such as Dresser-Rand.

Monty Caraballo is a 20 year Navy Veteran who joined Manzi four years ago. “I didn’t know anything about metals,” Carabello said. But his experience helped launch his position as a specialist in DOD Contracting in Aerospace.

“I specialize in all the contracting with the Department of Defense,” he added. “Some of the material we sell actually goes overseas.”

Carabello’s connections to the military make his efforts multi-faceted. “It’s very important to me because I’ve been on both sides,” he said. The materials have to be right. “It’s important because it’s going to our troops.”

Both gentlemen are certified Quality Assurance inspectors.

The entire team acts as a support system for each other, grounding Manzi’s amazing success with quality performance in their individual fields. Dottie White, the newest sales representative, completes the sales floor. Angie Chancalay is the Accounting Manager. And Donna Cline recently came on board as Barbara Manzi’s personal assistant.

The Manzi Metals success story has been documented in many publications, spotlighting a strong-willed, multi-talented and detail-driven leader. And while Barbara Manzi is well aware of her dynamic contributions to its phenomenal success, she is quick to acknowledge it is a team effort.

A combination, she said, of many factors working toward an unprecedented commitment to quality and safety, the company’s fundamental promise. In fact, Rolls Royce recently signed a five year contract with Manzi Metals, prompted by the degree of trust they have maintained throughout their lengthy relationship.

Barbara Manzi sees a positive future.

“I would say to the entrepreneurs out there that the future looks bright. Concentrate on quality, competitive pricing and service to your customers,” Manzi said. “The recession is over. We need to band together and help our employees out the best we can.”

In the end, it is the quality of the team, and the track record of the entity, that together defines success.

Name: Manzi Metals

Address: 15293 Flight path Drive, Brooksville

Telephone: (352) 799-8211

Website: www.ManziMetals.com

Walking a spirit path

When Mary Kirkconnell found herself struggling with her brother’s permanent brain injury after a horrific accident, her life plummeted into a deep depression.

And during her amazing journey to find her way out, she experienced a number of unexplained epiphanies that eventually lead to Peace Tree Trading on East Jefferson Street in Brooksville.

Peace Tree Trading is a unique concept of Indian-made items, mostly from New Mexico. A majority of her inventory is Navajo- or Pueblo-made. But she carries other tribes as well, including Creek and Cherokee.

“I am a member of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association, which protects native art,” she said, “and protects the consumer.”

The shop is a compilation of many different items from pottery to craftwork to housewares, toys and art. She carries music, books and even Native American flutes. And she gives flute lessons.

“I teach breath control, fingering and how to play the scale,” she said as she indulged in a haunting melody, delving even deeper into the atmosphere that has made a visit to Peace Tree Trading such an unforgettable experience.

The quaint cottage-style building is elevated and rests on a cozy stretch of Jefferson Street that is heavily traveled as a bypass through the city. Her neighbors, Coney Island Drive-Inn, Tactical Supply, and Farmer John’s Key West Café provide a nice diversity of businesses that support the unique flavors of Hernando County.

Before Kirkconnell transformed her building into an authentic Indian enthusiasts’ paradise, it was an antique store. And with its old American feel, the building was the perfect fit for Peace Tree Trading.

In the past four years, Kirkconnell has filled each crevice with collectable pieces, a few difficult to find, and all unique to the Indian culture.

The amazing pieces of authentic jewelry — some handmade, others handcrafted — are a big hit. Kirkconnell explained that handcrafted pieces include stones that are set on a manufactured base. Handmade pieces, by contrast, refer to those that begin with raw silver.

Her merchandise is derived from various sources. “I try to do a cross section of supporting a co-op, which means I’m helping somebody create jobs for lots of families, and I have a few individuals that I also support.” Her T-shirts, she said, are handmade on a kitchen table from an individual vendor.

Kirkconnell’s journey has been guided by a deep spiritual presence originating from a belief in God and the powers of Native American healing. She found herself following that pathway as she tried to find peace with her brother’s plight.

And it led Kirkconnell through a journey that began more than 10 years ago.

She was at a transitional point in her life, she said, when circumstances started to fall into place and eventually led to the opening of her original location in Tampa.

Kirkconnell took a one-year sabbatical to reconnect with her spiritual beliefs. And during that year she focused her energies on helping those in need. “I did a lot of labor work,” she said, and met a lot of pivotal people who helped guide her journey.

A turning point for her happened when she met Linda, a woman who was suffering from cancer. Kirkconnell was her caregiver.

“I asked her one day what she wanted to do with her life when she got better,” Kirkconnell remembered. “She told me she’d always wanted to open an arts and crafts store. She planted the seed in me that day.”

Other events led to the opening of the store in Tampa. “I knew I was supposed to take over the space,” Kirkconnell explained. “But I didn’t know what it was supposed to be.”

As she prepared the building, people were drawn to the store. One made dream catchers. Another made leather bags. Through them she found the store’s direction.

Even the name, Peace Tree Trading, which Kirkconnell said was inspired during meditation, was an accident with purpose. She was told by a visitor to her store, an authentic Mohawk Indian who had been raised on a reservation, that the tree in her logo was actually the symbol of the Iroquois nation.

Kirkconnell had no idea.

As she settles into her fifth year in Brooksville, Kirkconnell accepts that her journey was guided by another force. The store has survived a tough economy intact, with visitors who have become regulars. Others are attracted to the unique flavor from all over the state of Florida.

It may appear like Mary Kirkconnell has reached her destination, triggered by her sadness over the misfortune of her brother, guided by a spiritual belief system, and decorated with people who helped define her path.

Like Linda, who perished from her disease but lives on in a plant named Linda given to Kirkconnell by a customer. It continues to spread life throughout Peace Tree Trading.

In reality, though, Kirkconnell’s journey is ongoing.

Her message is very clear. “We all have those challenges and struggles in life. Mine taught me to take my brother’s accident and to create medicine with it.”

Peace Tree Trading is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Biz at a Glance

Name: Peace Tree Trading

Address: 770 East Jefferson St., Brooksville

Telephone: (352) 797-7886

Website: www.PeaceTreeTrading.com

Kim Dame is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at Damewrites@yahoo.com.

Upscale resale store

Jennifer Rado, a teacher for 18 years, dreamed of opening her own business.

“I love teaching,” said the Explorer K-8 teacher and mother of a 12-year-old son and a second due in November. “But I wanted more.”

She was inspired to pursue that vision when her father was diagnosed with cancer. “He started checking things off his list,” she said. “I realized there were things I still hadn’t done that I wanted to do.”

With a spark for adventure but level-headed enough to search for a venture that had a strong dynamic to succeed, Rado had stumbled on what appeared to be a thriving concept in designer and brand name apparel.

“Everyone has heard of Plato’s Closet,” she said. The fresh idea of a brand name apparel and accessory exchange is the basis of Plato’s Closet, with locations throughout Florida and the United States. And Rado was interested in bringing a Plato’s Closet to Hernando County.

“I was intrigued by their business model,” she said.

But the franchise halted her attempts, claiming that Hernando County wasn’t supported with the right dynamics to open a store.

But Rado believed the county was being underestimated. As a school teacher, she was exposed to popular trends, and her gut told her she was on to something. So she searched for another alternative.

“If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right,” she said. “Go big or go home. I needed all the help I could get.”

And she got it, in the form of Hut no. 8, another franchise with the same basic idea as Plato’s Closet. But it had an added appeal in aesthetics. It closely mimicked popular design stores like Hollister and Abercrombie in appearance.

The atmosphere is dark and soothing, with a tin tiled roof and dark wood accents. The “island” tone flows throughout, with an interior appeal that targets teens and young adults who are drawn to the look.

Rado purchased the franchise and set the process in motion. With the help of her dedicated friends and family, Hut no. 8 opened in July.

“It was truly a labor of love,” Rado said.

Hut no. 8 is located in the Coastal Shopping Center, huddled between h.h. gregg and Office Depot, and is thriving after just two months.

“We are 80 percent pre-owned merchandise, 20 percent new,” Rado said. “You would be surprised at how many people come in with things still with tags.”

Brands you would find on the racks include Juicy Couture, Charlotte Russe, Hurley, Billabong, Dooney & Bourke, Gucci, Betsy Johnson, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, and many more.

Many of the labels, like Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch, have strict resale rules, Rado said. That ensures the items in her store are not dated or out of style. And Rado’s quality assurance begins when the items are first inspected.

Rado encourages sellers to make an appointment. “I give them the rundown of what we take,” she said, which changes often according to specific and the changing seasons. “I’m only taking skinny jeans right now,” she added.

Most sellers want her to buy their entire lot. “And that is my goal,” she said. “I want to buy everything. If it’s in excellent condition and it’s what I told them I am looking for, then I will buy it. If it’s too worn or has holes, I will pass on it. I only want what I know I can sell.”

Rado pays on average 30 percent of what she knows she can sell the item for. “And people are happy with that,” she said. “I pay $2.80 to $3 for a Hollister shirt.” And Hut no. 8 sells their merchandise for between 50 to 80 percent off retail prices.

The display inside Hut no. 8 is very eye-pleasing, with fashions put together and arranged by the staff. “I like to give my staff an opportunity to be creative,” she said. “If they are tired of looking at something, I tell them to move it.”

Rado employs several young people to run her store including Frankie Rodriguez of Spring Hill. Rodriguez, a sophomore at PHCC studying emergency medical services, has a radiant smile and engaging personality. And she loves the styles Hut no. 8 takes in regularly.

Things don’t stay on the racks long, Rodriguez said. “We will put clothes out and not even 20 minutes later they’re gone,” she said. Her best advice: “If you see something in here, you’d better get it because it probably won’t be here tomorrow.”

Hernando County’s Hut no. 8 is the 23rd store to open across the country and the ninth in Florida, Rado said.

“This is very trendy right now. And it’s not just because it’s affordable.”

Hut no. 8 is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Biz at a Glance

Name: Hut no. 8

Address: 13185 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville

Telephone: (352) 600-8925

Website: www.hutno8.com

A sweet dream coming into reality

While many small business ideas are crafted from passionate hobbies, the back story behind Gia’s Cakes & Goodies runs even deeper.

After spending 14 years in the law industry, Samantha Long was looking for a career change. She was also dealing with the loss of her father to cancer.

“I wanted to do something that made me happy,” she said. “Baking and smiling people make me happy.”

Baking had always been a release for Long, who often brought her unique goodies to the office to share with coworkers while dealing with the pain of her loss.

Ironically, she dreamt one night of opening a bakery and described the dream to her mother who encouraged her even though neither knew anything about operating a bakery.

“She was going to help me,” Long said. “Mom was amazing at running a business. She ran Dad’s.”

Gia’s Cakes & Goodies, which was named after Long’s daughter, Giannette, officially opened on September 11 in the Spring Hill East Shopping Center at 3155 Aerial Way next door to Target.

It was no easy grand opening.

“My mother had been diagnosed with a rare form of Nasal Cancer a few months after my father’s death,” Long said, her eyes pooling with emotion. “Ten months later she was gone.”

The months leading up to the opening of the shop were difficult as Long worked to keep her focus while dealing with a second heartbreaking reality. But she plowed ahead, guided by her mother’s encouragement and the amazing support from her family.

After losing her mother, Long was working on her largest order, 400 cupcakes for a breast cancer benefit. “I had to get them done the same day I was making funeral arrangements,” she said. “It wasn’t easy.”

Now preparing to celebrate its first anniversary, Gia’s Cakes & Goodies is becoming a go-to bakery for unique and classic bakery items.

It was a process since Long and her family had to mold their schedules to meet the demanding requirements of the bakery.

Days begin early, at 4 a.m., because everything is made fresh. Nothing is kept over into the next day. Whatever doesn’t sell is recycled (cupcakes into cake balls and cookies into cheesecake crust) or donated.

“We love making things from scratch,” she added.

With the help of Amy, the cake decorator, and Solange, the pastry chef, Gia’s has become known for its unique novelty items, diverse cupcake flavors and custom one of kind cakes.

The cupcakes alone offer 100 different flavors, some seasonal and for a limited time. Their summer flavors include Orange Creamsicle, Watermelon and Rootbeer Float. Other unique choices include Honey Bacon, Cookies and Cream, Chocolate Raspberry and Rocky Road.

But Long is always looking for unique ideas to mix up their varieties. And they offer new options every Thursday.

She is so passionate about her shop that she recently sent in an audition video to Cupcake Wars, a reality show that airs on the Food Network. If her video is chosen, she and her staff will travel to California and compete on the show.

The audition video can be viewed on YouTube. “We’ve gotten over 900 hits on the video already,” Long said. “We are just waiting to hear.”

Gia’s Cakes and Goodies is a diverse bakery. They bake several varieties of cakes, cookies, brownies, fresh filled cannolis, pies, and cake bites. They also offer catering and support local charity functions.

But Gia’s custom cakes are earning the shop notoriety for their unique and creative designs.

“We use fondant,” Long said, which is a thick, creamy sugar paste that allows the decorator to manipulate the designs. Novelty cakes depicting so many different creative displays pack a sample book at the front of the shop.

But they can recreate anything from any idea or custom design.

The process is quite involved as she first determines what the customer is looking for and they agree on a budget. Then she and Amy start crafting the design.

Custom cakes, especially those that use fondant, can take a few days to prepare. Therefore, cakes should be ordered well in advance of the event.

Ernie Winston, a frequent customer to Gia’s, ordered his birthday cake recently. After discussing what he wanted, Gia’s went to work, building a layer cake decorated with an edible figure, designed to look like the customer, sitting in a recliner with a remote control in one hand and a beer in the other.

“The only thing that wasn’t edible was the little glasses because they were wire,” Long said.

Winston was more than pleased with the end result.

Because fondant is expensive and time consuming, custom cakes from Gia’s are a bit more costly than traditional supermarket varieties. But the end result is a completely custom cake made to the customer’s specifications and budget.

Many of the cakes resemble those seen on Cake Boss, another reality cooking show that airs on TLC and uses custom platforms and unique designs. The similarities have, in fact, earned Long the nickname “Lil Boss”, linking her connection to the popular reality show while poking fun at her tiny size.

Long stands just under five feet tall, but she is a lot of creative energy in a little package.

She is an imaginative baker, self-taught, and a passionate entrepreneur with a determination to succeed despite a multitude of challenges.

But she said she couldn’t have done alone.

“I thank my amazing husband Jason, daughter Giannette, mother-in-law Sylvia, and friend Bill Koenig,” she said, “as well as her amazing staff, Amy and Solange, for being there through the tough times and having such confidence in the bakery.”

And she thanked her parents for always believing in her. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them,” she said.

Biz at a Glance

Name: Gia’s Cakes & Goodies

Location: 3155 Aerial Way, Brooksville

Telephone: (352) 796-GIAS (4427)

Kim Dame is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at Damewrites@yahoo.com.