Good food, friendly faces keep business bustling at Immokalee eatery

There is a heavenly aroma that fills the air with home-cooked delights at Patty's Place.

Patty Jones, head of the family-owned business on New Market Road in Immokalee, said she likes people, cooking and watching her customers eat.

The motto at her restaurant, which features all home-cooked meals, is "never serve anything that you will not eat yourself."

Lillian Freeman eats lunch Wednesday at Patty's Place in Immokalee. 'Sometimes I come here twice a day,' she said. 'They have good food and they treat you right.'

Photo by Anthony Souffle, Daily News

Lillian Freeman eats lunch Wednesday at Patty's Place in Immokalee. "Sometimes I come here twice a day," she said. "They have good food and they treat you right."

While cooking beef stroganoff, steamed cabbage, corn, and squash in the kitchen, Jones recalled how she taught herself to cook when she was 8, because her mother worked outside the home and she disliked her father's cooking.

"I knew what I wanted to eat and I knew what it tastes like," said Jones, a native of Immokalee.

She started working at a restaurant in Immokalee when she was 12. But she has never had any professional culinary training.

Jones opened the original Patty's Place in 1987 on New Market Road but at a different location, and ran it for eight years before selling it in 1995.

At the time she was ready to be out of the restaurant business — which she likened to a marriage because of the time and effort she devoted to it — but returned to open Patty's Place in October 2005.

These days she starts her day at 4 a.m.

inside the small cream-colored trailer that is the restaurant. She shares cooking duties with two other employees and her daughter, Toni, the only waitress.

"She knows what she's doing and everybody loves her cooking," Toni Jones said of her mother.

Getting back into the restaurant business got off to a difficult start for Jones.

Immokalee's agriculture industry was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma, which swept through Southwest Florida on Oct. 24, 2005. The Category 3 storm flooded vegetable fields, blew over citrus trees and knocked fruit to the ground.

An exterior photo of Patty's Place in Immokalee.

Photo by Anthony Souffle, Daily News

An exterior photo of Patty's Place in Immokalee.

It destroyed packing houses and ripped apart greenhouses. A winter freeze followed.

"Every business suffered last year," Jones said.

Despite a difficult first year, she is hoping for a good season this year.

"We are like a family here. We have our ups and downs," Jones said.

Patty's Place is one of 15 restaurants, including fast-food places, in Immokalee, according to Richard Rice, executive director of the Immokalee Chamber of Commerce.

Similar to the food, the restaurant's decor is done up in a country style that adds warmth to the restaurant, like the blue- and-white checkered window curtains and wood panel walls.

The menu says "Y'all come back now," and that is what customers have been doing for the past year.

Every day, James Wryals, a U.S.

Postal Service rural carrier, eats breakfast at Patty's Place because he likes the people and the food.

"If I want a taco I go down the street. If I want a good home- cooked meal I come here," said Wryals, 51, while waiting for a dish of eggs served with grits and a side of bacon.

Toni Jones waits for an order while working the lunch rush Wednesday at Patty's Place in Immokalee.

Photo by Anthony Souffle, Daily News

Toni Jones waits for an order while working the lunch rush Wednesday at Patty's Place in Immokalee.

Jones and her daughter know most of their customers by their first names.

Some of Jones' most loyal customers for breakfast and lunch are local working residents and farmworkers who simply can't get enough of her home- cooked meals.

Instead of going to eat at a Hispanic restaurant, Balbino Quintana, a farmworker and 27-year Immokalee resident, said he prefers to have his morning coffee and slices of toast at Patty's Place.

"They treat me real good," Quintana, 52, said in Spanish.

Several shelves near the entrance hold peanut butter jars, syrup, coffee and cereal.

A box of free maps of Immokalee sits on the counter near the register.

Above the kitchen's window hangs a chalkboard listing the home-cooked soup. On Wednesday, the restaurant offered vegetables and beef or chili with grilled cheese.

The restaurant offers daily specials with a choice of four main dishes, three vegetables, including a drink and bread for $7.

One of the most-popular lunches is the 4-inch-high club sandwich.

During season, truck drivers are also customers.

Among customers who stop to eat at the restaurant whenever they are in town is George Mathews, a truck driver for Six Ls farms.

Mathews, 58, while eating eggs and bacon on toast, said the food and prices are good.

"Most of my customers are friends and the ones that aren't quickly become," Jones said.

Patty's Place is open from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. during season and from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the summer.

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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