Leah Laboy spent hours on the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation’s Facebook page looking for inspiration. She and her youngest daughter, Sarah Laboy, wanted a catchy name for their new downtown Winter Garden restaurant and wanted a moniker that reflects the area.
They chose Orange Crate Café — because it was clever and reminded Leah Laboy of the comfort-food restaurant Whistlestop Café in the film “Fried Green Tomatoes.”
There are even fried-green tomatoes on the Winter Garden eatery’s menu.
The mother-daughter duo opened the newest restaurant a month ago and said business has been fantastic. Orange Crate is located between Winter Garden City Hall and Plant Street Market, in the space previously occupied by Fat Mike’s Hot Chicken.
Orange Crate Café is a real family business. Taylor Reinholt, Leah Laboy’s son, has worked at his family’s other restaurants and is working here too. Leah and Sarah also are accompanied in the kitchen by Willie Laboy, Leah’s husband, who has been devoting 14-hour days to get the restaurant established and keep it running smoothly.
If the Laboy name sounds familiar, it might be because this isn’t the family’s first downtown restaurant. In 2002, Willie and Leah opened Winter Garden Pizza Company, which still is in business at 42 W. Plant St., albeit with different owners. They sold the business in 2007 to Michael Scorsone, who also was the owner of Fat Mike’s.
Coincidentally, Leah Laboy said, when she conducted an online search for the Orange Crate Café name earlier this year, another restaurant of the same name was opened in 1993 at the exact location of the pizza restaurant.
“I saw that as a sign,” she said. “Since we’ve opened, we’ve had a few customers who came in and said, ‘Did you know there was an Orange Crate Cafe here before?’”
She sees it as another full-circle piece of the puzzle.
“We’re very glad to be back,” Leah Laboy said.
The family moved to Tennessee after selling the pizza restaurant — opening an eatery up there — but often talked of returning to Winter Garden. When they moved out of state, their daughters, Sarah and Megan, were about 3 and 8. They frequently traveled south to visit Leah Laboy’s parents, and they decided now was a good time to come home.
“We came back,” Leah Laboy said. “My mother has been praying for 15 years. I don’t know why we ever left here.”
WHAT’S ON THE MENU
In keeping with the café vibe, the Laboys offer menu items such as five-grain tomatoes, rice and beans, country-fried pork chops or chicken with mashed potatoes and white gravy, and catfish and cornbread.
There are nightly specials that aren't on the menu as well.
To cater to folks trying to eat healthier, the restaurant includes grilled protein options. The menu also has starters, salads, sandwiches, wraps and a variety of sides.
For those with a sweet tooth, ice cream is available and homemade desserts are coming soon. Drink options currently are tea, soda or water with an orange slice. City employees receive free drinks whether they dine in or carry out.
Some of the employees working behind the counter and at the tables might look familiar too; they previously worked for Scorsone.
The owners will continue making tweaks to the restaurant. Leah Laboy said she is searching for a local baker who can make orange cake. The hours will expand, too, once Willie Laboy can hire and properly train cooks.
The Laboys said they made the right decision to return to Winter Garden, where they have many friends and customers and are excited to meet more.
“I prayed and prayed, and God had a hand in it,” Leah Laboy said.