Business community weathers Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma left residents and business owners in northern Hillsborough, east Pasco and central Pasco assessing damage, cleaning up the mess, and, calculating their losses and counting their blessings.

Walgreens drugstore let people know it was open for business after Hurricane Irma’s departure. (B.C. Manion)

For business owners, the focus was on reopening and getting Pasco County’s commercial back in motion.

The effort goes on.

Zephyrhills’ chamber gave shelter
With shelters filled to capacity, The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce on Fifth Avenue opened its doors for three families to weather Hurricane Irma.

“They did well in our building,” said Melanie Monson, the chamber’s executive director.

Someone even managed to get some video footage of the storm.

In the aftermath, Monson and chamber staff pitched in to help people in need — including clearing debris and cutting up trees.

“Anything we can do to get people’s lives back, we did,” she said.

Zephyrhills’ businesses generally were luckier, and appeared to suffer less damage than other parts of the county. A few roofs were coming off, and a lot of trees were felled.

Duke Energy estimated that the Zephyrhills area, including its businesses, would have power restored by Sept. 15. Withlacoochee Electric said it might take longer for some of its customers.

The chamber cancelled all events the week of the storm, including its Citizens of the Month awards to area students.

“We’re going to double up for October, and do double the number of students,” Monson said.

Ukulele’s playing its tune again
Bryant Brand, owner of Ukulele Brand’s, reopened the waterside restaurant in Land O’ Lakes on Sept. 12 at 3 p.m. The restaurant lost power for more than 12 hours.

Some food had to be tossed out, but Brand said the restaurant withstood the battering winds. A floating dock still floated, but dipped about a foot-and-a-half underwater.

Brand said he would wait to see if the water drained away, and what kind of damage was done.

Within 30 minutes of the restaurant’s opening, cars began filling the parking lot, and hurricane-weary residents headed for the outdoor tables or the cooler bar inside.

It was business as usual.

The Shops at Wiregrass pitches in to help
Hurricanes have threatened in the past, but Hurricane Irma delivered.

“It was definitely a learning experience for everyone,” said Greg Lenners, general manager at The Shops at Wiregrass.

With Irma waffling on her direction, Lenners said the decision to close the mall came on Sept. 9, when it appeared obvious the hurricane had west Florida, and Pasco County, in her sights.

Something unexpected happened.

Some residents decided to leave their cars in the mall’s garage for safe keeping.

“Parking in the garage caught us by surprise, but we allowed them to park there to be a good neighbor,” Lenners said.

The mall came through without damage, and mall officials hoped to reopen on the afternoon of Sept. 11. Out of caution, the opening was delayed until Sept. 12, though a few restaurants opened doors sooner.

Yamato’s Japanese Steakhouse and Pincher’s seafood shack on Sept. 11 had long lines of residents eager to put Irma behind them with a hot meal and a cool place to hang out.

“I think we were all stir crazy, and had no power,” Lenners said.

Irma’s timing couldn’t have been worse. She came during a weekend, when shops and restaurants normally look forward to crowds.

“It certainly was a blow,” Lenners said, but noted it was too early to tell the precise impacts.

There already is some rebound, in part, due to schools closing for the week, he noted.

“You did have a lot of families off work because their businesses didn’t have power,” he said. “We’ve started seeing an uptick in traffic on Tuesday (Sept. 12).”

The mall planned to partner with 99.5 QYK radio station on Sept. 15 for a Help Our Community Heal event. The radio station was scheduled to hand out free water and batteries, and provide charging stations for people needing help. Donations also were being collected to aid about 700 linemen who have been restoring power.

Drive-through here and there
Motorists wrapped their cars around McDonald’s at Connerton on Tuesday morning, eager to grab bags full of breakfast foods and hot coffee from the drive-through lane.

Area restaurants that were able to open immediately after Hurricane Irma activated drive-through windows, with limited menus.

Kentucky Fried Chicken on State Road 54 in Land O’ Lakes also was among the fast-food chains with lines of cars quickly surrounding the restaurant.

Tampa Premium Outlets is shopper ready
Tampa Premium Outlets reported no problems arising from Hurricane Irma. As of Sept. 12, stores began opening and the outlet mall “is open for business as usual,” said Sarah Rasheid, in a written statement. Rasheid is director of marketing and business development.

“We recognize the devastation our communities are experiencing by Hurricane Irma’s arrival in Florida,” Rasheid said in her statement. “It is heartbreaking when events like these occur, and our thoughts and prayers are with all the families throughout the state.”

Home improvement stores fill needs, before and after
Home improvement stores, like Home Depot and Lowe’s, were slammed with customers frantic to buy plywood to board up their homes, generators to keep refrigerators running and flashlights to light the dark.

Now that Irma is history, shopping is getting back to normal.

But, there also have been plenty of residents needing cleanup supplies.

Lowe’s, on State Road 54, east of U.S. 41, sent in a small team of employees to get the store ready for its reopening on Sept. 12.

The store shut down about lunchtime on Sept. 9, before Irma struck.

“I’d love to see power returned to the whole area,” said Michael Armstrong, Lowe’s store manager.

Since reopening, Armstrong has seen a mix of customers. Buying is happening across all categories, he added.

People are filling carts with flowers, patio cushions and usual needs of a home. But, he said others are on the hunt for cleaning supplies, rakes, yard clippers and tarps for their roofs.

Those still without power also wanted flashlights, he said.

In the midst of providing area residents with their hurricane needs, Lowe’s, as a company, also had to consider its own employees.

Armstrong said employees had to think of their own safety and their families. Their decisions reflected the dilemmas everyone had. And, he said some opted to evacuate; others stayed.

“We keep a list of associates,” he said. “As soon as the hurricane was over, we started calling everyone. At 9 a.m., yesterday, (Sept. 12) we reached the last one. It’s not just about coming to work. It’s ‘we want to check on you. See how you’re doing’.”

As of Wednesday, Lowe’s was on track for a normal business day.

Dade City ready to rebound
Dade City’s downtown businesses took a hit during Hurricane Irma. But, with power restored, they began opening doors around mid-week to shoppers and diners.

For two days after Irma passed, downtown seemed “very quiet,” said John Moors, executive director of The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce.

“I haven’t heard of anything looking major, except for cosmetic stuff and trees down,” he said.

Revenue losses are to be expected, however.

“There’s definitely concern over the whole week,” Moors said. “The major thing is people were safe. It’s just a lot of work to get cleared up.”

It’s early yet, but Moors said some merchants might want to explore hosting a special event to help businesses rebound from Irma.

Published September 20, 2017

Downtown Dade City to get flood relief

Puddle jumping in downtown Dade City is often a rainy day sport especially along Seventh Street, the spine of downtown’s business district.

Sidewalks can quickly overflow, forcing pedestrians to hunt for spots less than ankle deep to cross from one side of the street to the other. Other downtown streets, including Meridian, Pasco and Live Oak avenues, also see the waters rise.

(Courtesy of 54realty.com)

But, $1.4 million embedded in the state’s 2018 budget could go a long way toward easing the chronic flooding. The funds are among local requests that survived the budget veto pen of Gov. Rick Scott.

The money will pay to retrofit Dade City’s stormwater system by expanding a retention pond and installing a larger culvert system to drain off the rainfall.

According to the application presented to the state legislature, the project will “improve safety, attract new businesses and improve the local economy.”

It is something area business owners have wanted for a long while. They worry that the flooding keeps some customers from venturing downtown.

“We hope it will make an economic impact on our businesses,” said Joseph DeBono, Dade City’s public works director.

On rainy days, for instance, shoppers need more than an umbrella to try and stay dry in downtown Dade City. They likely need a pair of rain boots.

“It definitely is an issue, and this will help,” said John Moors, executive director for The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce.

Bids for the project will go out after Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

Roads included in the project are Seventh, Pasco, State Road 52 and U.S. 98. The city-owned Irvin pond will be enlarged to accommodate more runoff. The estimated cost of $400,000 will be paid with a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Permits for the work have been approved.

Details on a work schedule for the entire project are to be determined, but the pond renovations will be the starting point, said DeBono.

Other community requests that were approved in the 2018 state budget include:

  • $500,000 for Youth and Family Alternatives
  • $150,000 for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office for a pilot program to help first-responders suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • $1.2 million for a campus of “therapeutic safe homes” for child victims of sex trafficking.

Published July 5, 2017

Pucker up for kumquats

Every year when the calendar rolls up against the Dade City Kumquat Festival, I can’t help thinking about a scene from “Doc Hollywood” — the Michael J. Fox movie in which an aspiring Beverly Hills plastic surgeon gets waylaid in tiny Grady, South Carolina (played convincingly by Micanopy, just up the road).

While he’s there waiting for repairs to his wrecked Porsche and serving community service hours in the local hospital, preparations are underway for the local Squash Festival, which prompts a rumination on timing by the mayor (David Ogden Stiers).

Skip Mize, the longtime kitchen boss at Williams Lunch on Limoges, says that kumquat season at his popular Seventh Street eatery is fleeting. But, during that period, the ambitious menu features kumquats in all of the various forms.
(Tom Jackson)

It seems the zucchini and the Grady squash were locked in a battle over which would be the nation’s preeminent gourd when a shipment of the town’s signature crop was swept away by a tornado that was otherwise “bound for … agricultural stardom at the [1933] Chicago World’s Fair.”

“If it had gone the other way,” the mayor says, “there’s no telling where this town would be today.”

The parallel is not exact, but when it comes to festivals surrounding local harvests, and towns that are making the most of close calls, I can’t help thinking about kumquats and Dade City. Not that there’s anything wrong with either, except that kumquats are not, to choose one regional delicacy, strawberries. Nor are they tangerines or oranges — although all these and kumquats are related taxonomically.

Generally, however, humans do not have to work their way up to strawberries or tangerines or oranges. Each can be enhanced, of course, and often are, but each also, when ripe, is tasty right off the bush or branch. Fresh-picked kumquats, however, are an acquired taste.

Yes, you’d say, and so are Spanish olives, champagne, golf and PBS’ “Masterpiece Classics.” And, I would not disagree. Each requires a mature palate, and rewards the effort.

But, in my experience, bright little kumquats, so lovely in aspect and mesmerizing in fragrance, will flat out produce a three-day pucker when eaten fresh-picked.

Yes, even if you follow, precisely, the recommended regimen, rolling the fruit firmly between your thumb and forefinger to release the sweet oil in the skin before popping the whole thing, grape-like, in your mouth, you will wind up resembling someone eager to be kissed.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Still, the resolute tartness of kumquat pulp makes the little fruits conveyances for the delivery of sugar, the more the better.

So, part of me can never anticipate the Kumquat Festival without wondering, like the Grady mayor, how the arc of Dade City’s history would have bent if it had been Florida’s first to celebrate the subtly sweet temple orange, the easily peeled and delicate tangerine, or even the bold pink grapefruit.

But, no. Instead, The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce decided to organize a festival in its honor. And, they have it on the last Saturday in January — the same day as Tampa’s annual Gasparilla pirate invasion.

A challenging date for a challenging fruit. Because that’s how Dade City, the little town that can, rolls.

If you were there last weekend, you may have discovered that once they have submitted to the culinary expert’s machinations, kumquat-centered dishes can be exquisite.

And so, we turn to the Skip Mize, the longtime kitchen boss at Williams Lunch on Limoges, who advises us at the top, kumquat season at his popular Seventh Street eatery is fleeting.

This has more to do with preparation, which is labor intensive, than harvest season, which extends from November through March.

“There are some things you get to eat only at Thanksgiving, and some things you get to eat only at Christmas,” Mize says, “and some things you get to eat only around the Kumquat Festival. It’s tradition.”

For Mize’s kitchen, that tradition extends “only about two weeks, two-and-a-half weeks, tops.” But, what a season it is. His ambitious menu abounds with dishes featuring kumquats in various forms: sauced, jellied, jammed, candied and glazed; kumquats reduced, through repeated boiling, to simple syrup; and, ladled onto pork, chicken or salmon, kumquat chutney.

Similarly, on festival day itself, nearby Kafe Kokopelli always features kumquats in various forms, infused into everything from appetizers and cocktails — kumquat sangria sounds zesty — to entrees (who’s up for kumquat meatloaf?).

Without a gate admission, organizers say it’s impossible to know how many people attend the festival in any given year, but with roughly tens of thousands each year, it’s fair to say the crowd is substantially more than turned out for the Grady Squash Festival.

Then again, the movie had a happy ending: The doc got the gal; the town got the doc; the mayor, presumably, went on to many reelection landslides.

It’s a similar joy that descends, each year, on Dade City as a result of its embrace of its tart natural treasure.

Tom Jackson, a resident of New Tampa, is interested in your ideas. To reach him, email .

(Published February 1, 2017)

Kumquat Festival traditions continue

Many came wearing sweaters, or jackets, or long-sleeved shirts — but they came just the same to enjoy the Kumquat Festival in Dade City.

Bruce Gode, of Kumquat Growers Inc., arranges a display of kumquats for sale at the festival. 
(Richard Riley)

“Tens of thousands of people came from all over the Tampa Bay region — residents, winter visitors and tourists joined in the fun,” according to an email from John Moors, executive director of The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the annual event.

Generous sponsors and more than 200 volunteers helped pull off the event, which generated an estimated $800,000 in economic activity, Moors added.

There were the usual things that people find at festivals — funnel cakes and festival queens, live entertainment and plenty of stuff to buy.

There were pony rides, plants for sale, quilts on display and a car show, too.

Plus, there were all sorts of kumquat goodies to taste and to purchase.

With newly purchased plants over her back and in her arms, Stephanie Simpson, right, poses with Shirley Perez, both of Tampa. Simpson, a retired veteran with five tours in Afghanistan, was visiting her first Kumquat Festival.

The festival once again showcased the quaint nature of downtown Dade City’s historic core.

The 21st annual Kumquat Festival is planned for Jan. 27, 2018. Planning begins this month.

Anyone who would like to be involved as a volunteer, sponsor or vendor should email or . For more information about the festival, visit KumquatFestival.org.

Published February 1, 2017

Kumquat Festival likely to attract thousands

In the beginning, there was the kumquat.

It’s a tiny fruit, with a slightly sweet and tangy, tangy taste.

And, it’s the centerpiece of an annual tradition that often introduces visitors to Dade City’s Old-Florida charm.

The Kumquat Festival in Dade City is an event that pays homage to what promoters call ‘the little gold gem’ of the citrus industry.
(File)

The festival that pays homage to the diminutive orange fruit began two decades ago, when Phyllis Smith, Roxanne Barthle and Carlene Ellberg were looking for a way to help inject new life into downtown Dade City. They put their heads together and decided to have a festival to honor the kumquat.

The inaugural festival was on the lawn of the historic Pasco County Courthouse. It included a few vendors, some food and some kumquat growers, from nearby St. Joseph, the Kumquat Capital of the World.

Described as the “little gold gem of the citrus industry” by kumquat promoters, the fruit can be found in virtually every form at the annual festival.

While the exact offerings change from year to year, there’s typically kumquat cookies and kumquat smoothies. Kumquat marmalade and kumquat salsa. Kumquat pie and kumquat all kinds of other stuff.

This year, more than 425 vendors and 40 sponsors are taking part in the festival organized by The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, said John Moors, the chamber’s executive director.

The festival is slated for Jan. 28, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Whether it’s kumquat marmalade, kumquat salsa or kumquat wine, chances are you’ll be able to find it in downtown Dade City, during the community’s annual Kumquat Festival.

If you’ve been there before, you’ll know the basics. Admission is free. Parking is free. Entertainment is free. And, there are two satellite parking lots, with free shuttles, Moors said.

But, even if you’ve been there before, the experience won’t be the same, Moors said. There are always new vendors joining the lineup, and every year organizers aim to make the experience better than it was was before, he said.

Besides food trucks and other food vendors, local restaurants are open, too.

There is live entertainment, an antique car and truck show, a quilt challenge, arts and crafts, a health and wellness area, a farmer’s market, and activities for the kids.

There’s also plenty of shopping, with offerings from festival vendors and at local stores.

Those who would enjoy learning more about kumquats are welcome to attend grove and packing house tours offered by the Kumquat Growers on Jan. 26 and Jan. 27.

For times and more information, visit KumquatGrowers.com.

For more information about the festival, call the chamber office at (352) 567-3769.

Kumquat Festival
Where:
Dade City’s historic downtown core
When: Jan. 28, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
How much: Admission and parking are free
Details: Live entertainment, food vendors, arts and crafts, car and truck show, children’s activities, fine arts, health and wellness area, quilt challenge, kumquat pie and products.
For more information, visit KumquatFestival.org or DadeCityChamber.org, or call The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce at (352) 567-3769.

Published January 25, 2017

Welcome 700 Dade City Families!

With this edition of The Laker, we’re proud to welcome 700 Dade City families to weekly home delivery of our newspaper.

If you live in the downtown area, or in subdivisions south of town along Fort King Road and Clinton Avenue, you most likely found today’s paper in your driveway, and can look forward to receiving it every Wednesday.

In addition to this new home delivery, we’ll continue to distribute 2,000 Lakers every week to 60 newspaper boxes, business locations and public buildings in the Dade City – San Antonio area. In Zephyrhills, we have another 130 outlets and 6,300 papers.

Adding circulation is a big deal in the newspaper world, especially one that represents a 35 percent jump in one community, all in one week. And we do so without hesitation, and with much confidence, because Dade City readers and business leaders have been asking for home delivery of The Laker for some time.

So when The Tampa Tribune stopped publishing so suddenly and unexpectedly in early May, we decided there was no better time than right now to add home delivery in Dade City. With the help of the fine folks at The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, we selected neighborhoods with demographics that matched those of newspaper readers, and decided to take the plunge and add all 700 homes the Chamber was recommending.

Our goal is to fill the void left behind by the closing of The Tampa Tribune, which always had a strong following in east Pasco. Earlier this year, we began to step up our East Pasco news coverage when we hired Kevin Weiss as a full-time reporter assigned to Zephyrhills, Dade City and San Antonio.

Kevin, a 2014 graduate of the University of South Florida, has the enthusiasm, energy and passion about community journalism that make his stories easy to read and understand. He is a talented, hard-working young man I’m proud to employ, and one I hope you have an opportunity to meet.

Joining Kevin in our East Pasco news coverage is Kathy Steele, a seasoned journalist and excellent writer who covers transportation, growth and development, as well as Pasco County government. Kathy joined our staff a year-and-a-half ago after 15 years as a Tampa Tribune reporter.

Our newest journalist whose coverage includes East Pasco is Tom Jackson, another Tampa Tribune veteran who wrote a column about Pasco County politics and people for more than 18 years.

Tom began writing his column for The Laker two weeks after The Tampa Tribune shut down. His knowledge about Pasco County, and his genuine love for its people, passionately pours through his words.  You’ll know what I mean if you read Tom’s column last week about the tragic bicycling death of Joe Hancock, a Dade City citrus farmer whose family has lived in Dade City for generations. It was a poignant column that was so well written that it brought me to tears, even though I did not know Joe or his family.

It’s Kevin, Kathy, Tom and editor B.C. Manion, who brings all this talent together, to give you an interesting and relevant news package every week. Their work makes The Laker different from other newspapers in East Pasco.

We give you a broader, county-wide viewpoint that includes news and stories about issues and people throughout central and east Pasco, including Wesley Chapel, Land O’ Lakes and Lutz.

People in Dade City and Zephyrhills are a vital part of this larger Pasco community. It’s where you shop, work, attend school, meet friends for dinner or drinks, go to movies, practice your faith, and visit family and friends.

Because your interests go beyond the town limits of Dade City and Zephyrhills, The Laker will continue to bring you stories about this larger, vibrant community where we make our lives.

Published June 15, 2016

Miss Florida Sunshine leads food drive

Katy Sartain, recently crowned Miss Florida Sunshine, is leading a food drive in Dade City aimed at helping the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes.

She’s seeking to collect single-serving macaroni and cheese meals, and cans of chicken and tuna, in a quest to help fill 500 backpacks.

Anyone wishing to donate items should bring them on or before April 15 to The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce office at 14112 Eighth St., in Dade City.

“One of the things that you do within the Miss America organization is volunteer for a day of service, called Miss America Serves,” Sartain explained.

Katy Sartain
Katy Sartain

The Miss America organization is supporting The Florida Baptist Children’s Homes in Lakeland, she said.

“I work a lot with older youth in foster care, so it’s amazing that my own personal platform kind of correlates and is congruent with this day of service.

“I’m very passionate about this in my own personal life, and I love that other people are getting involved as well,” Sartain said.

The Dade City native, who attends Florida State University, will be competing in June for the title of Miss Florida. The winner of that contest will seek the title of Miss America in September.

The Pasco High School graduate said she was initially unsure if she wanted to get involved in the pageant world.

“I was a little hesitant about getting involved because of the outward appearance of ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ and things like that, but the amazing thing about the Miss America organization is that it’s a scholarship pageant, and I have been able to pay for a large majority of my tuition through the scholarship money that I’ve earned,” said Sartain, who is a college sophomore and is pursuing a degree in digital media production.

She said she decided to ask The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce to serve as a collection point for the food drive, because she thought it would be a good way for the community to get involved.

“I thought more people would be apt to help out if we had a collection point, and kind of get the community involved in helping to feed our children,” Sartain said. “I wanted to make it something that everyone could help with, and get that sense of satisfaction.

“Everyone can do that — and be able to help a child who may be going home hungry. It doesn’t take that much effort or funds to help,” she added.

She thinks the community will step forward to help.

“The great thing about living in a small town is that you do have all of this support around you,” Sartain said. “The phrase, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ — I really have been raised by Dade City.”

The food drive is helping an organization established in 1904 as an orphanage. Through a history stretching more than a century, it has expanded services to provide safe, stable Christian homes and services to children and families in need.

Last year, the organization served more than 74,000 children through their campuses, foster care services, adoption service, emergency care, compassion ministries and other services, according to the organization’s website.

Other women involved in the Miss Florida system also are conducting local food drives to provide other items for the backpacks, Sartain said.

She will be at the children’s home in Lakeland on April 16 to help load the backpacks.

Food Drive
Katy Sartain, recently crowned Miss Florida Sunshine, is leading a food drive in Dade City to provide food items to The Florida Baptist Children’s Homes in Lakeland. She’s specifically seeking donations of single-serve macaroni, and cans of tuna and chicken.
Anyone wishing to donate items should bring them on or before April 15 to The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce office at 14112 Eighth St., in Dade City.

Published April 13, 2016

 

Welcome to Dade City, where kumquat is king

Every year, as marauders take over Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa’s Gasparilla Parade, there’s another invasion of sorts— as thousands stream into downtown Dade City for the city’s annual Kumquat Festival.

“It’s a wonderful alternative (to Gasparilla),” said John Moors, executive director of The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce.

John Moors, executive director of the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, said the 18th annual Kumquat Festival promises to be a fun and affordable event. (B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)
John Moors, executive director of the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, said the 18th annual Kumquat Festival promises to be a fun and affordable event.
(B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

The Dade City event — which draws its name from a diminutive, tangy orange fruit — gives visitors a chance to experience a taste of old Florida in a family friendly atmosphere, Moors said.

With its free parking, free admission, free entertainment and assorted free activities, people can enjoy the day without having to spend a fortune, Moors said.

Of course, Moors said, the chamber would like to see festival-goers do a bit of spending on items sold by vendors, at area restaurants and in merchant’s stores.

The event, now in its 18th year, is expected to attract 30,000 to 40,000.

Event-goers come from as far north as The Villages, as far south as Sarasota, as far west as the beaches, and as far east as Orlando.

For some, it’s an annual tradition. For others, a reunion. And for still others, it’s an introduction to the East Pasco city with the historic courthouse and quaint shops.

The annual festival started simply.

It began when Phyllis Smith, Roxanne Barthle and Carlene Ellberg were looking for a way to help inject new life into downtown Dade City.

They decided to have a festival to honor the kumquat, and the first event was held on the lawn of the historic Pasco County Courthouse.

This year there will be 450 vendors, a car show, children’s activities, an enlarged health and wellness section, entertainment and, for the first time, several food trucks.

The food trucks are an additional component to the area’s restaurants and food vendors at the festival, Moors said.

Local restaurants are always swarmed on festival day, the chamber executive said, adding some restaurant owners have told him they do a week’s worth of business on that single day.

Of course, the kumquat is king at this event, and vendors offer it up in myriad forms. There’s kumquat pie, kumquat salsas, kumquat jam, kumquat jelly, kumquat preserves, and even kumquat lotions and soaps.

Over the years, the event has helped put Dade City on the map and has helped raise the community’s profile. It was heralded by the Pasco County Tourism Board as the Pasco County Event of the Year in 2012 and has enjoyed the distinction of being named a “Top 20 Event” by the Southeast Tourism Society, which selects premier events in 13 Southeastern states.

Offering the event without charging an admission means that organizers rely on the generosity of sponsors, income from vendor fees and support achieved through other fundraising efforts.

This year, Florida Hospital Zephyrhills is the event’s headlining sponsor, Moors said.

Besides providing financial support, the hospital is a partner with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so the team will be sending its bus as well as cheerleaders and a player or two, Moors said.

The importance of the sponsors cannot be overstated, Moors said.

They make it possible for event organizers to stage the festival without admission or parking charges, Moors said.

“There’s a lot of expense in putting something like this on. Somebody has to pay for the buses and the Port-o-lets and the insurance and the volunteer expenses,” the chamber executive said.

To get the full enjoyment out of the event, Moors recommends that people arrive early.

“Get in and get settled and enjoy the day.”

The festival is held, rain or shine.

Moors is optimistic that the weather will cooperate.

“Bring an umbrella,” he said. “You can always leave it in the car.”

18th annual Kumquat Festival
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Jan. 31
Where: Downtown Dade City
How much: Admission is free, parking is free, entertainment is free, and many activities are free.
For more information, call (352) 567-3769, or visit DadeCityChamber.org or KumquatFestival.org.

Kumquat Festival Entertainment Schedule, Historic Courthouse Square
9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.: Saint Leo University SASS (Women’s a capella)
10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: First Baptist Church of Dade City (Christian blended music)
10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.: Strawberry Express Cloggers
11 a.m. to noon: Cypress Creek Dixieland Band (Seven-piece New Orleans-style jazz band)
Noon to 1 p.m.: Noah Gamer (Alabama male vocalist award in traditional country, in 17 to 20 age group)
1 p.m. to 2 p.m.: Dean Johnson’s Music & Friends (Various styles)
2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.: Bailey Coats (Rhythm and blues and jazz)
2:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Danielle Pacifico (Country)
3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.: This Train (’50s and ’60s pop and gospel)

O’Reilly Auto Parts Annual Kumquat Festival Car Show
Registration, 8 a.m.
Car show, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Dash plaque and specialty trophies will be awarded.
For more information contact Ronnie Setser, (813) 879-1616 or RonnieSetsers.com.

Would you like a slice of kumquat pie?
Ingredients:
1 9-inch baked pie crust
1 can condensed milk
1 8-ounce container of whipped topping
2/3 cup of Kumquat puree
1/2 cup of lemon juice

Directions:
Beat condensed milk with whipped topping. Add lemon juice and beat until thickened. Add Kumquat puree. Pour in pie crust and chill for several hours. Garnish with Kumquats and mint leaves.

What is a kumquat?
Kumquats have been called the little gold gems of the citrus family. They are believed to be native to China and have a very distinctive taste. Kumquats are the only citrus fruit that can be eaten whole. The peel is the sweetest part and can be eaten separately. The pulp contains seeds and juice, which is sour. Together, the taste is sweet and sour. The seeds contain pectin, which can be removed by boiling for use in jams and jellies.
— Kumquat Growers Inc.

How do you eat a kumquat?
—Kumquats taste best when they are gently rolled between the fingers before being eaten. The gentle rolling action releases the essential oils in the rind. Eat kumquats the same way you eat a grape — peel on.

—Kumquats can be candied or on a kabob with fruits, vegetables and meat, such as poultry, duck, pork or lamb.

—Kumquats are also a favorite for jelly, jam, marmalade, salsa or chutney.

Published January 21, 2015