Inspiring Okeechobee…Mable’s Place is a ‘home away from home’

Valentina Humphries has always enjoyed taking care of the people she loves, and one of her favorite ways of caring for those people is by cooking for them.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Valentina Humphries (right) and her niece, Taneka McQueen recently opened Mable’s Place. Their goal is to make all their customers feel at home when they walk through the door.

She spent many years working as a drug counselor out at the prison and then at a detox program for Saint Lucie County. She even went back to school to get her per-requisites to get her RN, but then she was approached about cooking Anita Nunez, who owns the plaza where Ms. Humphries new restaurant, Mable’s Place, is located. Ms. Nunez is a friend, said Ms. Humphries and she knows how much Ms. Humphries loves to cook, and she also knows she is good at it. Opening a restaurant is something she dreamed of doing, but she never thought she would actually do it. She was too busy living her life, making a living. They discussed it, and Ms. Humphries decided she would rather open her own restaurant than work for someone else in their restaurant. Ms. Nunez did not mind how it worked out — she just thought there needed to be another restaurant in the plaza, and she wanted it to be southern cooking or soul food. She wanted to help Ms. Humphries be successful, and she and her sister Patty were a huge help in getting Mable’s Place up and running, said Ms. Humphries.

When Ms. Humphries started out on her new venture, she gave her sisters the opportunity to join her, but none were interested. Some are busy, have other jobs, she said. Finally, her niece, Roneka McQueen, said she would help.

Ms. McQueen is new to the restaurant business but not to the business world in general. She owns McQueen Financial Services. She is also a tutor. She was teaching at Okeechobee High School but now, she teaches algebra online for Florida Virtual. She also does a lot of tutoring.

They put their heads together and starting figuring out what to do and how to do it, said Ms. McQueen. If they had any questions, all they had to do was call Ms. Nunez or her sister. They begin working on the restaurant in March and had their soft opening on Sept. 28. Oct. 5 was the grand opening, and they have been going strong sine, she said. “Mable was my mother’s name, and people always ask if Mable is in the kitchen. I usually laugh and say I hope not because she passed away a long time ago,” said Ms. McQueen.

The support they have received from the people of Okeechobee has been great, she said. “I come in every morning and cook everything from scratch,” she said. “There is nothing canned. I can’t keep the collard greens in here.” They get a lot of locals which she thinks is great because hopefully they will keep coming even when it’s not tourist season. They have gotten people from as far away as Frostproof who said they came over just to try the food, and that was a really nice thing to hear, she said.

They decided to stay open until 9 p.m. so people have plenty of time to get in there and get dinner after work. On the weekends, they made the decision to stay open until after the clubs close so the young people have a place to come back to and get something to eat. They close down part of their menu and just keep open the short orders like the pork chop sandwiches, wingettes, shrimp and things like that, she said. So, on the weekends, they are open until 4 a.m.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” she said. Her goal is to make her customers feel as if they are at home, and she thinks she is succeeding. “You get spoken to when you come in the door, and most of the time everyone will hold a conversation with you,” she said.

Mable’s Place is located at 204 N.E. Seventh Ave. in the same plaza as Cowboy’s.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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