Jean Ann Leske was waiting tables at an old Western Sizzlin' in Brandon in 1982 when she got a call from a friend that changed her life.
The friend told her the fountain area of the Rexall drugstore in Riverview was for rent and suggested she check it out. Her mother thought she was crazy to even consider it.
"I only had $70 at the time, and borrowed $100 from another waitress to buy its supplies and equipment," said Leske. "It took me six months to pay her back but I had started my own business. Back then if we made $40 it was a wonderful day."
Eighteen months later, the pharmacy moved further south on U.S. 301 after it was purchased by the Jack Eckerd Corp. Over the weekend, Leske and her only waitress cleaned and painted the entire 2,400-square-foot space and brought in tables and chairs.
"It wasn't much but it was mine," said Leske, 62. "From that day on, we were packed."
On most days, the open, nondescript dining room at the Riverview Sandwich Shop still is packed. Customers sit where they want and often talk to each other across tables.
"It's just a good place to eat," said Ken Harper of Riverview. "I've been a customer since it opened and come here at least once a week."
That's no surprise to Leske, who prides herself on her products and service — and that the restaurant is family-owned and operated.
"The food's good; we have the best sweet tea in town; and our customers are like family," she said. "We know most of them by name. When they walk in the door, we're already getting their drinks."
The name of the place is rather misleading, since the restaurant is open for both breakfast and lunch. Sandwiches and subs, while featured prominently, are only part of its menu. There are also lunch and veggie plates, daily specials, salads, appetizers and sides, homemade desserts and a choice of 30 breakfast items.
"It's all hand-made and fresh, never frozen," Leske said. "We prepare our own chili, shepherd's pie, spaghetti sauce, sausage gravy — everything ."
"No one is a professional chef," she continued. "We cook like we cook at home."
Brandon residents Jim Heyward, 82, and his wife, Ann, have come for lunch almost every day for the past four years.
"I especially like their selection of vegetables and soups," he said. "The atmosphere is friendly and the staff is very congenial and attentive. They know how to treat customers."
Leske knows it's folks like the Heywards who keep her in business.
"The people of this community have supported us all these years and we are truly grateful," she said. "We would have never made it without them."
The Riverview Sandwich Shop, 8001 U.S. 301 S., is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 to 11 a.m. Saturday for breakfast only.
For additional information, call (813) 677-3037. Takeout is available.