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Gluten Free Dining Options in Safety Harbor

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Cafe Vino Tinto in Safety Harbor, April 2019. (Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

by Scarlet Burton

We all know Safety Harbor has delicious places to eat. But are they gluten free? I have been to a lot of restaurants in Safety Harbor. They were all really good. But last year my family and I found out that I had celiac disease. I can’t eat gluten. If I do, I get really sick.

Last summer I went  to writing camp at SHAMc. I ended up finding two gluten free restaurants that changed my life.

Cafe Vino Tinto

I was very excited when I got to camp on Monday. I love to write. SHAMc was a really cool place. Then on Tuesday, the director of the camp told everyone something exciting. They wanted us to learn how to use all our senses in our writing. We took a walk around the block and tried to use our senses as much as we could as we jotted down notes. However, we couldn’t use our sense of taste yet. And so the next day everyone was told that we were going to try food or drinks from two different restaurants.  First, we went to Cafe Vino Tinto. It was a cute little place. The people were really nice and they let us sit wherever we wanted. Everyone including me wanted to sit outside. So we chose a rather large table with five or six chairs.

Scarlet and her dad enjoying Father’s Day at Cafe Vino Tinto
(Photo/Scarlet’s mom)

Then a server came up to our table and set down two giant jugs of lemonade. I guess one of the counselors had already ordered. Both lemonades smelled good. I asked what type of lemonade it was. I  knew that each jug contained a different type. Then all the kids were taught that one was regular lemonade and the other was guava. I tried both. They were so good! I also learned that the cafe had other gluten free things too: A breakfast brownie, waffles, they had all kinds of gluten free breakfasts.

When we left the cafe, I was feeling pretty happy about the lemonade.

Then the week after,  my family and I went back there for my dad’s Father’s Day breakfast.  Everything was good there. It was pretty cool!

Daydreamers Cafe & Grill

After the camp leader took us to Cafe Vino Tinto, we walked back in the direction of SHAMc. I didn’t know what was going on since I was told we were going to two restaurants. Just as I was about to ask where we were going I heard a counselor say, “here we are,” and I turned around and saw it: a medium sized rectangular building stood right in front of me. It had unicorns, narwhals, and all sorts of other things painted on its sides. I had seen it before on my way to SHAMc a couple of times. But I didn’t know it was where we were going to eat. When we got to the front of the place I saw a cute little chair standing next to the door. It was an interesting place. Then I turned and saw lots of little tables shaded by brightly colored umbrellas.

Scarlet in front of Daydreamers (Photo/Scarlet’s mom)

We went inside and were greeted by lots of nice people. We were told to look around and write down things that we noticed including the ceiling. I looked up. The ceiling was covered with clouds! And each one had a different encouraging note on it. It was so cool! Then I gave the rest of the place a good look. Everything shone with bright, happy colors. We also got to meet the owner. He was very kind and said that it was always his dream to open a restaurant and that’s why he named it Daydreamers. Then he led us to the outside tables and we sat down. He told us what we were having. It was a bacon, egg, and cheese wrap and crackers. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to have anything. But to my surprise the owner said he had a gluten free wrap made just for me. When they brought out the food, I was pretty hungry. I took a bite. It was really good. I was given some fruit to make up for the crackers. I was very happy. When we left Daydreamers I was feeling good. Then about two months later my mom decided that we should go back to Daydreamers. Nothing had changed. It was still really great. I’m so excited to go again!

Southern Fresh

Scarlet Burton at Southern Fresh (Photo/Scarlet’s Mom)

It’s nice to know there are places in Safety Harbor that have gluten free choices and understand celiac disease. After I discovered these two places, I also wanted to know if there were more. So my mom took me to Southern Fresh. My family and I went there for dinner and the food was outstanding. But that was before we found out I had celiac. My mom wasn’t sure if it had gluten free or not until my mom decided to look it up. Surprisingly, they had lots of gluten free options. When we got to Southern Fresh we were greeted by a friendly man who pointed out all the options that were and weren’t gluten free.

Then my mom ended up ordering shrimp cocktail and coleslaw. The food was very good. The shrimp were plump and juicy. I really liked their coleslaw. The dressing in it flooded my mouth with happiness. I think all three places are wonderful. They all had very kind people and good service. I think everyone should give them a try! 


Scarlet Burton is a nine year old girl in fourth grade. She is very involved in her school’s gifted and music programs including Drum/ORF, chorus and multicultural club. While she has enjoyed trying various activities, she has a passion for playing the guitar, singing, equestrian riding and especially writing. Her love of writing began when she was five and she spends much of her free time creating books, plays and instrumental pieces for her guitar. She also has interesting in advocating for endangered animals as well as volunteering for and being involved in different charities. She hopes to one day be a wildlife conservationist and continue to write and play music.

Amazing Elderberry

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Elderberry tea and dried elderberry in mortar and pestle.
Photo/Julie Brannon)

It happens every fall when the kids head back to class; viruses start spreading faster than an algae bloom on still water.  And don’t think you’ll be spared if your kids are the 4-legged furry kind.  Viruses are aggressively equal opportunity and you can bet that at some point you will be exposed. It’s inevitable.

My favorite go-to is elderberry, an extremely potent anti-viral weapon in the arsenal to battle fall and winter ailments. Sambucus nigra is a diminutive and unimpressive looking tree –abundant here in west central Florida– that has been revered throughout history for its remarkable ability to heal human ailments. Recipes for elder-based remedies are found in the Ebers Papyrus, written by ancient Egyptian physicians almost 7,000 years ago. The Greek physician Hippocrates, considered the Father of Medicine, described elder as his “medicine chest” for the wide variety of ailments it treated.  That was in 400 BC, and science has since confirmed what Hippocrates and other ancients knew about this itty bitty purple berry.

Try this on for size:  An Israeli study revealed that elderberry cured 90% of flu infection within 72 hours, and was effective against eight strains of influenza, both type A and B, including the bird flu. That’s nothing to sneeze at!  Elderberry’s mode of action is to “deactivate” viruses, preventing them from replicating and invading healthy cells. Even more recent research shows elderberry powerfully activates the immune system to strengthen our natural defenses, reduces inflammation, and is effective against not just 8 but 10 strains of influenza.

But here’s the catch: you absolutely positively must start elderberry at the very first sign of a virus. I can’t emphasize this enough. You cannot wait until the virus has spread throughout your system before deciding to do something about it. Hit it early –and hard, starting at the first symptom. Whether it’s a sniffle, a scratchy throat, headache, muscle aches, or simply a feeling of being “off”… jump aboard the elderberry train. You’ll be glad you did. And even if it’s not a virus making you feel puny, elderberry certainly can’t hurt, and will likely make you feel better.

I should also mention that elderberry benefits go way beyond colds and flu. It’s a powerful antioxidant, and a good choice to treat congestion, sore throat, bronchitis, constipation, and even asthma. Elderberry also cleanses the system and builds the blood.  What’s not to love?

I routinely wild harvest elderberries around Safety Harbor, and no, I won’t tell you where. I was born at night, but not last night!  I will say that elder trees love water, and are found along the banks of rivers and canals, even along the shores of Tampa Bay.  They’re easiest to spot in the spring when covered with upright bunches of little white flowers, or mid to late summer when those clusters droop with dark berries. But a word of caution:  always wear gloves when harvesting or handling fresh elder. The leaves, branches, stems, and unripe berries contain cyanide. The berries must be nearly black, dried, and boiled to be safe.

You can find elderberry bottled and sold under the name Sambucol, which is an excellent product used in many studies, but it’s an expensive one. Being an old fashioned gal I make my own elderberry extract.… and if you can boil water, you can too. It’s not a sweet berry, so you might add honey, agave, or stevia.  For picky kids think –Popsicles!  It’s a super sneaky but effective way to administer elderberry, and having a batch in the freezer means you can get treatment going fast when you need to.

Elderberries are just this side of miraculous as far as I’m concerned.  But let’s not forget all the other important ways to keep viruses at bay through cold and flu season: hand washing, reducing sugar intake, a fresh whole foods diet, and a daily probiotic will go a long way in keeping you healthy and on your feet this winter. 

If you have serious or chronic health conditions, or are pregnant or nursing, it would be wise to check with your doctor before taking elderberry or any natural remedy.  And as ever, this information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease, nor it intended as medical advice or a substitute for the expert care of a qualified physician. 


Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.: Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.

Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6.: The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.

Remembering 9/11 Through the Eyes of a First Responder

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On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Gregg Donato worked for the New York City Transit Authority.

“I was a civil servant,” he says. “I had a small house and two small children. My life was work, dealing with the public, and elevators and escalators, all at the same time.”

Gregg Donato is a Safety Harbor resident now,. He met his wife Jennifer through local business owners Mike and Joan Kelly, connections from New York. He grew up on Long Island and had joined the Transit Authority in June, 1999. 

Gregg and Jennifer Donato / credit Gregg Donato

“Our quarters were at 34th and 6th St. in Manhattan. We had this thing called a six-wire. It’s a wire for police, fire department, transit, FBI, for any serious local catastrophe. That morning, we heard that something hit the World Trade Center.”

Donato and his workmates turned on the TV. “We thought it was an accident. Then the other plane flew into the second building so we knew it wasn’t an accident but we weren’t getting any calls over the six-wire. You just hear, you can’t talk into it. We were waiting for supervisors to tell us what was going on. My friend Keith ran into the quarters covered head to toe in white dust. He was like ‘guys, we’ve got to go. It’s a horror show down there.’ Without waiting for permission, we all left the transit property. We jumped on a train and took it down as far as we could go. The train was cut off to the World Trade Center for obvious reasons. The cops were there so we showed them our ID and they let us in.”

The scene was surreal.

“It looked like we were on a movie set—it looked like hell on a movie set. People were screaming, crying. Thick smoke was everywhere. We had to walk a couple blocks to the building. We hitched a ride in a police paddy wagon and went to the site and started suiting up to go in there.

9/11/2001 Credit: Gregg Donato

“All the news was trying to hit us up,” Donato remembers. “John Stossil from Channel 7 was trying to talk to us to get a story but no one was stopping to talk. There was a line of people struggling to get in to help. In the beginning there were a lot of civilians trying to help the police and fire departments. Any related agencies all came together. Man, when we got in there, our shoes started melting off our feet from standing on the pile. Nobody knew where to start.”  

Finally, a fireman directed Donato and his workmates to a spot in front of the South Tower. “We were right in front of the second building. [The fireman] said, ‘my friend’s truck is over here.’ We found the spot. The truck was gone, only the engine was there, running, and it ran the whole time we were there.”

credit: Gregg Donato

Donato and his team started digging. They were hoping to find the fireman’s friend. “We found his friend’s boots but there was nothing in them. That guy, he broke down.”

 There would be thousands killed or injured that day.

“We were just elevator mechanics. When you take that civil service job, they don’t consider you just that title. You’re there for the public. As time went on a lot more of our department showed up. Everybody from the transit was there. It was like the first time I ever saw the whole world pulled together in one little tiny spot.” Fire departments arrived from across the country. Dogs were brought in from Switzerland, fire departments from Germany. “Some of us couldn’t [communicate] but we knew what we were doing.”

credit: Gregg Donato
‘”Brian” credit: Gregg Donato

Donato became part of a sort of bucket brigade, passing five-gallon pails. “The digging was the hardest part. We were shoveling up remains of people.”

The North Tower was already on fire.

His friend Brian was with an Emergency Service Unit and was called to the scene. “We never found a piece of him,” Donato says. “I have a picture of him outside the building right before he was to go in. But there were a lot of people who couldn’t get out. Brian went in with a bunch of people to try to help. The rest of the building came down on top of him. It disintegrated into nothing. They didn’t find an article of clothing, his helmet, or his badge.”

The whole city opened up for them.

They were given food, water, clothing and work boots. “We were going through shoes – like every three hours you had to change your shoes.” They were given hotel rooms to sleep in and for part of the time, he stayed on an aircraft carrier. “There was a cruise ship there too,” he says. “There was about ten guys I stayed with that some lived upstate, some from Pennsylvania. We could get a few hours of sleep. My ex-wife was like ‘are you ever coming home?’ and I didn’t know.

“OSHA came down and started fitting us for respirators. We were respirator trained. We were telling the guy the cartridges were not rated for that kind of debris. In turn, people got a lot sicker than I did. A lot of my friends did pass away. I still have my mask in my mother’s garage. With the same cartridges, too.”

credit: Gregg Donato

Some memories still haunt him more than others.

“We had people handing us pictures through the fence, asking us for any hope in finding their family members. We would find pictures in the debris. At a certain point we knew we weren’t going to find more people. We were just looking for things that would ease the families.

“There was also a tremendous amount of stealing. Money, watches off of dead people. Anything they could find. But there was no way we were going to be part of that. There was a Rolex store and it was still intact. These people were like ‘they’re just going to write it off anyway.’ They smashed the booth and cleared the whole thing out. It wasn’t all as honorable as you’d think.”

“We found a child smashed into a beam. The police commissioner went on the loudspeaker and announced a moment of silence. We took our hardhats off and kneeled while they carried this little kid out. The kid was nine years old. We just kept finding bits and pieces of people hoping we’d find someone alive. You were lucky to find body parts.”

Donato remembers finding a wallet. “His last name was White. His whole wallet was like a Shrinky Dink. It was inside an airplane chair. All that was left of the chair were wire pieces. His American Airlines credit card was still in the wallet.

“After a while you just couldn’t help anymore.”

Eighteen years later . . .

Today, Donato has many of the physical and emotional symptoms caused by the attacks.

“They try to give you psychiatric help but most of us didn’t get anything out of it. We all talk to each other. I think about it every day. It never leaves me.”

Those of us old enough to remember that morning remember the images on TV, the stories, the fear. Even though Donato has vivid memories of horror, he says there is one positive thing he came away with. “There really is a world that does want to be one – setting aside political views and what not. It gave me total confidence that people all over the world are on the same page. They showed it right away. Nobody invited them, they just came. That’s about the only good thing I got out of it.”

Recent photo of the Donatos in front of One World Trade Center
Credit: Gregg Donato

Re-introducing our sustainability column

in town square

I am Laura Grimme’ McCullough and I’ve lived in the area since 1998. I’ve raised three children here and have been an active volunteer for many of those years. I’m also a Registered Nurse in a local hospital.

I have has always been interested in sustainability, but these issues went from the back to the front burner when my first granddaughter was born. Suddenly, the future wasn’t something far off; it was here, now. I chose to become an even stronger role model to my grandchildren and hopefully, make a difference for yours as well. I’m involved with Indivisible Safety Harbor, a political action group,  but this forum will be used strictly for sustainability concerns. 

Being passionate about our beautiful community, state, country, and planet, I write to share information, encourage positive actions, and strengthen our relationships so that all future generations will continue to enjoy what we continue to work hard to protect. Please look for my articles in future installments. Check back often for more helpful tips on sustainability.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Meade


Shoes for Kids: From Safety Harbor to Costa Rica

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Costa Rican children receiving new shoes.
Costa Rican children receiving new shoes. (Photo/Café Vino Tinto)

Tucked away on the side of a commercial building and adjacent to a parking lot is a charming little coffee shop that has become a favorite spot for Safety Harbor locals.  Café Vino Tinto recently celebrated their third anniversary and are planning to move to a larger location next spring.

Café Vino Tinto, 737 Main Street, opened in 2016 and has expanded from their original, basic walk-up window. They now have a covered patio, seating among the trees, and an indoor air conditioned dining area. The walk-up window is still where you order lattes or a cuppa Joe, but now waffles and frittatas are available Thursday through Sundays. They have proven to be customer favorites with waffle flavors like Cornbread and Wild Blueberry or Lemon Chiffon Cream. Protein Bars and sweets to go are also on the menu. The fresh roasted coffee is a flavorful medium roast developed over years of trial and error.

The café was an unintended side effect of a business transaction entered into by local resident, former mayor, and real estate lawyer Kent Runnells. Runnells has travelled to Costa Rica for years for fishing and boating trips. In 2008, while hiking with a friend, he happened upon a coffee farm in the Tarrazu Region south of San Jose and was struck by its beautiful setting. They learned the farm was for sale and decided to purchase the 17 acre operation. One of the views from the farm was of a high waterfall that the locals say “flows like red wine.” The name of the café came from the image of that waterfall and the bagged coffee is labelled The Waterfall Coffee.

The existing farmers continue to operate the farm and Runnells spent several years learning about the region, the coffee business, and the art of roasting. For his share of the concern, he took payment in coffee beans and soon had sacks stored all over his house. He perfected his roasting process through trial and error and in 2012 started selling his coffee from local outlets and a stand at Safety Harbor Third Friday events. They could sell 800-1,000 cups in 4 hours. 

In June of 2016 the retail location became available and Runnells and his daughter Logan decided to open a shop. Logan has a background in Food and Beverage, but had no experience with coffee as a business. The trial and errors continued with roasting test and commercial espresso machines. The Runnells have perfected a slow roasting process that results in a complex, medium roast, deep flavored, smooth coffee. They estimate they’ve roasted 25,000 pounds of beans since the business started. Logan learned about the nuances of each roast, blending and testing to identify flavor profiles they’re happy with. Their loyal clientele attest to the success of their efforts. Kent has lived in Safety Harbor for 33 years and has his business on Main Street. They both appreciate the extraordinary support that this town provides to local entrepreneurs.

Kent Runnells visits the farm several times a year and has gotten to know the farmers and the pickers. Many of the laborers picking beans are indigenous peoples, primarily from Panama. Most of them are poor and can’t afford expensive imported items like sneakers. Almost all of the worker’s children had no shoes, so about 5 years ago Kent began to bring children’s shoes with him in his luggage. 

Soccer is the predominant sport in Central America and every town has a soccer field, so he began to hand out shoes at the soccer fields. About a year ago Runnells learned about a children’s mission in the area run by Ryan and Lauri Bickel. Under the Faith Ministries umbrella, the Bickels house neglected children and also run a center that feeds about 75 children daily, so Runnells now funnels the shoes through their program.

The Café welcomes donations of new and gently used children’s shoes.  Sneakers with cleats would be extremely welcome, since soccer is so popular in Costa Rica. Yellow and orange are the most popular colors.  Shoes are very costly there, partly due to a 30% import duty, so they have a disproportionately high status in the culture.

So far, Safety Harbor area residents have provided overwhelming support to the Shoes for Kids effort. One local student led a drive at Safety Harbor Middle School and collected over 100 pairs of shoes. If you would like to donate shoes, you can bring them to the café or drop them off on the patio. only children’s shoes are needed, not socks or clothes.

Herb Safety

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If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me that their neighbor’s sister’s boss’s cousin’s daughter said they should take some such herb for some such reason, I’d be writing this from the deck of my yacht while enjoying a perfectly chilled Cristal instead of at a cramped desk on an aging Mac with a ring on the wood under my teacup.  Nonetheless, as I go about extolling the value of botanical medicines, I feel compelled to occasionally stress their sensible use.

We know that plants can heal. We know that the risk of side effects is typically very low. Still, it’s vital that you understand the properties of what you’re taking and why. Just because an herb was effective for your co-workers distant relative doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you.

Popularity can breed confusion, and when it comes to herbal remedies the best advice I can offer is:  do your own research. Gain a basic understanding of the human body and how it works. Understand the condition you’re seeking to treat and the remedy you decide to use. Invest in a few natural health books, the first of which should be Prescription for Nutritional Healing (Balch), an easy to use comprehensive guide. Of course you’ll find plenty of information on the Internet, but there’s a lot of misinformation too, particularly on sites bent on selling you something.  Personally, I stick with science-based research on sites like Livestrong or PubMed.  Be selective. Accept that your health is your responsibility and never forget that knowledge is power.

So, you’ve learned how the body works, what your treating, what remedy to choose and how best to use it. You’ve already checked to make sure there are no possible interactions with any pharmaceuticals you might be taking. Now, you’re going to look for a quality natural product. I have nothing against big box stores, but I’ll remind you of that old adage: you usually get what you pay for.  Unless you’re ordering directly from the manufacturer, I’d be wary of on-line stores. Call me old fashioned, but I want to hold a product in my hand –and check the expiration date– before I plunk down my hard earned cash.  Visit your local independently owned health food store instead, where you’ll get valuable assistance you simply won’t get from a stock clerk at the neighborhood Piggly Wiggly.

It’s important to resist the urge to go overboard and grab 3 or 4 different remedies to treat the same condition. How are you going to know which one is working?  Start with one, and if you don’t get the desired results move on to the next. 

Ok. You have your remedy… now, you’re going to follow the label instructions. Pay attention here: just because some is good doesn’t mean more is better. The majority of reported adverse events are the result of a lack of research into the product, its action, or a failure to follow the dosing instructions. When you get started on your journey with natural medicine I recommend building a reference for future use in the form of a health journal, where you record what you used, how you used it, and how well it worked. When illness strikes you don’t want to waste time with something you tried before that didn’t get the job done.  I firmly believe in self-sufficiency through health-sufficiency, and this is as good a place to start as any.

Nutritional supplements and herbal remedies are widely available, can be wonderfully effective, and –contrary to popular belief– are heavily regulated. But you gotta use your head.  When your neighbor’s sister’s boss’s cousin’s daughter has a suggestion, accept it graciously but disregard it completely… until you’ve done your own research.

Finally, if you have a serious or chronic health condition, don’t self-treat without the assistance of a trained professional, or if you use a natural remedy and don’t get better after a few days, it would be wise to check in with your doctor.


This information is provided for educational purposes, and is not intended as medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease, nor should it be considered a substitute for the expert care of a qualified medical professional.

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