Walk into Occie's Tackle Box, a neat, modest space tucked away on the corner of Turner Lake and Washington Street, and you're likely to see at least a few of the five sisters that own and run the fish and grits restaurant.
You'll also find a gaggle of nephews and nieces, a mess of relatives and a steady stream of neighbors, friends and hungry people. All the food served at the Tackle Box, from the warm, crunchy, batter-fried fish to the creamy tartar sauce to the mouthwatering slices of cake and pie displayed in a glass case, are made from home recipes.
From top to bottom, the Tackle Box is a family establishment.
Named after their late paternal grandmother, Occie White, whose recipes form the basis of their menu, the Tackle Box is run by five sisters of the White family: Brenda Goodson, 54, Stephanie White, 47, Deidre "Penny" Kirkland, 45, Charlene "Chandra" Brown, 42 and Princess "Cap" Jackson, 39. They also have three brothers and a sixth sister, Eleanor White, 39, who plans to join them at the end of the year.
Each sister plays a role in the restaurant. Stephanie is the head cook and "mother" of the group. Cap supplies the cakes and pies from her bakery, "Cakes by Capucine." Penny looks after the fish supply, and Brenda and Chandra take care of finances and inventory.
The siblings remain close, partly because of the death of their mother while they were young. Their grandmother, Occie, took care of them until she died, and older sister Stephanie raised the remaining siblings.
Penny, the dreamer and inventor of the group, first came up with the idea for the restaurant five years ago partly because she loved fish and felt that Covington would be a viable market for a fish establishment.
The sisters began leasing a space last year, but things didn't get rolling until last Christmas when the sisters grew tired of paying money for nothing.
"We were like, we're either going to start something, open it up or just squash it," said Chandra. "So we decided to give it a shot, three days a week, and see what would happen."
They opened on April 26, but not without serious doubts and reservations.
There had been five previous businesses that failed in that location, the last of which was a fish and seafood shop. On some Sundays, the previous owner said, they might not even have one customer.
Chandra, who didn't care for fish, thought to herself, who would possibly want to buy all that fish?
Plenty of people, it turned out. The sisters had hoped to make just enough a month to cover the cost of the lease. They ended up doing ten times that amount on opening weekend.
Penny laughs and admits she did tell her sister "I told you so!"
Now, they serve well over 100 people a day and are feeling the growing pains of a successful business. Already, their kitchen is too small and they're in need of another fryer.
The reason the Tackle Box succeeded where so many businesses had failed, said Chandra, is family.
The sisters have so many relatives and roots in Covington that when the word went out about their business, people already knew about their delicious fish and cakes and flocked to the store.
"It's almost like they're eating in their own kitchen," said Chandra. "If it's not homemade, they don't want it."
With the exception of two paid employees, the Tackle Box runs almost entirely on family labor, paid only with food and love. Because of this and because most of the sisters have full time jobs elsewhere, the Tackle Box is only open Thursday to Saturday, though there are plans in the works possibly to open for breakfast or during other days of the week. The sisters hope someday to package and sell their homemade tartar sauce and other items.
About their mother and grandmother, Brenda said "I'm sure she's in heaven and got a great smile on her face."
"It makes us feel good to know what we've done as a family together," she said. "I'm just proud. Very proud."