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 the sisters of the White family: Brenda Goodson, 55, Stephanie White, 48, Deidre "Penny" Kirkland, 46, Charlene "Chandra" Brown, 43 and Princess "Cap" Jackson, 40, and Eleanor White, 40. They also have three brothers.
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.
The sisters began leasing a space in 2006, but things didn’t get rolling until the beginning of 2007 when the sisters grew tired of paying money for an empty storefront.
"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 in April 2007, 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 said to her sister "I told you so!"
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 Sunday. 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."