Florida International University
MIAM — For 19 years, the Shantel Lounge has been the place in Liberty City to get a rack of home-smoked ribs, barbecue chicken, fried fish or a cold beer.
The small, stuffy restaurant at 5422 NW 7th Ave., at the corner of Northwest 55th Street, with the worn, 50-gallon drum smoker on the sidewalk out front, survives when others don’t.
Owner Edward “Colay” Colebrook says it’s because of four principles: consistency, efficiency, discipline and perseverance.
“They call me ‘Mr. Stickability’,” says Colebrook, sitting at one of the small tables outside, drinking a beer during a short break from taking orders.
“Because no matter what, I stick to it.”
Oh, and the food’s really good, too, what Colebrook calls “Geo-ssau” – pronounced “jaw-saw” – cuisine, mixing the flavors of Nassau, where he was born, with the soul food of Georgia, where Betty Conley, his friend, business partner and creator of Shantel’s signature barbecue sauce, grew up.
“I'm a throw-together cook,” says Conley, 76, who refuses to even hint at the sauce’s ingredients.
Regular customer Steve Rodriguez says there’s no comparison between Shantel’s ribs, moist with home-style flavor, and those served at chains like Tony Roma’s.
“You can’t find barbecue like that. The taste is authentic,” says Rodriguez, who owns System Solutions, an information technology firm in Cutler Bay.
Keeping Shantel going isn't easy.
When the restaurant gets busy, Colebrook helps customers at the takeout window or tends bar or mans the smoker.
“If a bottle breaks, I get the broom. If the grass outside gets too tall, I go out and cut it,” says Colebrook, 65, a Vietnam veteran who served as a jet engine mechanic in the U.S. Air Force.
Jimmy Rolle, who’s worked at Shantel since 1993, runs the smoker, but also handles the bar or takes orders at the kitchen window.
Shantel is open only Thursday through Sunday these days because Colebrook can’t afford to pay his help. He gets by on rent because of family generosity. His niece, Rhonda Johnson, and her husband, former Florida Marlins catcher Charles Johnson, own the building.
“It’s a gift to me,” says Colebrook, who wears a plain, dark blue sweater and a U.S. Air Force cap. “He and his wife, they do a lot of things in our community, and Shantel’s happens to be one of the recipients.”
He’s grateful to the customers who help keep Shantel’s going despite the challenges.
“Most customers are loyal,” Colebrook says. “Unless they have no money.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF LIBERTY CITY LINK. Jimmy Rolle cooks ribs on the smoker at The Shantel Lounge restaurant in Liberty City.