Happy Motoring brings vibrance to South Monroe

By Kathryn Lewis
Outlook Writer

The green turf, stringed lights, white picnic tables and murals painted with vibrant colors creates a refreshing ambiance in the place that stood for years as an abandoned gas station.

Over the years the old Esso slogan, Happy Motoring, hung on the front of the building.  It’s still there, but as the name of a business that its owners hope will change the landscape on Tallahassee’s south side.

Happy Motoring opened this past week with much pomp and circumstance at the historic site.

It features a bar that serves beer, coffee, tea and cocktails. Out front, there’s a food truck hub located on the corner of South Adams Street and FAMU Way.
The new business is a stepping stone for the redevelopment of South Monroe, dubbed “SOMO” district.

It’s a collaborative effort with city, county, public and private business benefactors with local shops like Tallahassee Tea Company, Catalina Café, For the Table Hospitality, and Madison Social.

“You know, we’re in trying times today,” said Maurice Moulton, co-owner of Catalina Café. “It’s very challenging no matter where you are, what you believe in, who you represent. Everybody has stresses.”

“We want this to be a place where you can come together as a community and have a couple of drinks, network with people, meet new friends, have a cup of tea, relax. And, we want that place to be Happy Motoring! For sure.”

Happy Motoring stayed true to the property’s rich history as it is formerly a Black-owned and operated gas station. Esso was acquired by Exxon gas station before it became an abandoned building for over a decade.

For some who attended the opening, it was a nostalgic experience.

“I was raised in the community (and) grew up a few blocks away,” said realtor Terrence Henson, a member of the Capital City Chamber of Commerce, “I remember when this used to be a gas station. It was one of the few Black gas stations in Tallahassee.

“SOMO is going to have a totally different vibe. It’s close to FAMU, so you’re going to get that Afro-centric, European, Latin, Asian gumbo. We’re going to have SOMO gumbo. Put that on the menu.”

The previous owner, who also owned an environmental cleanup company, purchased the property solely to do the cleanup. When that was done, Jake Kiker, Michael Widen and Lucas Lindsey stepped in and bought the property. They partnered with local businesses in the area to bring their vision to fruition.

“We are so excited to unroll programming in this space,” said Amanda Morrison, managing partner of For the Table’s Social Catering. “It’s going to bring the community together. We’re going to have health and fitness programs out on the lawn and free yoga on Saturdays.

“We’re going to eventually have a brunch program that we’re going to roll into a farmer’s market to hopefully provide a food source for people that live in the area. Those are the things that excite us.”