“All you need is love … and a carrot dog.” Paul McCartney may have written the first part of this line, but Elaine Wheeler created the now famous carrot dog in her vegetarian cafe and art gallery, Heartworks, which until 2007 was the heart and soul of 5 Points and one of the only vegetarian cafes in town. McCartney became a carrot dog fan when he was in Jacksonville for his Super Bowl appearance in 2005. Wheeler, artist, chef, translator, mother, grandmother, and caretaker to all who cross his path, shared his love. and his compassion for his fellow humans by artistically encouraging them, nurturing their minds, and feeding them (along with many stray cats). She has been described as having a “strong motherly instinct” which carries over into everything she does, including hiring employees for her old company which she described as “a home for wayward boys”.
The closure of the cafe didn’t stop Elaine’s devoted friends from following her house to Riverside Avenue and establishing a Supper Club. She noted, “I have fed the same people for over 20 years. Patrons Michael and Julie McKenny started inviting random people to their tables at Heartworks on Friday nights years ago. These people became friends and this gathering continued. Ophélie Ferrell is a 3rd generation fan! When I prepare food, I prepare it with love and with the best ingredients – good, fresh, healthy. One of my favorite things to cook – and one that people love to eat – is “Pas ton Mama’s Manicotti” and, of course, Orloff.
Over the forty plus years Wheeler has lived in Riverside, she has cooked for many restaurants and longtime residents will remember Café Carmon where she was a pastry chef, cooking in the evenings after her gallery closed at 5 p.m. . She said, “It’s hard to make a living selling art, so we added coffee in 1992.” Her hard work and determination paid off. After cleaning, cleaning and remodeling the back room of the gallery on Lomax Street (no air conditioning) and getting rid of fifty years and 4000 pounds of old televisions and radios, she moved on to phase two of her vision. Her former husband Bob Wheeler helped her open the gallery and, ironically, as she smashed a mirror on the concrete outside the gallery on Lomax Street for an art project, she met her now 23-year-old partner, Buddy Trewett , who had come to work at the cafe. Trewett is a construction foreman for Smith Brothers Plastering Company, but he is in good spirits called the “art cowboy” for his teenage years when he worked for Winn Dixie Farms and this is what Wheeler describes as a mechanical engineering.
Wheeler grew up in Panama. She said, “I had a wonderful childhood and still have friends with people I went to school with, from kindergarten to Canal Zone College (a satellite of FSU).” She and Buddy travel to Panama once a year for the Panama Canal Society reunion and to visit classmates who come from all over the world. Wheeler graduated with a bachelor’s degree in supervisory management and was pursuing a librarianship degree when there was an opening in the interpretation department at Baptist Hospital where she has been employed full time for nine and a half years. She explained, “I do medical interpretation. It is difficult because a person must have a vast knowledge of medical information. It’s not conversational Spanish. Translation is not just verbal; the interpreter must understand the cultural and social nuances and colloquial expressions of different languages. Many people speak a patois – many languages mixed together. Sometimes the medical staff think that someone who smiles and shakes their head in saying yes or okay can understand or speak the language when it is in fact a cultural response. There are relationships to be established in order to understand each other.
Between her work as a translator, cooking for the Supper Club, visiting her daughters Lucielle (Lu) and Danielle and their families, she somehow manages to integrate a Pilates and stretching class. in his schedule and continues to create art. Over the years she was part of the well-respected but now defunct arts group Crown Craftsmen, the Jacksonville Weaver’s Guild, taught weaving, spinning, dyeing and basketry and workshops at MOSH and MOCA, helped in RAM training, established a program at Hubbard House to teach women baking skills to enter the workforce and hope to produce her food for marketing.
His eclectic home is full of interesting, unusual and awe-inspiring items – an art gallery / museum, artifacts, and curiosities like his collection of intellectual and diverse friends. Mary Saltmarsh said in a tribute book created to honor the celebrity chef: “Elaine’s is where you can be yourself and still find camaraderie and connection between longtime friends.”
By Peggy Harrell Jennings
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