Steam and Chill: Feeding The Community In a Beautiful “Third Place”

I was in St. Pete Beach, Florida a few weeks ago at a clergy gathering and went out one morning to see if I could hunt down a good latte. My eye caught the sign for Steam at the side of the road. The font — yes, the FONT on the sign — communicated “hip, progressive, fun” so I pulled over and into the parking lot.  When I saw their tag line, “Sharing common grounds,” I knew I had found my “third place” in St. Pete Beach.

This is the sign on their door. It communicates a generous spirited welcome.

Breakfast all day. Free wi-fi. Open late.

Doesn’t that feel so much different than “Hours of Operation” or “No shirt, no shoes, no service” or “Please use the other door?” What does the front door of your building say? What does it communicate?

The interior of the place was warm, funky, and inviting with a womb-like color scheme. The server and the staff were extremely attentive and friendly and seemed to genuinely care whether or not I was happy with my latte. I was very happy with my latte. That’s a beautiful latte. It was also delicious.

I was very happy with the whole situation! And so Steam and Chill (the tapas restaurant the space becomes at night when it switches to dinner) became my home away from home for the few days I was in Florida. I ate every meal there. Isn’t that what you want people to feel about your church? and I spent hours talking to owner Ruthie Buxbaum one morning. She’s very special.

There’s never a rush at Steam. Ruthie’s menu says, “The philosophy of Steam and Chill is this: if you were planning a big party at home for very special guests, you would clean up all day. You would shop carefully for each ingredient & find the freshest produce possible. You would greet your friends warmly with enthusiasm. You would cook each item carefully and decorate it gently. You would be grateful to cater to their every need. … Then you would give each one a warm goodbye. And, if you’re blessed, they will come again. So, sit long, talk much, and laugh often.” This is a mission, people! On a menu! Is your church’s mission that loving, generous and explicit?


That’s the coffee bar and below is the tapas bar. Lots of fun to sit there and watch the chefs create the gorgeous dinner plates. I wound up having a wonderful conversation with a couple from Missouri one night over dinner and meeting them back for coffee the next morning. That’s my version of “picking people up at a bar.” They were wonderful, fun people and I am hoping that they’ll visit a Unitarian Universalist congregation when they get home. They had never heard of us and didn’t know there was a religious community in their area where they would be welcomed as liberal atheists.The cheese grits and eggs with andouille sausage was heavenly. Again from the menu, “Life always seems to happen in the kitchen. We find the Language of the Heart is often shared when we break bread together. So, know that we will strive to serve you with love & gratitude.”

And from the last phrase, “We are so grateful to welcome you to Chill.” A beautiful mission, delicious, healthy, affordable food, and a lovely space. An altogether inspiring enterprise and I feel very lucky to have discovered this little gem.

Steam and Chill specialize in vegetarian and gluten free dishes. Thanks to Ruthie and her family for nourishing me body and soul. My most sincere blessings to you as you continue to feed the community.

3 Replies to “Steam and Chill: Feeding The Community In a Beautiful “Third Place””

  1. I remember reading “The Great Good Place” and thinking that it could/should be all about church. I even preached about it at a Stewardship Sunday where I was the honored guest. Lucky you, PB, to have stumbled into this place and found such a warm welcome. May our churches do the same!

  2. Sounds like a great place and just what I look for in a “third place” as well as a church. I have been on a journey to find a new spiritual home within a UU church in my area. We in NYC are blessed to have quite a few UU churches, so my “church shopping list” had a few churches on it. Many of the congregations I visited had a wonderful assortment of available activities, committees, RE opportunities and beautiful facilities and while those were things I considered when making my decision about which community to join, ultimately, I ended up going back again and again to the one church where I had the warmest and most sincere welcome. I’m happy to say that today after a few months of regular attendance, I signed their membership book. [Hey, Jon, thanks for writing and sharing this. May you and your congregation be a great blessing to each other! – PB]

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