Soul Food Man

By Hannah Wallace November 30, 2008

Gary Saunders is on a tantalizing mission: to share his love of down-home Southern cooking through an entertaining Web site he’s developed called 

As self-professed CEO (that’s Chief Eating Officer to us), Saunders offers an index of restaurants organized by state, authentic recipes like fried green tomatoes and black-eyed pea salad, a calendar of food festivals across the South, salient articles from various publications (recent example: “Why is Moonshine Against the Law?”) and his bio (favorite song: Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs, of course).

As director of sales and marketing for the Cincinnati Reds Florida operations, Saunders moved here with his family in November 2007, just one day before the negative stadium referendum vote that is sending the Reds packing to a new winter home in Goodyear, Ariz., in 2010. He doesn’t know yet whether he’ll be going on to Goodyear with the Reds or staying here with the Sarasota Reds minor league team.  A Virginia native whose grandmothers and mom were “really good traditional Southern cooks,” Saunders moved here from Houston, where he was general manager of the Texas Copperheads arena football team.

“I’ve been in the professional sports business for 15 years, and I’ve lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and now Florida,” he says, “and everywhere I’ve lived and everywhere I’ve traveled I’m constantly asking people, ‘where’s a good place to eat, where do the locals go?’” 

Saunders has eaten at about half the 1,000 restaurants listed on The rest were recommended by friends and regular visitors to the Web site. “People often ask me, ‘How in the world are you not 400 pounds and dead of heart disease?’” he says. “My secret is, as much as I enjoy it, I definitely do things in moderation. If I have a meal of fried chicken and all the fixin’s, I go on a binge and eat salads for a week. I work out every day and that helps, too.”

A Dixie Dining cookbook will soon be published by Hill Street Press in Athens, Ga.

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