FORT WALTON BEACH — With the return of warm weather on Thursday, George Rogowski happily returned to offering a Deep South staple to passers-by.

When he’s not pestered by blustery winds and low temperatures, Rogowski, 59, often can be seen operating his Pop Belly Peanuts stand in the parking lot of Grace Church. It's in Mariner Plaza on the west side of Eglin Parkway just north of the Cinco Bayou Bridge.

While Rogowski also offers roasted peanuts, he said his boiled peanuts, which come in regular, Cajun-style and other flavors, are especially beloved in the South.

For one, the warm and salty legumes represent a tradition in these parts.

“It’s like cornbread and collard greens,” Rogowski said. “They’re also a great source of protein and energy. And they just taste good.”

His friend, John Czapleski of Destin, said although he likes various types of flavored peanuts, many folks have an either love ‘em or hate ‘em feeling about boiled peanuts.

“It’s an acquired taste,” said Czapleski, who is originally from Pennsylvania but has lived in the area for 35 years. “A lot of people like their peanuts crunchy.”

While it’s not unusual to find boiled peanuts at local gas stations, roadside peanut stands like Rogowski’s seem to be few and far between in the area.

Coming and going

Czapleski recalled a peanut stand that once operated near Walmart on Beal Parkway. He said another stand used to operate in Freeport before a major road project led to its demise.

Rogowski said regulations, including the need to have an occupational license and permission from a property owner, make it hard for the proprietors of mom-and-pop stands to stick around.

“It can be expensive,” said Rogowski, who also sometimes runs a peanut stand by the NXT LVL Nightclub on Perry Avenue in Fort Walton Beach.

Jennifer Bearden, agriculture agent at the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service in Crestview, said finding an empty space for a roadside stand is definitely a concern these days, and not just for peanut vendors.

She recalled how strawberry sellers from Plant City had a tough time finding a place to set up in Okaloosa County this past February.

“They used to just be able to set up in the right of way,” said Bearden, who noted that roadside stands can cause problems with the flow of traffic.

The extension service is an extension of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Bearden said the office does not have data on the number of roadside peanut stands in the area.

“There was a regular stand in Baker with Baker-grown peanuts, but I haven’t seen them this year,” she said.

No guarantees

Bearden credits George Washington Carver, the legendary inventor and educator who worked at Tuskegee University for almost half a century, for being instrumental in boiled peanuts becoming well-known in much of the South.

“He had more than 300 uses for peanuts,” she said.

Bearden grew up in the Dorcas community northeast of Crestview and has always been a fan of boiled peanuts.

“I am Southern. I went to Crestview High School,” she said. “Boiled peanuts at the Crestview High School football games have been a big thing for a while.”

Those peanuts are supplied by Holland Farms north of Milton. The farm’s peanuts also are familiar to visitors at the annual Jay Peanut Festival.

Boiled peanuts also are often sold at the Downtown FWB Farmers Market. It’s open from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturday of every month at the Fort Walton Landing.

Rogowski, the proprietor of Pop Belly Peanuts, grew up in Opp, Alabama, about 53 miles north of DeFuniak Springs.

He said his grandparents had a peanut farm in Opp. His grandmother taught him how to prepare boiled peanuts, and he paid for his first bicycle by riding around selling peanuts from a basket on his bike.

Later, Rogowski sold peanuts at the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo, where his legumes competed with fried rattlesnakes on the festival menu.

Sadly, the past couple years have been rough on the jovial Rogowski. For example, he suffered a heart attack and had to undergo heart surgery last year, and he then endured a spell of homelessness.

He said members of OTHERS of Destin Inc. and Destin United Methodist Church helped him survive his ordeals.

Now, with at least a temporary warm-up in the weather and his required business papers in order, Rogowski is back enjoying his passion for selling peanuts.

Overall, he seems grateful, but cautious, about the way he makes a living.

“It’s not a guaranteed thing,” Rogowski said. “Nothing in life is.”