What makes the perfect girls getaway? Retail therapy might be fun. Simple browsing is relaxing. A meal you don’t have to prepare sounds good, along with a special cocktail, perhaps, or maybe sipping a glass of wine over a free-flowing heart-to-heart chat with the women who know you best.
Travel has been difficult during COVID, but you don’t need to journey far to get that sense of novelty and adventure. On the outskirts of Tulsa is a colorful, friendly and energized community that is coming fully into its own.
Home to proud, community-loving “Sandites,” Sand Springs logs a complicated history, having been settled by the Cherokees in 1826, and then, at different times, been incorporated into the Creek, Muscogee and Osage nations. The area was named Adams Springs after a Civil War veteran and the springs that once supplied the town’s drinking water. Today, if you want to cruise directly into the town’s main drag, you exit the highway at Adams Road. City father and oilman Charles E. Page changed the name when he purchased 160 acres of land in 1908.
Page wanted to give back to the area that had made him wealthy. An orphan and the adopted son of a widow, he established a home for widows and orphaned children and offered free land to potential settlers as an enticement. Sand Springs still honors his legacy. The town square is called “the triangle,” where a monument to Page stands in the foreground of the city’s cultural and historical museum. The building is an Art Deco gem, built by Page’s widow, and worth a stop. Admission is free. Entrants can marvel at the superb, hand-crafted artistry of the structure, including its huge bronze doors, St. Genevieve Italian marble and chandeliers made by Sand Springs’ Empire Chandelier Company. The streets adjoining the area were once trolley lines, built by Page, which ran between Sand Springs and Tulsa until 1955.
Steps away from the triangle in a quaint 1930s-era former hotel is Little Venice Restaurant — Eatalian Food & Wine. Proprietors Candi and Walter Munaretto are Sandites. Walter was born and raised near Venice, Italy, but like nearly all of the business owners I visited on my day out in Sand Springs, Candi is a native of the Tulsa suburb and a passionate promoter of the town she and Walter call home. The Munarettos opened Little Venice in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. The situation, they explained, gave the couple time to slowly refine their new venture.
“The people here are really relaxed,” said Candi. “Everybody is so friendly. There’s a lot of history in this place. The business owners are all supportive and helpful. Everybody does anything to help the other one out. It’s just a good little community.”
Candi has been working in restaurants since she was 13. Walter worked on cruise ships, in a large hotel in Bermuda, and most notably as the general manager at Tulsa’s Summit Club for 20 years. He and Candi retired for four years after Walter left the Summit. They then toured in a travel trailer and went abroad. “I just want you to know it was like the most miserable four years of my life,” Candi recalled, laughing.
Admittedly, she and Walter are at their best doing what they love the most — “offering the best ‘hospitaliano’ we can,” said Candi, quoting a slogan Walter had devised. They are joined in the business by Chef Enrique Semeria, who along with other staff members worked with Walter at the Summit.
The Little Venice menu changes weekly, featuring a large variety of Italian specialties such as lasagna, scallopini and osso buco (braised veal shank with egg noodles). Fresh seafood, branzino (deboned tableside), mussels, clams, shrimp and more, are flown in from Florida. Little Venice imports its cheeses from Italy. With his specialty being northern Italian cooking, Walter noted that their sauces are lighter and without much garlic.
Popular are tableside preparations of Caesar salad, hot spinach salads and flaming desserts such as Bananas Foster. Freshly made carrot cake (Candi’s favorite), pies, tiramisu and other treats will satisfy any sweet cravings.
Guests can enjoy live piano music on Friday and Saturday nights. The volume and repertoire are what you hope for in background dinner music. For family groups, or friends, a cozy table seating seven to eight people is located in the main dining room, where you can find thoughtfully preserved brick walls and doors that once belonged to the original building’s hotel. The Giulia Room, named for the Alfa Romeo engine, seats 10 to 12.
“People who haven’t been able to travel, to go back to Italy, say our place is the closest thing they’ve found so far to dining in Italy. That, to me, is a huge compliment,” beamed Candi. “We have a lot to offer here in Sand Springs. Not only are there antique shops, but we have new boutiques — a variety of boutiques. And you can do everything within walking distance. Everything is within a matter of blocks.”
On a whirlwind after-lunch tour, Candi was happy to introduce my girlfriend and me to nearby businesses. Every owner knew her well. The first stop was the family-owned and operated Yellow House Kids Boutique, with the cutest fashions in infant, kids and tween clothes, in addition to stylish maternity wear. Across the alley was Yellow House Market and Boutique, also owned by Lisa and her husband Mike. Their enterprise was recently named Oklahoma’s Storefront Boutique of the Year. Brighton and Kendra Scott jewelry are plentiful there, along with fashionable eyewear, home goods, designer bags, gifts and clothing for women and men. Apparel comes in a range of sizes, because Lisa believes everyone can and should feel beautiful.
We also stopped by The Big Dipper, a small-batch ice cream shop that supplies Little Venice with the ice cream for desserts. Big Dipper is the ice-cream dream come true of Sami Cooper, who opened her first store in Tulsa’s Mother Road Market. (The salted caramel was heavenly!) Next door, we stopped in at Boulder Coffee, a comfy setting for reading, chatting and sipping a great brew of the bean kind. Tea, hot chocolate and Italian soda also are available, but if you are looking to broaden your coffee repertoire or longing for a snickerdoodle latte, this is the place.
Across the street, Kim and Steve Zieg own and operate OkieSpice and Trade Co., and Hippy Cowgirls Bou-Dega, the latter “Proudly Serving Local Outlaws and In-Laws Since 2022.” There’s an outdoor patio at Hippy Cowgirls for wine, craft beer and light snacks, including the cheese made at OkieSpice. The couple works hard to feature Made in Oklahoma products in both their businesses — perfect for gifts. At Hippy Cowgirls you’ll find a fun collection of clothing with a hippie/western flair.
The Zieg’s OkieSpice makes 12 varieties of cheese blends and has a large array of home goods. Quite amazing is the store’s stock of 250 spices, rubs and blends. The exposed brick walls of the shop with ghost signs from years gone by add a delightful ambiance.
“We both grew up here. Graduated high school here,” said Steve. “We’ve lived in this area most of our lives, so we just want to keep it local. We know a lot of people here, so we just felt like it was a good place for us to be, and we wanted to be part of the revitalization of this downtown area. We’ve seen it struggle for years and wanted to do what we could to help move that along.”
People who dig antiques will enjoy browsing along the town’s main drag, just steps from Little Venice. Check out The Yesterday Shop, located on Main Street in a 1920 building, Vintage Stables, Antiques and More, Rod’s Books and Relics, and the eye-appealing antique haven Dog & Duck Antiques and Gifts, owned by Julie and Chris Bedokis.
Dog & Duck, Julie explained, is an eclectic store that has themed sections of antiques collected on the couple’s extensive trips throughout Oklahoma and elsewhere. They stock World War II and Vietnam War memorabilia, along with antique décor, LPs, and the currently popular vintage signs. They have a range of clientele — people who are extremely knowledgeable about antiques, and novice collectors who appreciate being guided.
“Sand Springs is our home, so that’s why we decided to open our business here,” said Julie. “Sand Springs is just an opportunity waiting to happen. It’s been a long time coming for this community. It’s a neat little town. It’s got a small-town feel, but being so close to Tulsa, you know, it has that aspect too. A lot of my business is from Tulsa, but I also have a lot of repeat customers from Broken Arrow.”
Julie shared that she had just welcomed a group of women, some from South Tulsa, who were in a mahjong group and took a girls day out excursion to Sand Springs. By the end of their time in the store, they invited Julie to join their group. “I feel a little like a welcoming wagon,” she enthused. “It’s really interesting just to talk to people and be that welcoming person who says, ‘We’re glad you’re here.’”