Local women entrepreneurs discuss food, family and fun in Ocala.
This month, Ocala Style takes a stroll through bustling Downtown Ocala to talk turkey (literally!) with some of Ocala’s brightest, most accomplished women business owners. They are just some of the outstanding pillars of commerce in our downtown revival. It was a challenge for us to select just these women out of the many that have established businesses in the area.
This savvy group share their thoughts on food, drink, entertaining and the importance of breaking bread with family and friends, sharing with us their favorite tablescape. Last but certainly not least they tell us what they love about Ocala and what makes this community such a special place.
Elodie Perron & Jennifer Murty
The Ocala Culinary Festival
Jennifer Murty and Elodie Perron are the dynamic duo behind The Ocala Culinary Festival. Armed with a deep respect and friendship for one another, a passion for food and drink, and a desire to put Ocala on the culinary map, they have accomplished what others have only dared to dream. The inaugural 2017 festival was a roaring success and 2018’s lineup of events is already exceeding expectations.
Describe a memorable meal. We had a fabulous dinner with our spouses at the Charleston Food & Wine festival in March of 2016. It was during that meal that we gave birth to the idea of the Ocala Culinary Festival.
What would your last requested meal be? Polar opposites on this one we are! Jen would probably want a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich with a glass of milk, and Elodie would choose “a tray of raw shellfish and her favorite dessert a Paris-Brest, choux pastry with praline favored cream.”
What does sitting down to a meal with family and friends mean to you? In our particular cases, we both work with our spouses and each other, so when we sit down to eat with family and friends, we try to make it special and leave work behind us for the moment.
What is your entertaining style? For the festival, we strive to impress. But we both lean toward a more casual entertaining style at our own homes. We purchased the same casual Italian-made stoneware plates from Vietri following the festival. If either of us has a big dinner party, we share our set with the other.
What has been the biggest challenge in organizing the Ocala Culinary Festival? Helping people understand that the festival isn’t really about Ocala’s culinary talent; although, it certainly has some great talent that we love shining a light on. But, really, we search high and low, exhausting all our resources, to bring the best culinary talent this world has to offer to Ocala for those five festival days.
All In The Family
Stella’s Modern Pantry
Tom Atsides Restaurant Supply has long been a mainstay of the Ocala food and beverage industry. Owned and skillfully operated by Stacey Atsides, who is the 4th generation of her family to take the helm. Her children Athena and Stephanos are the 5th generation working in the family business, so the legacy will continue on. Stacey’s keen eye has assisted many an inspiring chef and done much to propel the booming restaurant business in Ocala. Expanding her business to open Stella’s Modern Pantry has proven to be a successful venture. A charming cafe/shop with delicious food, great wine and killer desserts, it is a local favorite. Stacey takes great pride in her Greek heritage and is an aficionado of delicious Mediterranean fare and all things Grecian.
What is your go-to cocktail? I will scan a cocktail menu for any creative gin drink, typically with herbs and cucumber, a dash of Champagne or a fruit liquor.
Describe a memorable meal. The most memorable meals for me have been made around the old wooden tables and rush seat chairs that line the Aegean shore in front of the local restaurants in my village of Lithi, Greece. Greek meals are long and full of energy with loud voices, smiles and laughter and always way too much ouzo and wine.
Who is your favorite celebrity chef? Anthony Bourdain, for sure. My son always tells me I am the female version of him. I appreciate the finest, most traditional cuisines along with street food and dives.
What does sitting down to a meal with family and friends mean to you? Communication and love. We are such a traditional family, so all meals are taken at the kitchen table and together every single night.
What is the biggest challenge you face in running your business? Trying to convince people the major impact buying local has on our community. Without local and small businesses, our town would shrivel up to nothing.
Local Food,Local Fun
Florida Local Exchange
Laura McCormick, owner of the Florida Local Exchange, brings a youthful vibrancy to downtown Ocala. Originally from Upstate New York, she landed in Ocala in 2009. Since then, she has become increasingly involved in the local food movement in Ocala. With a background in sales and marketing, she has combined her previous professional experiences with her newfound love for the local farming community to open a one-of-a-kind store with only local, source-identified Florida products. As an Ocala Main Street Board Member, she is eager to participate in all the developments and activities happening in the city, and as a Crones Cradle Conserve Foundation board member, she is learning all there is to know about natural farming and is ready to help educate everyone else about it, too. Florida Local Exchange is a group of local producers, suppliers, crafters, consumers, supporters and community providers. When you visit the store, you will find an extensive variety of local food and goodies.
Who is your favorite celebrity chef? I don’t have a favorite celebrity chef, but I have a favorite local chef: Dimitri Pomakis of Feta Mediterranean Cuisine. He understands what it means to use fresh, seasonal ingredients, and he is always so supportive of the local agricultural community.
What is your go-to dish for entertaining? I love to make a large salad loaded with all sorts of seasonal veggies and cheese. Depending on the time of year, I will roast everything from squash to beets to cauliflower to toss in and top it with freshly shredded local cheese. We offer several flavors of salad dressings at Florida Local Exchange, but my favorite is some classic Florida olive oil and vinegar and some salt and pepper.
Name three people alive or deceased you would like to have dinner with. My late grandfather, Eleanor Roosevelt and my long-time celebrity crush, Dwayne Johnson, aka “The Rock!”
What is the biggest challenge you face in running your business? Small farms are not set up to match the efficiency of large-scale distribution systems, and big box grocery stores have made it very difficult for the general public to understand seasonality and availability. I work to inform consumers about the components of our regional agricultural system and what it means for our farm partners to be sustainable, grow responsibly and raise livestock humanely.
Tell us three things you love about Ocala. I love downtown, I love the people in Ocala and I love the picturesque landscape, open farmland and the majestic oak trees. I love Ocala because amidst all the positive energy and excitement, sometimes you can still find yourself lost in the woods, next to a river, surrounded by complete silence.
Marjorie Hale, Evelyn Nussel and Waica Micheletti
The Ivy House
Majorie, Evelyn and Waica are a sassy, smart southern force to be sure! Their restaurant, The Ivy House, has been a family-owned and -operated, thriving business for 24 years. Their Southern hospitality and love and devotion to serving wonderful food keeps their patrons coming back! Their new location, opening in January 2018, is in a historic building in the heart of downtown Ocala. The gracious Southern atmosphere will continue in this new venue with the addition of a cocktail bar, dessert bar and a Southern tapas menu. They will definitely be an exciting new addition to our already flourishing downtown. See ya there, y’all!!
Describe a memorable meal. Christmas supper, as our whole family gathers around laughing and carrying on while partaking in the most delightful supper.
What would your last requested meal be? Sirloin tips served over whipped potatoes, white acre peas, sliced beef steak tomatoes, squash casserole and whipping cream biscuits.
What does sitting down to a meal with family and friends mean to you? It means everything to us. We are born foodies, and preparing food and entertaining friends and family is a way of life for us.
Tell us three things you love about Ocala. We love the downtown area, gracious people and the small-town feel.
How do you relax on your day off? We don’t—there is always something to cook, clean, create and figure out.
Class & Style
Shannon Roth Collection—Olivia & Co. Kids
One of the longest established businesses owned and operated by women is Shannon Roth Collection—Oliva & Co. Kids, that sits directly on the downtown square. Originally Shannon Roth Antiques and Art, it was formerly located in what is now The Corkscrew on Broadway. Her talented daughter, Cass, joined her mother at this location and added her Olivia & Co. Kids (named after her daughter) to the operation. In 2007, Shannon bought the old historic Dixie theater, which is where they are currently located. Both of these creative and gifted women were educated in the arts and share a passion and love of painting and interior design. As a team, they have collaborated on some of the most exquisite commercial and residential interiors in Ocala and beyond. Their stunning store is a treasure trove for those who love to entertain beautifully and look gorgeous while doing so.
What would your last requested meal be? Hamburger cooked medium rare, with lettuce, tomatoes and onions with French fries.
What is the biggest challenge you face in running your business? That Shannon Roth Collection is a store for everyone and is affordable.
How do you relax on your day off? I usually simply chill, but, often, I gladly take my grandchildren to a movie of their choice. So much fun!
What do you typically have for breakfast? Chia pudding or Birchbenders paleo pancakes per my sweet friend, Anna Redgate, who turned us onto their deliciousness.
Describe a memorable meal? My friend, Ingrid Rockefeller, set us up at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Terrytown, New York—wow! It was a five-hour, 16-course wonderland.
What three things are always in your fridge? Greek white wine from Stella’s, probiotic shots and 10 varieties of mustard—my daughter says we have a mustard shelf!
An Ocala Tradition
Paula King is a longtime resident and merchant in historic downtown Ocala. She is the owner of Agapanthus, a gift, accessories and home boutique featuring Aggie Lane, the shop within the shop, showcasing an extensive line of the industry’s top tableware and glassware brands. Since 2007 Agapanthus (formerly Ocala Traditions) has registered dozens of brides and grooms nationwide. A sought-after tablescape designer, Paula has created looks for magazines, expos, the Silver Springs International Film Festival, La Cuisine French Restaurant, Gainesville Jr. League Tour of Kitchens and, most recently, for the Ocala Culinary Festival, where she serves on the board as styling partner. Sponsored by Vietri and Lenox, she created and styled each dining venue at the 2016-17 festival.
What do you typically have for breakfast? Freshly ground coffee and, most often, an English muffin with a little peanut or almond butter, OJ or a bite of fruit, a multi-vitamin and a big glass of Ocala tap water.
Describe a memorable meal. I’ve been lucky enough to travel and enjoy new food experiences, but probably the biggest ‘wow’ was in London the first time I tasted authentic Indian cuisine in a high-end restaurant. My mother is Greek and an excellent cook, and my Dad is from the south, so I grew up eating food prepared across a broad palate; however, the unique flavors and intensity of Indian food was something completely new for me at that time.
What does sitting down to a meal with family and friends mean to you? What makes a meal truly memorable to me is the gathering. That’s why I’m so passionate about the table. People enjoy and appreciate effort and beauty, and it doesn’t take much of the one to achieve the other. The conversation that ensues around even the simplest of meals in such a setting is a shared experience that is the essence of intimacy.
What is your entertaining style? Relaxed elegance. Real silver, real dishes, real glassware, linen (though wrinkled), heirlooms if you have them. Every day. Add a couple of tea lights, a flower from the yard. No need to dress up, unless it’s a holiday, then that’s a nice thing to do. I have a “use-it-or-lose-it” philosophy, and don’t fear breakage when all we truly have of value is time.
How do you relax on your day off? Small business owners don’t really have days completely off, but when I am home, I love the home experience: hanging out and gabbing with my friends, going on a bike ride, playing and listening to music, reading, going to the movies, maybe catching up on a neglected chore or two while listening to recorded Jeopardy episodes, taking a few minutes for reflection and to plan the coming week.