Don Sondag’s work has been featured on posters for the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival and Casa Feliz, and is prominent in many private collections. But he is best known for his portraits, and painted this issue’s cover using photographs for the likeness and his own memories of Seymour for the radiant spirit.

A PORTRAIT’S POWER

Don Sondag’s work has been featured on posters for the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival and Casa Feliz, and is prominent in many private collections. But he is best known for his portraits, and painted this issue’s cover using photographs for the likeness and his own memories of Seymour for the radiant spirit.

When Thaddeus Seymour died in October, there was no doubt that the beloved former Rollins College president would be the cover subject for the upcoming issue of Winter Park Magazine. But since Seymour was such an original character, we wanted to use an original image — not, for example, his official college portrait, which had been reproduced many times.

Thankfully, the city’s most renowned portrait artist also happened to be an admirer of Seymour’s. Don Sondag, a Winter Park native who has rendered images of many community leaders and notable personalities, graciously agreed to drop what he was doing and turn out a cover.

In just a few days, working from photographs and his memories of Seymour, the indefatigable Sondag managed to capture not only his subject’s likeness but also his ebullient humor and oversized personality. The paint was barely dry when the completed work was delivered.

Sondag, a native of Winter Park, earned a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. He also studied painting and portraiture at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League in New York City. 

In addition to painting commissioned portraits and landscapes from his space at McRae Art Studios, he teaches portraiture and painting at the Crealdé School of Art, where he joined the faculty in 1990. He also has taught at Seminole State College, Walt Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney Feature Animation.

It is for his portraits that Sondag is best known. He has accepted commissions from the Dr. P. Phillips Foundation, Seminole State College, Tupperware Brands Corporation, and the University of Central Florida among many other institutional clients. His image of the iconic Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) hangs in the lobby of Tiedtke Concert Hall on the campus of Rollins. 

Sondag’s work has also been featured on posters for the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival and Casa Feliz, and is prominent in many private collections. “I paint portraits primarily but love to paint outdoors,” he says. “Capturing the light, color and form is what I try to compose in my paintings.”

You can see a sampling of the artist’s photorealistic landscapes and waterscapes at Venetian Canals of Winter Park: The Art of Don Sondag, a new exhibition that runs through April 12 at the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. 

Venetian Canals explores why Winter Park once dubbed itself “the Venice of North America” through a fascinating collection of archival photographs, documents and assorted memorabilia accompanied by Sondag’s vivid paintings of the charming channels that connect the Winter Park Chain of Lakes. 

The exhibition is supported by Fannie Hillman + Associates, United Arts of Central Florida, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation and the City of Winter Park. 

Venetian Canals may be viewed during regular hours at the museum, which is located at 633 Osceola Avenue. Admission, which allows access to the entire complex, is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and college students, and $3 for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Members and children under age 4 are admitted free. For more information, visit polasek.org.

The Coop now offers an Express Menu during lunch hours with three menu items: a three-piece chicken tender meal and a choice of two salads. The Express Menu, which is offered Mondays through Fridays, allows guests to place their orders, sit down, receive their food, eat and bolt back to the office.

CHICKEN LIKE GRANNY MADE

Photography by Rafael Tongol

John Rivers, a comfort-food perfectionist, samples a drumstick from The Coop. Chicken at the down-home eatery is prepared using a new recipe that he hopes will have locals licking their fingers.

When it comes to The Coop, John Rivers doesn’t just wing it. He tests, he launches, he fixes, he tweaks, he tests and then he tweaks again. That goes for all menu items and service features but is particularly true of the restaurant’s signature protein — that’s chicken, ya’ll.

Rivers launched The Coop, featuring Southern fare and counter service, with a fried chicken recipe he adored back in 2014. But the times, they are a-changing. He introduced a third version of this tried-and-true entrée last fall because, he says, that’s what customers wanted. 

“I put my pride aside a long time ago,” notes the mastermind behind the down-home establishment on Morse Boulevard, which celebrated its fifth anniversary last April. “I’m here to serve the community. If people aren’t going to enjoy what I prepare, what good does it do?”

Which is why, success notwithstanding, Rivers — who’s also behind the 15-units-and-growing 4 Rivers Smokehouse chain — found himself back in the kitchen trying to get that fried chicken just right. Again.

When The Coop was brand new, the fryers didn’t work out, so Rivers quickly replaced the dang things. Then he reworked the batter because customers said it was too thick. 

Over time, the kitchen team started steaming the chicken before frying it. That allowed them to deliver golden, tender and sizzling meals to tables in four minutes instead of the previous 14 to 17 minutes. And now, this ever-evolving eatery has changed its chicken once again — by going back to basics.

The revamped recipe, as a result, is more like Granny’s than ever before. Gone are the rosemary and thyme in the brine. There’s less black pepper, while the 4 Rivers all-purpose rub has been added. And the breading? Some of the heft, which was originally removed, has returned. 

Recalls Rivers: “A very dear friend who loves The Coop told me, ‘You know, John, I love the food but you overcheffed the chicken. It’s not what I would get from my mom.’”

That gentle critique was all the prompting Rivers needed to start testing. As luck would have it, Derek Perez was available to assist in the quest for poultry perfection. 

Perez was a chef at both Luke’s and Luma on Park for a combined 13 years. Just a few months prior, while still at Luke’s in Maitland, he told Winter Park Magazine that, despite Luma’s gourmet-forward fare, “I like to make honest food that’s not cheffed up.”

Chicken sandwiches are all the rage these days, and The Coop has a dandy. The Cheerwine Chicken Sandwich, created for the annual Cows ‘n’ Cabs fundraiser, features chicken marinated in the Cheerwine soft drink and topped with hot sauce and cole slaw. Further enhancing the flavor is a housemade lemon aioli (flavored mayonnaise) and house-jarred pickles.

Now that’s a kindred spirit. What’s more, Perez, like Rivers, is a fanatical recipe tester who dives deep into details. “If you change the salt by an eighth of a teaspoon, it makes a difference,” says Rivers. 

So, the duo launched a study of fried chicken — not just their own, but fowl from Publix, Popeye’s, KFC and Golden Corral because that’s what surveys revealed folks crave. Notes Rivers: “None of those, other than Popeye’s, is fancy or has a lot of seasoning.” 

Once Rivers and Perez nailed what they believed to be the perfect fried chicken recipe, they tested it by selling both the old and new versions for several weeks and asking for feedback. An overwhelming number of diners said they preferred the simpler offering. Consequently, the new recipe is now offered exclusively.

Plus, Rivers and Perez used the same batter for a fried chicken sandwich, which comes with a housemade lemon aioli (flavored mayonnaise) and house-jarred pickles. Then they kept experimenting to create a specialty sandwich to serve at Cows ’n’ Cabs, an annual autumn fundraiser that Rivers created. 

Admittedly, they got playful — and came up with a winner in the process. The Cheerwine Chicken Sandwich, now on the regular menu, is marinated in the carbonated soft drink Cheerwine, then topped with hot sauce, cooled with a dollop of cole slaw and placed on a brioche bun.

If our reaction is an indicator, we’d say it’s a keeper. Cows ’n’ Cabs serves so much food that we usually take one bite of each offering. But with that darned sandwich, we kept having another bite, and another, until the plate was empty. Spicy and sweet, hot and chilled — it works. 

We share all this chicken chat to make a point: This unfussy restaurant with an old-timey menu is a vibrant enterprise that’s continuously evolving. 

In fact, we’re not quite done talking turkey — er, chicken. The Coop also recently rolled out a chicken club sandwich consisting of fried chicken tenders tossed in buffalo sauce. Also new is a breakfast item called The Early Bird, an eye opener featuring a chicken tender and a scrambled egg with cheese and bacon bits, hollandaise sauce and scallions on a toasted hoagie roll.

The food isn’t all that’s been tweaked. Over time, The Coop revamped its service model. Instead of plating up at the counter, staffers began taking orders up front, composing each plate in the kitchen and delivering it to guests after they’ve seated themselves. 

That change delighted breakfast and dinner crowds. Lunch, not so much. People received their meals in the same amount of time when served at tables — but the wait apparently felt longer, and traffic dipped.

The Coop now offers an Express Menu during lunch hours with three menu items: a three-piece chicken tender meal and a choice of two salads. The Express Menu, which is offered Mondays through Fridays, allows guests to place their orders, sit down, receive their food, eat and bolt back to the office.

In response, The Coop now offers an Express Menu during lunch hours with three menu items: a three-piece chicken tender meal and a choice of two salads. The Express Menu, which is offered Mondays through Fridays, allows guests to place their orders, sit down, receive their food, eat and bolt back to the office lickety-split. 

The restaurant also added online ordering, so those wishing to take their meals back to their desks — hey, we’ve all had to do it — can swoop by the takeout window and find their orders hot and ready. 

All the restaurant’s greatest hits are available for the grab-and-go crowd — including meatloaf, fried chicken, chicken tenders, chicken-fried steak, chicken pot pie, chicken and dumplings, chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and catfish and grits along with three fixins’ (sides). 

In case that’s not enough change to deal with, The Coop has also introduced a daily special of Giant Buttermilk Chicken Tenders. And since the beginning of the year, the restaurant has begun offering monthly specials for breakfast and lunch. 

In January, for example, the specials are blueberry lemon pancakes for breakfast and a grilled chicken gyro with a side of cucumber tomato salad for lunch. February is Southern poutine (french fries and cheese curd topped with gravy) for breakfast and Nashville hot chicken tenders with a side of hoppin’ john (rice, ham, onion, celery and black-eyed peas) for lunch. 

March brings with it Southern eggs benedict (ham, fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese and hollandaise sauce on a biscuit) for breakfast and a Buffalo shrimp sandwich with a side of broccoli salad for lunch.

A meatless Portobello burger is in the works (no plant-based chicken product is up to snuff yet, says Rivers, so no poultry substitute is likely for a while). And the restaurant’s logo sports a fresher, more youthful look.

You’ve got to give Rivers a feather in his cap for not resting on his laurels or his recipes. The Coop — perhaps unlike your granny — aims to please and is amenable to change.

The Coop: A Southern Affair
610 West Morse Blvd., Winter Park, FL 32789
407-843-2667, southernaffair.com

Park Smiles offers a “Comfort Menu” of amenities that include internet radio, Bluetooth headphones, massage chairs, warm scented towels and cozy blankets. Its examination rooms, such as the one dedicated to Fred Rogers, have adopted local themes.

WHERE WORDS STILL MATTER

Photography by Rafael Tongol

At the coffee bar in her bookstore’s new Park Avenue digs, owner Lauren Zimmerman reads a novel by Ann Patchett, whose NPR interview inspired her to launch the venture.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of independent bookstores — much like similarly grim pronouncements regarding Tylenol, Tiger Woods and vinyl records — were greatly exaggerated. 

Had the rampant R.I.P.’s been accurate, Lauren Zimmerman would be practicing law or doing social work today — not fine-tuning the new Park Avenue location of Writer’s Block Bookstore, which she launched in 2014 around the corner on East Welbourne Avenue.

Recalls Zimmerman: “People said, ‘You’re out of your mind, why are you doing this? I thought [independent bookstores] were extinct. I shop on Amazon.’ Well, I wasn’t going to not do it. I mean, how do you go through life that way?” 

Zimmerman adds that there were also plenty of naysayers — whom she pointedly ignored — when she decided to enroll in law school in her late 30s. “For people who’ve known me all my life, it wasn’t a surprise that I did this,” she says. “I’ve always been the kind of person who, when I say I want to do something, I do it.”

At 62, the energetic Zimmerman has the heart of a bookworm and the work ethic of a honeybee — ideal traits for her vocation. But selling books wasn’t a career that she ever anticipated. It was a destiny arrived at via a circuitous route and a moment of serendipity in early 2014.

“I’m one of those professional students,” says Zimmerman, who majored in pre-law at the University of Central Florida (then Florida Technological University) before earning an interior design degree at the University of Florida. 

After working locally as a commercial space planner, she revisited her original career goal and graduated from St. Thomas University’s School of Law in 1995. She then opened a practice in Orlando specializing in children and dependency, and married Scott Zimmerman, president of AGPM, a property management company with about 6,500 apartment units in its portfolio.

When Zimmerman stopped practicing law — the hours had become problematic for a mother of three — she decided to pursue social work and was within one course of completing a master’s degree at UCF when she happened to hear an interview on NPR with novelist Ann Patchett.

The subject of the discussion was Patchett’s Nashville bookstore, Parnassus — named for the mountain in Greek mythology that was the seat of literature, learning and music — and how the endearing establishment brought the community together and “valued books and readers above muffins and adorable plastic watering cans.”

For Zimmerman, the interview was an epiphany: “I pulled over on the side of the road and called my husband and said, ‘I think I want to open a bookstore,’ And he said, ‘Go for it!’ I didn’t show up for that last class in the fall.”

FINDING A HOME

Patchett, who penned the novel Bel Canto and other bestsellers, may have supplied the inspiration for the “crazy” idea. But the perspiration required to make it happen was all Zimmerman’s. “It’s a very hard job, much harder than I thought it would be,” she says.

First, she needed to locate a suitable space: “It had to be in an affluent area, where the community could support a bookstore.” Park Avenue came immediately to mind, but Zimmerman also flirted briefly with opening a store in Winter Park Village. 

She was dissuaded, however, by indie bookstore veterans to whom she turned for advice: “They said shopping centers are not your friend, unless you only want to do business on Friday and Saturday nights after the movies.”

Zimmerman eventually found a vacancy on Welbourne Avenue, a side street just off Park Avenue. “It wasn’t the best location, but it was downtown Winter Park — it met the qualification,” she says. “I knew people would eventually find it.” 

Prior to Writer’s Block, there hadn’t been an independent bookstore downtown since Park Books — originally The Little Professor — closed in 1994. A nearby chain bookstore, B. Dalton, lasted until 1999. (Yes, there was Brandywine Books in Greeneda Court. But it stocked only second-hand titles.)

Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising that until Zimmerman came along no one was eager to invest in bricks-and-mortar bookselling, even in an affluent city filled with writers and readers. 

Between 1995 and 2000, the number of indie bookstores in the U.S. — bleeding customers to Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, Barnes & Noble and Borders — fell 43 percent, according to the American Booksellers Association.

The debut of Amazon in 1995 was expected to deliver the fatal coup de grace. But a funny thing happened on the way to extinction. Amazon was an existential threat to big boxes across the retail landscape, including chain bookstores. By 2011, Borders, B. Dalton and Waldenbooks had folded and Barnes & Noble was losing stores.

But in the process of decimating their major retail competitors, the online colossus had inadvertently given nichey independent bookstores a new lease on life. Between 2009 and 2015, their number rose 35 percent, from 1,651 stores to 2,227. At last count, in 2018, the total was 2,524.

How did this happen? A perfect storm of cultural churn. Indies such as Writer’s Block found themselves occupying a nostalgic sweet spot as sterile mall culture withered and downtowns were reinvigorated as centers of community life. 

“Independent bookstores have become anchors of authenticity,” says Harvard professor Ryan Raffaelli, who has studied the great revival. “This is almost like a social movement.” 

Indies were in the vanguard of the “buy local” movement, offering perks not available on Amazon: lectures, book signings, game nights, reading groups, children’s story times and shelf space for local authors. Most important, the stores were run by proprietors who genuinely loved books and knew what their customers enjoyed reading.

The new Writer’s Block is 500 square feet more spacious than it used to be. Although the space features several welcoming nooks and crannies, it’s essentially a long, open expanse without the warren of separate rooms that made the former Welbourne location feel so cramped.

TURNING THE PAGE

“When people come in, they feel safe; they don’t feel they’re obligated to buy,” says Zimmerman, whose literary preferences lean toward historical fiction. “Even if you’re not a reader, you still like going through the books and being around people. If you were in a bad mood when you walked in, you were in good mood when you walked out.”

Naysayers notwithstanding, customers did indeed find their way to the cozy bookstore on Welbourne Avenue. “I was growing out of that space,” Zimmerman adds. “Events were a nightmare. It was hard on the authors. People would get stuck in the hallway and they could only hear — they never got to sit down.”

Last September, Writer’s Block began a new chapter when the Zimmermans bought the building at 316 North Park Avenue, formerly home to The Impeccable Pig, a boutique that moved a few blocks south. Aptly, the bookstore’s next-door neighbor is Tugboat & the Bird, an independent children’s gift and clothing store. Take that, Amazon.

The 5-minute walk from Welbourne to Writer’s Block’s new digs is an exercise in so-near-yet-so-far, like turning the corner from Baltic Avenue to Park Place on a Monopoly board. “The exposure is going to make a huge difference,” states Zimmerman.

The store is 500 square feet more spacious than it used to be. But it seems even larger than that because of light streaming in through tall windows up front and a covered patio — complete with cozy furniture — outside the rear door. There’s also a coffee bar tucked in the back corner. 

Although the space features several welcoming nooks and crannies, it’s essentially a long, open expanse without the warren of separate rooms that made the Welbourne location feel so cramped.

On her first walk-through, Zimmerman knew what could be done: “I saw it. I saw the tables, I saw everything. There’s a lot of joy in seeing something before it’s built.” Such moments of rhapsodizing are an indulgence Zimmerman allows herself before returning to her natural worry-bead mode.

“There are lots of challenges with this space,” she frets. “There’s no guarantee it won’t fail. I worry about sales, I worry about staff, I worry about inventory, I worry about events. I worry about…everything. My husband says just make sure you enjoy what you’re doing. From all outward appearances, I’m enjoying it.”

In the course of mothering Writer’s Block, Zimmerman has become the accidental godmother of Central Florida’s belated emergence as a destination for bestselling authors. 

Oh, you thought we already were there? So did Zimmerman, before traveling to New York in 2014 to pitch her fledgling enterprise to the kahunas of publishing such as Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster.

Like every good bookstore, Writer’s Block has a robust children’s section where young readers feel comfortable and welcomed.

BUILDING CREDIBILITY

It was a struggle just to get an appointment, Zimmerman says, because “bookstores come and go, and everybody is opening a bookstore in their backyard or garage — so major publishers are skeptical of new bookstore owners.” Even more sobering, Zimmerman discovered that she was living in fly-over country as far as big publishers were concerned.

“We hadn’t had an independent bookstore in this area for 25 years,” she says. “They fly over Orlando to Miami, then fly over Orlando again to Atlanta. Orlando, to them, is Disney World. There is no town called Orlando.”

On her next visit, in 2015, “I felt like I was a representative of the economic development commission. They wanted to see numbers. I had graphs and charts. I mean, the presentation was thorough. They were impressed. They were shocked. But they said we still weren’t a major market as far as they were concerned.”

On her third visit, Zimmerman talked more about the area’s cultural amenities — including Rollins College and the museums in Winter Park as well as the new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando. Eventually, her message got through.

“Every year I went up, there’d be more people in the room.” she says. “They finally started inviting the real publicists to attend. That’s when I knew I’d cracked the ceiling.”

One day last year, Zimmerman got an unexpected phone call from a publicist at Hachette, publisher of The President Is Missing, co-authored by James Patterson and former President Bill Clinton. “They said Bill Clinton wanted to come to Orlando, and they needed a facility that could hold a thousand people,” Zimmerman says.

Writer’s Block holds 125, tops. So Zimmerman arranged for the Patterson-Clinton event to be held in the Winter Park High School auditorium and brought the Orlando Sentinel aboard as a co-sponsor. Shortly thereafter, that same connection brought former CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley (Truth Worth Telling) and best-selling romance novelist Elin Hilderbrand (What Happens in Paradise). 

Patterson and Clinton spoke before a full house, as did Hilderbrand, who appeared at Quantum Leap Winery in Orlando. Pelley, whose presentation was at Rollins, nearly filled the Bush Auditorium. The crowds warmed Zimmerman’s anxious heart. 

“I get on a soapbox about this,” says Zimmerman. “You need to come to events. When I go up to New York, I have to prove to them that audiences come to the events. I can tell them all day that we’re turning into a big city, but if they send an author and nobody comes, they’re not going to send any more authors.”

The people who have known Lauren Zimmerman all her life would be surprised if the architect-turned-attorney-turned-bookseller — who always does what she says she’ll do — ever let that happen. 


Dr. Drew Byrnes and his dapper son, Drew Jr., celebrate the opening of Park Smiles, a dental practice on Fairbanks Avenue that capitalizes on its long history in Winter Park.

INTRODUCING WINTER PARK-STYLE SMILES

Most folks in the 1930s — except perhaps movie stars — didn’t have the wide, white smiles that you see today. “Be grateful you weren’t a kid then,” says Dr. Drew Byrnes, the bearded, bowtie-wearing dentist who took over a venerable Winter Park practice in 2014 and reshaped it as Park Smiles.

“[In the 1930s] there probably was no air conditioning, so any dental office smells you can think of, multiply that,” says Byrnes. “Novocain wasn’t as common or effective then. There were different kinds of drills that weren’t as effective — belt-driven with a lot of rotary going on. There may have been some smoke coming out of the equipment.”

Most certainly, Byrnes adds, there would have been a spit bucket next to the chair. And because gloves weren’t normally used, the dentist “would have his bare hands in your mouth.”

No wonder a visit to the dentist was so frightening for the generation that won World War II. And for subsequent generations as well, despite improved equipment and refined techniques. Byrnes, 33, even admits to having dreaded dental visits as a youngster.

Fast forward 80 years to Park Smiles, with a new facility on Fairbanks Avenue that offers a “Comfort Menu” of amenities that include internet radio, Bluetooth headphones, massage chairs, warm scented towels and cozy blankets. 

The hallways are bathed in white noise to mask sounds emanating from exam rooms where televisions that stream Netflix and Apple TV are mounted on the walls at eye-level for reclining patients. The welcome area has a coffee bar.

“We took everything that looked clinical and tried to get rid of it or hide it to create a non-threatening environment,” Byrnes says. “Those big old lights that come down from the ceiling? We got rid of those and installed indirect light.”

A year after he graduated from the University of Florida College of Dentistry, Byrnes — who was born in Winter Park and raised in Altamonte Springs — took over the practice of retiring dentist Dr. Alan Price, who led the effort to fluoridate the city’s water supply in 1983. (Yes, there was opposition to fluoridation.)

The practice, then located on Knowles Avenue, goes much further back than that. It was started in 1939 by Dr. Wilbur Jennings, a 1927 graduate of Rollins College and a former owner of the city’s iconic Capen-Showalter House. Jennings and his wife, Edith, were for years prominent in local civic affairs.  

So Park Smiles — that’s the name Byrnes gave the practice in 2016 — boasts deep Winter Park roots (no pun intended) and is almost certainly the oldest continually operating dental office in the city. In fact, Byrnes says, his patients include children and grandchildren of patients from the practice’s early years. 

Byrnes and his wife, Julie, whom he met at the University of Florida, quickly fell in love with their new neighborhood. They lived in an apartment complex on Park Avenue across from their church, St. Margaret Mary. They later moved to another apartment but remained within walking distance of Park Smiles.

Julie, 30, a Coral Gables native, found Park Avenue “happier than Disney World — genuine happiness.” If it were possible, Drew says, “we would have stayed in downtown Winter Park forever.”

That hope was dashed when Price, who kept ownership of the building after retiring, decided to sell the property. Byrnes searched in vain for another space on or around Park Avenue, but found that the main obstacle was — surprise — parking. 

Park Smiles offers a “Comfort Menu” of amenities that include internet radio, Bluetooth headphones, massage chairs, warm scented towels and cozy blankets. Its examination rooms, such as the one dedicated to Fred Rogers, have adopted local themes.

Byrnes even toyed with valet service before reluctantly extending the search beyond the downtown core. That search ended on west Fairbanks Avenue, next to a 4 Rivers Smokehouse. 

But Byrnes realized that to fulfill his vision of how a dental practice ought to look and operate, he’d have to build a new facility from scratch. “Our new office isn’t just a game-changer for Park Smiles, but it’s a game-changer for dentistry as a whole,” he says. “We aim to change the dental experience.”

A rundown bar and hulking billboard were razed to make room for a gleaming Aegean blue-and-white facility with state-of-the-dental-art technology and a spa-like ambience. That welcoming vibe reflects the influence of Julie, an interior designer who found her career binge-watching HGTV as a teen.

The couple now lives in a vintage Orwin Manor bungalow with their month-old son, Drew Jr. 

“We made sacrifices to make this happen,”
Byrnes says. “We were seeing a lot of our friends buying their first homes and making big life moves. We decided to invest in the future of our practice — to give something amazing to our patients and the city; something that we can be proud of.”

The practice — which also includes Dr. Eric Holtz — offers general and cosmetic dentistry. “We’re a guilt-free office,” Byrnes insists. “I don’t care if it’s been six months or 16 years since your last dental visit. We’ll not make you feel bad for coming back and promise to make it as easy as a walk in the park.”

Byrnes, who says his professional calling was confirmed by dental mission trips to South America, has turned the new offices into an homage to the downtown Winter Park he never wanted to leave. 

Interior walls are lined with large photographs of iconic local buildings and scenes. Exam and treatment rooms carry city-specific names: Kraft Azalea Gardens, Hannibal Square, Central Park, Rose Garden, Emily Fountain, Rollins College and Mister Rogers. 

There’s even a family room where children can watch TV or play games while mom and dad are getting their teeth cleaned. Posted on the wall are the practice’s core values, the first of which is: “Always do the right thing.” 

— Greg Dawson

Timbers Resort’s offices (above and below), located in the Seacoast Bank building on Morse Boulevard, feature striking wall-sized graphics of company properties and a sleek but homey vibe that reflects the company’s culture. About 40 people work in the new national headquarters, with double that number expected within a few years.

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

Timbers Resort’s offices (above and below), located in the Seacoast Bank building on Morse Boulevard, feature striking wall-sized graphics of company properties and a sleek but homey vibe that reflects the company’s culture. About 40 people work in the new national headquarters, with double that number expected within a few years.

When Timbers Resorts CEO Greg Spencer began to investigate moving the company’s corporate headquarters from Carbondale, Colorado — a picture-postcard small town just northwest of Aspen — he wanted to find a location that combined the area’s sophisticated panache with easy accessibility, top-notch schools and proximity to workforce housing.

Spencer, 49, who was born in Orlando and attended college in Tallahassee, seemed to recall that Winter Park fit the bill in most respects. Early on, he began steering the 20-year-old company toward Central Florida.

“Winter Park became pretty compelling pretty fast,” says Spencer, whose team also looked at locations in downtown Orlando, Dr. Phillips and Lake Nona. “Winter Park felt like where we came from, and I liked the scale. It was more of a cultural fit with our brand. In fact, our board was blown away.”

In February, Timbers Resorts moved to a suite of offices at 1031 West Morse Boulevard, on the third floor of the Seacoast Bank building. And the space was built out to reflect the fast-growing company’s mission, which is to develop and operate boutique resorts, hotels and private-residence clubs.

The walls are adorned with surfboards and eye-popping graphics of company properties, while the offices and conference rooms are outfitted with sleek, modern furnishings and all the high-tech bells and whistles you’d expect from a company with an international footprint.

“Aspen is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but we had employees looking at extremely long commutes,” notes Spencer. Small wonder: The average home price in Carbondale is more than $800,000 and in Aspen more than $1.6 million.

Timbers Resorts was founded in 1999 by resort developer David Burden and since 2014 has been majority-owned by Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management, whose portfolio includes about $120 billion in assets.

The Timbers portfolio includes 11 company-managed properties in Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, South Carolina, Italy and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as reciprocity agreements with other resorts in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Mexico.

Expansion opportunities are beckoning in Europe and the Caribbean as well as along the Eastern Seaboard. The company has a property in southeast Florida — Timbers Jupiter — and is eyeing opportunities in other Florida markets such as Naples, Lido Key and Palm Beach.

Some functions have remained in Colorado, and there are branch offices in Barcelona, Spain; Bluffton, South Carolina; and Kauai, Hawaii. But corporate headquarters — which encompasses marketing, finance, acquisitions and IT — now has a familiar zip code: 32789.

About 40 people — 10 of whom relocated from Colorado — work in the Winter Park office. Over the next five or six years, as many as 80 people will be employed at salaries that average more than $90,000 annually.

Central Florida’s concentration of hospitality industry professionals was a major factor in the move, says Spencer. He praises the region’s pro-business ethos and the professionalism of the Orlando Economic Partnership, the region’s premier economic development organization.

Local organizations, such as the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, were also helpful and welcoming, Spencer adds, noting that “the kind of people who live in Winter Park would be our buyers.”

Greg Spencer, CEO of Timbers Resorts, says it was a difficult decision to relocate the company from Carbondale, Colorado, near Aspen. But Winter Park, he says, provides plenty of charm and spirit as well as an array of business advantages. The background photo, “Surfer Girl,” is from the company’s resort in Kauai, the western most of Hawaii’s main islands.

Timbers Resorts — which employs about 1,500 people throughout its system — clearly plans to emphasize corporate citizenship. The paint was barely dry at headquarters when the company agreed to become the presenting sponsor for the chamber’s popular Taste of Winter Park. It was also a sponsor of Winter Park Magazine’s Most Influential People event.

“We’re very purposeful in everything we do,” says Spencer of the company’s civic involvement. “We either do it right or we don’t do it.”

Spencer holds a B.S. in political science from FSU, where he was an ROTC company commander. He became a logistics officer in the Air Force and left military service as a captain, joining Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) in Atlanta and specializing in major bank mergers, such as those involving NationsBank and Bank of America, and Wachovia and First Union.

He later earned an MBA from Webster University and another master’s degree in real estate development from Columbia University, where he wrote his thesis about founding his own development company. “I interviewed some legendary developers while writing my thesis,” recalls Spencer, who graduated at the top of his class.

Armed with insights from the best in the business, Spencer started Mont Ventoux Capital, based in Atlanta. But he was intrigued by resort development and impressed by what he had learned about Timbers Resorts. “I researched and knew these were the types of projects I wanted to do,” he says.

Burden, who was then developing resort properties in Tuscany and the Virgin Islands, happened to be in Atlanta for an investor’s conference. Spencer cold-called the company’s executive chairman and wheedled a 15-minute meeting that stretched into three-and-a-half hours. He was hired in 2007 as a project manager and quickly rose through the ranks.

A snow skier and a water skier — he’ll likely accomplish more of the latter in Winter Park — Spencer and his wife, Suzanne, have two daughters, ages 6 and 11. Suzanne is a women’s health nurse practitioner, but is currently concentrating on raising the family and getting resettled.

Spencer is also an avid FSU football fan — although at this writing it appears that, for this season at least, Saturday afternoons may not be particularly joyful ones for Seminole fans. (Perhaps UCF will attract Spencer’s interest if FSU can’t quickly turn it around.)

One of Timbers Resort’s most intriguing properties is Casali di Casole, a collection of 31 artfully restored Tuscan villas and farmhouses on a 4,200-acre estate in Italy. The company also manages properties in Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, South Carolina and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as reciprocity agreements with other resorts in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Mexico.

Spencer travels about 50 percent of the time — the convenience of Orlando International Airport also worked in Winter Park’s favor — and logs some extremely long work days since the properties he oversees encompass time zones that differ by as much as 12 hours.

So while Spencer may not spend as much time in Winter Park as his employees will, he’s convinced that the Coloradans who followed him southeast will enjoy their new lives in the City of Culture and Heritage: “Moving our headquarters out of the Aspen area was a difficult decision, but we feel that Winter Park has a very similar spirit that our brand and employees will fit well within.”

So far, so good, says Jim Barnes, president of Jambarco Investment Group, which owns the building where the company leases its uber-cool space. “The folks at Timbers Resorts have personally expressed to me how they already feel at home in Winter Park,” says Barnes. “We’re so glad they chose Winter Park for their headquarters.”

Adds Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary: “Timbers is known for sense of place and authenticity in each of their resorts, and felt that Winter Park was the perfect location for their new headquarters. They’ll further strengthen a diverse economic environment where companies can start up or relocate and grow.”

Meza’s vegetarian tagine (above left) is simmered with ginger, saffron, turmeric, cinnamon and cumin and served with Basmati rice. Add chicken or lamb to your order and you’ll have a heartier version with the same flavor foundation — all with a visually regal golden glow thanks to the spices. The grilled calamari (above right) is finished with wine butter garlic sauce and tomatoes. “This is cooking like my mom made,” says Sebaali. “It’s all from scratch.”

TASTES OF THE MIDDLE EAST

Photographs by Rafael Tongol

Nazih Sebaali has been delighting Central Florida diners for years with authentic (and healthy) Lebanese cuisine. Many of his longtime customers have found their way to Meza, which is located in Baldwin Park.

If conversation lags during your meal at Meza, break the silence by playing “what’s that flavor?” The restaurant, which opened last summer, specializes in Lebanese foods. The dishes will look familiar: hummus, kebabs and stews, which here are called “tagines.” 

Take a taste, though, and you’ll realize these aren’t the Americanized staples you know. They’re not even the more familiar Greek varieties. Is that cinnamon in the chicken? Cardamom? Turmeric? Expect to be stumped.

The Lebanese lace aromatic spices into their recipes, and they do it in a way that’s tantalizingly unfamiliar to most of us. The result is a host of appetizers and entrées with an intriguing tinge of — well, we kept having to ask our server. 

“Onions, garlic, cinnamon, allspice and olive oil are the basics of Lebanese cuisine,” explains Nazih Sebaali, chef-owner of this table-service establishment, hidden away on Baldwin Park’s Jake Street, just off New Broad Street. “Those are the basics, and they’re in most everything we serve.”

But as seven of us dipped, spread and sliced our way through much of the menu, we discovered dashes of yet more unusual-for-us extras. Take the kebobs, for example. We chose the mixed grill to try three meat options at once — and kept tasting to conquer the what’s-that-flavor challenge.

Meza offers plenty of variety. That’s Lebanese flatbread at the top. On the second row (left to right) is labneh (yogurt dip served with extra virgin olive oil and mint) and hummus (chickpea purée served with tahini sauce, garlic, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil). On the third row (left to right) is baba ghanoush (fresh eggplant smoked and puréed and served with tahini sauce, garlic and lemon juice drizzled with extra virgin olive oil); dolmades (stuffed grape leaves served with Tzatziki sauce); and tabouli salad (fine parsley served with bulgur wheat, tomatoes, onions, lemon juice and extra olive oil). The item at the bottom is spinach fatayers (flaky pies filled with spinach, onions and pine nuts).

As it turns out, the chicken is marinated in a garlic sauce, while the beef and lamb soak up the flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, allspice and yogurt before heading to the gas open-flame grill. The yogurt also tenderizes the meat.

The vegetarian tagine is simmered with ginger, saffron, turmeric, cinnamon and cumin. Add chicken or lamb to your order and you’ll have a heartier version with the same flavor foundation — all with a visually regal golden glow thanks to the spices. And so it goes.

As in all Middle Eastern restaurants, I’m happiest with a tableful of starters. Meza’s first courses, like the rest of the menu, are made in-house every day. That makes them fresher. 

“Fresh hummus can’t last more than a day,” Sebaali says. “The hummus in the supermarket is loaded with preservatives. I don’t know what they add to make it last a month.” At Meza, the chickpea mash is blended with tahini, garlic and lemon juice. 

(Side note: I got the hummus for free because I made a reservation through opentable.com. Our server, who was a weak link throughout dinner, knew nothing about the website’s free hummus option and frankly seemed disinterested. So speak up. If you reserve online and see that you get a gift for doing so, be sure to ask for it.)

Meza’s vegetarian tagine (above left) is simmered with ginger, saffron, turmeric, cinnamon and cumin and served with Basmati rice. Add chicken or lamb to your order and you’ll have a heartier version with the same flavor foundation — all with a visually regal golden glow thanks to the spices. The grilled calamari (above right) is finished with wine butter garlic sauce and tomatoes. “This is cooking like my mom made,” says Sebaali. “It’s all from scratch.”

Baba ghanoush is another classic Middle Eastern starter meant to be swiped up with flatbread. Sebaali makes it the same way he makes the hummus. It’s even better, if you like strong flavors. 

The eggplant is grilled in the kitchen each morning, giving the silky insides a seductive smoky element that pairs wondrously with the tahini, garlic and lemon juice. If you want leafy greens instead, dig into the lemony parsley-based tabouleh. It’s a standout.

Just in case some in your party are less adventurous than others, Meza always has a few American favorites available, such as steak. But Sebaali is eager to educate locals about the foods of his homeland, as he has done for more than 20 years.

You may recall Sebaali’s Café Annie, a cafeteria-style restaurant in downtown Orlando. He offered Lebanese fare, but in a self-serve format. “Office workers, judges, attorneys, bankers, everyone who worked downtown ate at Café Annie,” recalls Sebaali, who has an engineering degree from LSU. “It was a landmark.”

The mixed grill is a trio of chicken, beef and lamb kabobs served with fresh vegetables and Basmati rice. The chicken is marinated in a garlic sauce, while the beef and lamb soak up the flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, allspice and yogurt before heading to the gas open-flame grill.

It was also unusual for Central Florida. “When we opened, nobody knew what hummus was,” Sebaali says, noting the food’s ubiquity today. Because lunches at Café Annie were quick, affordable and healthful, the restaurant enjoyed a two-decade run and closed only when rent became prohibitive.

Café Annie was so much a part of regular customers’ lives that a large percentage of Meza’s guests are former Café Annie denizens who can’t do without Sebaali’s cinnamon-laced beef-filled kibbeh or his gooey, cheese-filled triangles in puff pastry, for example.

Those faithful followers, along with Sebaali’s Lebanese friends from the Dr. Phillips area, have gotten Meza off to a strong start. The challenge now is to lure more Winter Parkers. Sebaali says he’s certain that once guests sample his fresh and naturally low-fat offerings, they’ll make Meza part of their dining-out rotation. (Lebanese cuisine is indeed known to be particularly heart-healthy.)

Falafel or chickpeas patties are served with lettuce, tomatoes and tahini sauce.

“This is cooking like my mom made,” he adds. “It’s all from scratch. If the lettuce is brown, I throw it away. If the cucumber has spots on it, if it doesn’t look appealing, I throw it away. I’m here 24/7 to make sure that the staff does things this way.” Sebaali says he’s starting to see some new faces at Meza, which he finds encouraging. “I developed a menu where I can please everybody,” he emphasizes. “You can have a garden salad. You can have lentil soup. I even have mussels with traditional garlic butter on the menu.” 

Meza has a fine selection of wines to accompany its intriguing entrées.

Let your dining companions go for those items. You, though, should pick up a piece of traditional Lebanese flatbread and enjoy it with a soujok lamb and beef sausage sautéed with lemon juice, or a savory eggplant caponata, or one of those enticing kebabs. What’s not to like? 

Meza
1780 Jake Street
Baldwin Park, Orlando, FL  32814
407-440-3603
mezaorlando.com

 

A PASSION FOR PURPLE

In Central Florida for the 2019 Winter Park Paint Out, Miami Springs-based artist Linda Apriletti says she couldn’t resist painting a picture of the queen’s wreath in full bloom on the staircase leading to the administrative offices of the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens.

Plein air artist Linda Apriletti’s primary goal through her work “is to communicate the uncommon beauty found in nature.” The Miami Springs-based artist prefers Florida settings, and says she enjoys hearing from viewers that her images evoke a sense of peace.

Apriletti was recently in Central Florida for the 2019 Winter Park Paint Out, held by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. This issue’s cover image was created during the event.

“A Passion for Purple” shows the queen’s wreath (petrea volubilis) in full bloom on the exterior staircase leading to the upper floor of the home-turned-museum, where the administrative offices are located.

“I decided right then that I wanted to try painting the flowers,” Apriletti says. “They were covered with bees and the air seemed to hum. I chose my spot based on the morning light and shadows. Also, I really liked the complementary colors of the purples against the greens and golds.”

“A Passion for Purple” is Apriletti’s second Winter Park Magazine cover. The first, “April Showers Bring May Flowers,” was in Summer 2018, and was also set at the Polasek. It showed foliage overlooking Lake Osceola. A return visit seemed ideal for this issue, because our fashion feature was also staged on the museum’s lush grounds.

Although her college degrees are in accounting and taxation, Apriletti pursued her lifelong love of painting while employed as an accountant. She also honed her skills — first in pastels and later in oils — by attending workshops during her vacations.

It was at a workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park that Apriletti discovered her passion for plein air painting. She launched a full-time career as an artist in 2011 — and never looked back. “Painting outside is critical to helping me observe and understand patterns in nature,” she says.

Much of Apriletti’s work focuses on Everglades National Park and Big Cypress Nature Preserve, where she has staged solo exhibitions. She was artist in residence at Big Cypress Nature Preserve in 2012. But she also paints in Maine and on Martha’s Vineyard.

Apriletti particularly likes palm trees as subjects. Luckily for her, inspiration is always close at hand — she has more than 25 species growing in her yard.

Says Apriletti: “In both my plein air and studio paintings, I’m trying to bring a fresh and accurate portrayal of the many moods, quality of light and clarity of color of the changing seasons in Florida. I want to draw the viewer into my paintings and perhaps rekindle a personal memory.” 

Proper & Wild serves lovely desserts. The sampler platter included the aptly named “Chocolate Monster” — creamy because of its avocado base plus almond butter — and a dark chocolate truffle.

A FRESH TAKE ON FRESH FOOD

Photography by Rafael Tongol

“We serve good food that’s made from real ingredients that are curated with care,” Proper & Wild co-owner Chelsie Savage says. “Our intention is to make food that’s so damn good that it doesn’t matter what lifestyle you follow. The bonus is that it’s also good for you.”

If you’re all about plant-based meals, stop reading now and briskly walk to Proper & Wild on East Morse Boulevard. This full-service restaurant offers meals with nary a sliver of animal flesh. You’ll be thrilled to find guilt-free foods that are ambitious, creative and tasty.

If you’re an uncompromising carnivore, stay home and fire up the grill. Nothing you can order at Proper & Wild will sate you like a sizzling hunk of beef or chicken. Not a fennel tempè flatbread and not a “Proper Burger” — even one with robust toppings.

Read on if, like the rest of us, you have one foot in each culinary camp. 

Proper & Wild is a vegetarian restaurant with a mostly vegan menu — eggs and cheese show up here and there. It’s mostly organic too, down to the spices and herbs. Yet it isn’t a woodsy, crunchy cliché where everything is made of wheat germ and other brown-hued ingredients. 

Proper & Wild is a light, bright, almost feminine plant-filled space that will appeal to anyone open to trying new flavors. The menu is devilishly daring with some conservative options — well, relatively conservative if you substitute vegan for dairy. 

Heartcakes, Savage’s name for pseudo crab cakes, “are an homage to crab cakes,” she says. “I don’t jive with imitation foods.” The round patties are shaped like crab cakes and seared to golden on the outside. The texture, though, is softer than crab cakes. Still, certain flavors are spot-on. That’s because Proper & Wild laces its heartcakes batter with Old Bay and two types of seaweed for a briny taste. The batter is made from hearts of palm.

If your lifestyle involves choosing veggies for one meal, animal proteins for another, give it a shot. 

Oh, and Proper & Wild has wine — several dozen choices — and low ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktails. The libations are the stuff of cold-pressed juices and infused sakés with port or vermouth to take the edge off, yet they taste like any other handcrafted spirited pre-dinner creation. 

Proper & Wild is as much a place to drop in for a date with your honey as it is for a smoothie after your Pilates class. But here’s how my review dinner played out: My forever taste-tester stayed home. “Vegan? No thanks,” he said dismissively. 

Silly man. So, I hopped into the car with one vegetarian friend — really a pescatarian, as she eats fish — along with another pal who, like me, gets excited about food in general, whether its ingredients are grown in soil or once had eyes, mouths and mommies.

We settled around a high-top table after requesting that festive wiry white seats — the kind that have backs — be dragged from the bar to the table, where the standard backless stools scared our sensitive spines.

We settled in, giddy to begin this experiment. We all kind of liked the slogan: “Real Damn Good Food.” But it took some effort to read the names of the dishes because the menu is designed for younger eyes. It employs a playful (but hard-to-read) cursive for the dish names and a tiny sans-serif font for the dish descriptions. We wished we had brought our reading glasses.

Proper & Wild has low ABV (alcohol by volume)cocktails, including the Heartbeat, which contains beets, rosè, lemon, aquafaba — the leftover liquid from cooked chickpeas — as well as yuki otoko saké, cocci rossa and high-antioxidant berries. You’ll also like the spicy bite of the Sunstorm.

A smartphone flashlight saved the day, and we were both intrigued and intimidated by what we read. We smiled at terms like “caramelized onion” (yum) then worried at “turmeric
cashew crema” (what the … ?), cheered for “candied hazelnut” (now you’re talking) and winced at “curry aioli” (well, maybe …).

Before deciding, we ordered cocktails. The spicy bite of the Sunstorm and the cheerful berryness of the Heartbeat (containing beets, rosè, lemon, aquafaba — the leftover liquid from cooked chickpeas — yuki otoko saké, cocci rossa and high-antioxidant berries) diffused our tension. 

We planned our eating strategy while contentedly sipping our saké-based starters, oblivious to the healthful components such as carrot-mango shrub and micro-cilantro.

Salads? We decided to ignore them, although they’re undoubtedly good. Proper & Wild is owned by Chelsie Savage and her husband, Jamie. Chelsie has already proven her green-goddess status at The Sanctum Café in Orlando’s Colonialtown North. 

At Proper & Wild, we went for the hot foods — which are new for the entrepreneurial Savages. “We have nowhere to cook at Sanctum,” says Chelsie, enthusiastically rattling off the components of the newer eatery’s kitchen. There’s a sauté station and a custom-built gas-and-wood-fired pizza oven — but, she proudly points out, no fryer. 

That’s because Proper & Wild is about ambiance, diversity and flavor — with a subtle emphasis on healthy eating. “We serve good food that’s made from real ingredients that are curated with care,” Chelsie says. “Our intention is to make food that’s so damn good that it doesn’t matter what lifestyle you follow. The bonus is that it’s also good for you.” 

Well, now you see where that damn slogan came from.

But how about that food? We began with Brussels sprouts and artichoke dip. It sounds like a fatty, creamy fern-bar shareable — and it was designed to resemble one. Here, though, the dip is made of navy beans and raw cashews instead of sour cream and cream cheese. 

On the menu are three meat-free burgers — all made with a patty of beets, black rice and lentils (top). Proper & Wild cultures and ferments its flatbread in-house. The flatbread here is served with shaved Brussels sprouts, Gouda cheese, truffle, garlic, lemon and red chili flakes on top (above).

We didn’t know that at the time. We just found ourselves admiring a cast-iron pan of a hearty dip, laced with greens and topped with a dollop of chopped pepitas and a green olive-red pepper tapenade. We didn’t admire it for long, though. We grabbed the fingers of toasted bread and swiped the pan clean.

As much as we enjoyed the dip, the flatbread was our favorite starter. We ordered the Stella, which, like all the flatbreads, is made the old-fashioned way with a sourdough starter. 

“We culture and ferment our flatbread in-house,” says Chelsie. “We’ve learned that people with gluten aversions can often eat it without getting a stomachache afterward. It’s easier for our bodies to digest.”

None of us were gluten-averse, so we chose the flatbread for the shaved Brussels sprouts, Gouda cheese, truffle, garlic, lemon and red chili flakes on top. The bread was fluffy yet smoky, and the toppings complemented it — and one another —well. Success.

We kept on eating. The chickpea fries aren’t really fries, which notably upset one of my dining companions. “They just shouldn’t be called fries,” she insisted. I disagree. 

Yes, the slender finger foods were baked, not fried, and therefore lacked the anticipated crispy exterior. But hey, they tasted great. The “fries” themselves were firm fingers made with garbanzos. They sat atop two sauces: a green cilantro pistou and a beige vindaloo curry almond aioli. Tons of flavor. I’d get it again.

Proper & Wild’s dinner entrées change regularly, so we sampled two that are likely to stay around. One is heartcakes, Chelsie’s name for pseudo crab cakes. “These are an homage to crab cakes,” she says. “I don’t jive with imitation foods.” 

The round patties are shaped like crab cakes and seared to golden on the outside. The texture, though, is softer than crab cakes. Still, certain flavors are spot-on. That’s because Proper & Wild laces its heartcakes batter with Old Bay and two types of seaweed for a briny taste. The batter is made from hearts of palm.

Chelsie had won awards for her meat-free burgers before she ever had a restaurant kitchen in which to cook them. But unlike her wildly popular “Impossible Burger,” which was designed to taste like beef, the burgers at Proper & Wild aren’t meant to taste like something you’d order from Wendy’s. 

“It’s important for me not to create a meat imitation,” Chelsie explains. “I just tried to create something that’s good — and served between two pieces of bread — that provides the experience of eating a burger.”

For now, Proper & Wild has three burgers on the menu — all made with a patty of beets, black rice and lentils. And, yeah, they don’t taste like beef. We thought of trying the Proper Burger, served with “tomato jam,” lettuce, onion, a Dijon-mayo blend and a pickle. 

We opted instead for the Wild Burger because I wanted to be distracted from the not-a-burger. The Wild Burger did the job aptly with intriguing toppings that included pickled fennel, eggplant-pepper chutney and an “aji schmear.”

Proper & Wild serves lovely desserts. The sampler platter included the aptly named “Chocolate Monster” — creamy because of its avocado base plus almond butter — and a dark chocolate truffle.

Good choice. The patty is good for a non-beef patty — but it’s the combination of flavors that made the Wild Burger stand out. “This was born out of the idea of, ‘Who doesn’t love jalapeño poppers?’” Chelsie says. (Poppers are jalapeño peppers stuffed with cream cheese.) 

“We started playing around with the chutney to get the sweet-and-spicy element,” she adds. “Then we were inspired by the cream cheese to create the jalapeño aji. We wanted to pull in the acids, the sweet and the spicy, and get all that interplay into a burger.” 

Whatever the intent, it worked. The combination is a lively, multidimensional sandwich.

For those who want to get wilder, at press time the third burger was a curry-kimchi concoction, also available as a cheeseburger with Gouda or chèvre or as an almost-cheeseburger with a cashew-based, cheese-like product.

Since Proper & Wild is, in a sense, an upscale restaurant, it serves pretty little desserts. They tend to be made with coconut oil, so they all have a mild coconut undertone, yet each has its own flavor profile. 

Our favorite was the pot de crème, with passionfruit and orange flavors laced in. The sampler platter also had an aptly named “Chocolate Monster” — creamy because of its avocado base plus almond butter, and a dark chocolate truffle.

During the day, you can get “wellness shots,” pressed juices and other health-bar staples along with hummus, burgers, flatbreads and salads. Or a chilled glass of white to sip post-yoga. To some degree, Proper & Wild is what you make it — whether you’re feeling proper or wild.

Proper & Wild
155 East Morse Boulevard, Winter Park
407-543-8425
properandwildwp.com

Cynthia Edmonds, who lives in the Winter Park house where she grew up, says that plein-air painting “inspires me in a profound way, and observing nature helps me to understand the shape, form and infinite colors of my subjects.”

A PEEK AT MY SECRET GARDEN

Cynthia Edmonds, who lives in the Winter Park house where she grew up, says that plein-air painting “inspires me in a profound way, and observing nature helps me to understand the shape, form and infinite colors of my subjects.”

Award-winning plein-air painter Cynthia Edmonds discovered her passion for art as a youngster taking classes at the Rollins College Summer Day Camp. Now she doesn’t have to go any further than her backyard to find inspirational settings.

Edmonds, who lives in the circa-1950s house where she grew up on North Phelps Avenue near Lakemont Elementary School, has cultivated what she describes as a “secret garden” just outside her doorway.

It showcases an array of native plants including sand live oaks, cabbage palms, saw palmettos, coral honeysuckles and such pollinators as coontie plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. 

There are screech owls, barred owls, cardinals, woodpeckers and catbirds among other feathered residents and passers-through. Edmonds’ garden, a certified wildlife habitat, is shown on the cover of this issue of Winter Park Magazine.   

But Edmonds, who has a bachelor’s degree in fashion illustration from Florida State University, hasn’t always painted nature for a living. She worked for many years as an advertising illustrator for local retailers, including Ivey’s, Jordan Marsh and Hattie Frederick.

She later earned a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Florida and moved to Washington, D.C., and later Seattle. There she worked as a photo art director and catalogue designer for Nordstrom while simultaneously discovering the wonder of oil painting.

“Each day, painting en plein air was an exciting challenge to capture the ever-changing light and shadow,” she says. “Working on location inspires me in a profound way, and observing nature helps me to understand the shape, form and infinite colors of my subjects.”

Edmonds, who returned to Florida in 2001 to devote her time to painting its colorful landscapes, is a signature member of the American Impressionist Society and Plein Air Florida and participates in plein-air exhibitions throughout the U.S. — including the annual Paint Out Winter Park, sponsored by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens.

The cover image, “The Artist’s Garden,” was painted during the Polasek’s most recent invitation-only event, when artists fanned out across the city looking for intriguing subjects. The 2019 Paint Out was held April 21 to 27.

Edmonds’ paintings can be found in collections at the University of Central Florida and the Maitland Art Center. Her paintings are also included in the St. Joe Company’s Forgotten Coast Collection and the Shands Arts in Medicine Collection at the Venice (Florida) Regional Medical Center.

Aficionados of Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival memorabilia will recall that Edmonds’ image of Greeneda Court on Park Avenue adorned the official festival poster back in 2007.

Edmonds loves to paint in her certified wildlife habitat garden, but also finds inspiration in France, Italy and Maine. More of Edmonds’ work can be seen at cynthiaedmonds.com. 

Sushi Pop uses many of the same ingredients in its craft cocktails as in its food. The Ninja Chronicles (second from left), for example, is a blend of Kikori Whiskey, Pomelo Oleo (a citrus sweetener) and Xocolatl Mole Bitters with subtle cinnamon, cacao and spice elements.

IT’S BOTH RAW AND REFINED

Photography by Rafael Tongol

Longtime sushi maven Chau Trinh is tickled pickled-ginger pink for the opportunity to wow hard-to-impress Winter Parkers. Trinh and his partner, Lou Waldman, also own a Sushi Pop in Oviedo.

It’s all about raw fish at the new Sushi Pop restaurant near Park Avenue — but not in quite the way you’d think. Sure, you can order uncooked yellowtail nigiri or sashimi, just as you can at every other sushi spot in town. 

Yet, I suggest you go bolder. If it’s on the menu during your visit, try the belt fish (tachiuo), served atop seasoned rice bare or with a specially created fennel salsa. The striped bass known as suzuki might be a fun choice, too, served naked or covered lightly with sriracha salt and orange kosho, a citrus-chili blend.

The original Sushi Pop, located in Oviedo, opened in 2011 and quickly won kudos from critics and diners alike for its innovative Japanese-fusion menu. And we do mean innovative.

The concept’s creative leanings take a turn toward the raw here in town. Longtime sushi maven Chau Trinh owns both Sushi Pops with business partner Lou Waldman. And Trinh is tickled pickled-ginger pink for the opportunity to wow hard-to-impress Winter Parkers. 

Indeed, well-traveled diners who are open to culinary exploration — like the folks who read this magazine — inspire the on-trend Trinh. That’s why he has turned this sleek and colorful Lyman Avenue eatery into a from-the-sea playground of sorts.

For starters, Trinh imports Japanese fish-preparation rules along with the hard-to-source fish. More on those rules — which challenge certain long-held assumptions — in a bit. First, let’s order something.

The perfect nigiri (raw fish on rice) or sashimi (raw fish without rice) begins with an ever-changing menu of sometimes-exotic choices. In addition to swimmers from Florida’s coasts and elsewhere — we’re talking New Zealand, Tasmania, you name it — the chefs receive a fish-filled box from Japan twice a week.

Japachae-Pop uses potato-starch noodles and galbi secreto pork grilled at up to 800 degrees on a custom-designed gas-charcoal oven. The noodles, fresh vegetables and aged plum sauce — combined with tender pork — creates a rich, rounded dish.

“What’s inside is always a surprise,” says Trinh. “Our supplier chooses the best quality fish available each time. We open each box, then get our creative juices flowing.”

Trinh and his team examine the contents and start brainstorming about accompaniments. A light yet crucial enhancement such as ginger-shallot sauce, or bourbon-maple syrup with chives and smoked salt, might come to mind. 

Each choice is designed to tease out the natural flavors of the specific kind of fish, Trinh explains. “We scale, fillet, cure and prepare each fish, then design each topping so the fish will really stand out and be tasty,” he says. “Everything we do is to highlight the flavor of the fish.”

Wait, did he say “cure?” Yes, he did. 

In fact, the notion that raw fish should be served just hours after it’s pulled from the water is so American. “The United States is all about having really fresh fish, but in Japan they have a three-day rule,” Trinh says. “The first day you catch it, the second day you let it rest and the third day you prepare it.” 

That resting time, he adds, alleviates the impact of wayward “adrenaline, hormones and rigor mortis” on the gilled creatures. In fact, many high-end sushi restaurants are now curing fish for six or seven days. “We’re doing that with some of ours,” notes Trinh.

Soon, he says, Sushi Pop will introduce omakase seatings — dinners during which cured and other fish will be featured in multicourse meals created by the chefs. (Omakase is a Japanese phrase that means, essentially, “I’ll leave it up to you.”) 

For an assortment of flavors, order the sashimi “moriawase.” It’s an assortment of raw treats made from what’s fresh in the kitchen during your visit.

But if you’re not quite ready to forgo freshness, stick with us. Sushi Pop also offers foods you know and others that provide adventure without straying too far from familiar culinary territory. 

The “seaweeds” — a blend of three types — was fine. And Sushi Pop offers four types of flavoring for its edamame — typically nondescript green soybean pods for munching while waiting for the real food to arrive. 

Here, though, the edamame was nearly destination worthy. The hot beans were plump and vibrant and sprinkled generously with a granular blend of garlic and shichimi pepper — also called shichimi togarashi. The combo was exciting yet not overwhelming. 

After that, the next four dishes could be described as follows: Wow, wow and wow. Take the Madai Tasting, for example. Madai is sea bream, here sliced so thin as to be translucent then placed tenderly in a bowl with chips of purple-skin potatoes and slender wedges of Asian pear. 

A Peruvian-style yellow-pepper sauce called aji amarillo wrapped the fish in a South American hug. Complex layers of taste were achieved through such ingredients as lime juice and lime zest plus myoga ginger, which Trinh describes as “a bud of a flower that tastes like a shallot and ginger had a baby.” 

The edamame (above) consists of plump and vibrant hot beans sprinkled generously with a granular blend of garlic and shichimi pepper — also called shichimi togarashi. The Rising Sun sushi roll (below) encompasses battered-and-fried tempura green beans, tuna, and spicy mayo with Japanese scallops and orange chili sauce.

The result was a starter that was at once sweet and sour, silky and crunchy, with the tiniest jolt of heat.

Japchae-Pop pays homage to a Korean dish that uses potato-starch noodles, Trinh says. All I know is, at my table we battled over wads of galbi secreto pork, which were grilled at up to 800 degrees on a custom-designed gas-charcoal oven. The noodles, fresh vegetables and aged plum sauce — combined with tender pork — creates a rich, rounded dish.

Equally satisfying was a soupy/stewy concoction called Goldentile. The namesake fish, steamed and fork-tender, was swimming in a yellow lemongrass-lobster broth laced with sambal chili and dotted with roasted baby carrots, dandelion greens and fresh herbs. 

I’m a sucker for lemongrass under any circumstances, and here the aromatic veggie was elevated to enchanting.

I tried two sushi rolls, too. Rising Sun consisted of battered-and-fried tempura green beans, tuna, and spicy mayo with Japanese scallops and orange chili sauce. For old time’s sake, I also had the ceviche roll. I first tried one at Thornton Park’s Shari Sushi years ago, when Trinh helmed the kitchen there. The restaurant was a chic ground-breaker at the time.

While neither roll had me swooning the way the Goldentile, the Japchae-Pop and the Madai Tasting did, sampling the perfectly lovely if not thrilling rice-and-fish rolls led me to engage Trinh in a discussion about rice. 

As you might imagine, this chef’s sushi rice — which is also used with all nigiri dishes — is made with exceptional thought. Essentially, Sushi Pop’s rice begins with Koshihikari premium sushi rice.

“In Japan,” Trinh says, “a lot of great sushiya (sushi chefs) use red rice vinegar, which colors the rice a sort of burgundy. It’s really strong and really pungent. It’s fantastic with mackerel and oilier fish that can stand up to that type of flavor.”

Trinh mixes two different types of vinegar: red rice vinegar and white rice vinegar, which he pours over the hot rice as soon as it comes out of the pot. Then he adds a bit of kombu, which is cured kelp, plus salt and sugar. “The rice is a little bit salty and a little bit sweet,” he says.

How can you not want to try that now that you know so much about it?

As of press time, the only dessert on the Sushi Pop menu is the P.M.S., a molten chocolate cake with peanut-butter powder served with salted-caramel ice cream. Personally, it’s enough for me. But be aware that variety is on the way.

Sushi Pop uses many of the same ingredients in its craft cocktails as in its food. The Ninja Chronicles (second from left), for example, is a blend of Kikori Whiskey, Pomelo Oleo (a citrus sweetener) and Xocolatl Mole Bitters with subtle cinnamon, cacao and spice elements.

As for beverages, Sushi Pop uses many of the same ingredients in its craft cocktails as in its food — and these spirited sippers are designed to complement the dishes Trinh prepares. 

The Ninja Chronicles, for example, was simple but perfect with my meal. It’s a blend of Kikori Whiskey, Pomelo Oleo (a citrus sweetener) and Xocolatl Mole Bitters, with subtle cinnamon, cacao and spice elements. Don’t ask too many questions — trust the Sushi Pop team to do right by you behind the bar. 

The setting for all these well-contemplated Asian flavors is a dining room that features bright pink and yellow hues together with gray and black. It’s a cheerful environment for dinner. (In March the restaurant began opening for lunch, calling itself ChauHaus and serving Vietnamese specialties.) 

The Winter Park location is more refined than its Oviedo counterpart, with no anime decorating the walls. The dining room is open with the sushi bar in middle. Artfully blurred wallpaper and banquette coverings add a touch of whimsy.

Sushi Pop was so new during my visit that it hadn’t yet had its grand opening. But everything ran exceptionally well for a project-in-progress. Hopefully the service team will decide to plunk down a stack of small plates when groups share — or at least give each person one large dinner plate.

Also, it would serve Sushi Pop well to be less pretentious with the written menu. Each offering should be described in plain language rather than Asian foodie-speak. Example: the tachiuo dish was described like this: sanbaizu, kombu, cucumber, shiso, myoga, momiji, oboshi.” The only one I’m sure about is cucumber.

Those issues are small purple potatoes and easily fixable as the new Sushi Pop matures. So I strongly suggest that you stop in. Even if you think you’ve tried it all, Trinh may surprise you with some tasty new tricks. 

Sushi Pop
115 East Lyman Avenue, Winter Park
321-203-2282
sushipoprestaurant.com

Joy Wallace Dickinson’s grandparents, Bill and Alice Wallace, owned a grocery store along the Million-Dollar Mile. It was called B and D Market, located at 1000 South Orlando Avenue. Shown (left) are the Wallaces and their 5-year-old granddaughter. Now a journalist and a local historian, Dickinson (below) recently gave a nostalgic presentation about Winter Park’s once-thriving motor court industry for the Winter Park History Museum.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

One of the better motels along U.S. Highway 17-92 in Winter Park was the Lake Shore Motor Court. It was a member of Quality Courts United — now the Choice Hotels International chain — which was formed in 1939 by independent owners who established mandatory quality standards and referred business to one another.

More than a century ago, during the winter months, wealthy Northerners ensconced themselves at luxury resort hotels in fledgling Winter Park. Many visitors ended up investing in the community and ultimately moving here.

By the 1930s and 1940s, middle-class families were flocking to more modest accommodations — including tourist cottages — along U.S. Highway 17-92 (the colloquially named “Million-Dollar Mile”). And by the 1950s, Winter Park boasted the swank and swinging Langford Resort Hotel, where the Empire Room supper club epitomized Rat Pack culture.

The Winter Park History Museum, consequently, has been saluting the golden age of local hotels and motels in its current exhibition, Wish You Were Here: The Hotels & Motels of Winter Park. The exhibition runs until June 6, 2020. 

The cozy museum space is packed with sometimes-kitschy ephemera from the city’s classic motels and motor courts — including a re-created guest room using authentic furnishings, right down to the matchbooks and the Gideon bible in the end-table drawer. 

Also examined are the luxurious resort hotels that attracted monied Northerners to Winter Park in the late 1880s. There’s even a re-imagined Victorian-era children’s playroom of the sort where guests of the posh Seminole Hotel or Alabama Hotel might have stashed their youngsters while they were out boating.

Winter Park History Museum Executive Director Susan Skolfield says artifacts for Wish You Were Here were donated or loaned. The wall-sized backdrop, created by graphic artist Will Setzer, shows the Genius Preserve and one of its feathered residents.

A nostalgic highlight of the exhibition is the original piano from the Empire Room as well as the hotel’s poolside bar from which untold gallons of tropical drinks were served. And take time to read the wall panels, which are dense with vintage photographs and carefully researched descriptions.

Linda Kulmann, the museum’s archivist and past board president, wrote the panels, which range from histories of early boarding houses to a locator map of mom-and-pop motor courts once located along U.S. Highway 17-92 (also known as Orlando Avenue). 

Susan Skolfield, the museum’s executive director, says artifacts on display for the exhibition were donated or loaned. The Langford piano, for example, was loaned by the family that purchased it at auction when the hotel closed.

“Because our space is small, every item has to mean something,” adds Skolfield, who says more than 20 volunteers began scouting for materials a year in advance of the exhibition’s opening. “We’re always creating as we go along.” 

Helping to make the most of the space — which measures less than 1,000 square feet — is Camilo Velasquez, an art instructor at Valencia College, Rollins College and the Crealdé School of Art. 

“You might say I’m the make-up man,” says Velasquez, who stages and designs most of the museum’s exhibitions. Creative use of lighting and object placement can make the compact venue appear larger, he says.

Linda Kulmann (top left), the museum’s archivist and past board president, wrote copy for Wish You Were Here’s informative panels, which offer a historical perspective on Winter Park’s guest accommodations, from boarding houses to resort hotels. Helping to make the most of the museum’s compact space is Camilo Velasquez (top right), an art instructor at Valencia College, Rollins College and the Crealdé School of Art, who is responsible for staging and exhibit design. Wish You Were Here is packed with sometimes-kitschy ephemera, including a telephone and directory from the Langford Resort Hotel (that’s also the Langford’s original poolside bar) and are-created motel guest room using authentic furnishings, right down to the matchbooks and the Gideon bible in the end-table drawer.

Home Away from Home

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exhibition is the emphasis on the Million-Dollar Mile, which was a much more modest destination than its hyperbolic name suggests. 

Its friendly vibe and affordably priced accommodations appealed to middle-class travelers, who for several decades created something of a subculture along U.S. Highway 17-92.

Which begs the question: Why did these visitors come to Winter Park instead of Orlando, a much larger city? Why, for that matter, did they come to Winter Park instead of New Smyrna Beach or Daytona Beach? Wouldn’t a vacationer driving from the icy Midwest or Northeast find a beach destination more appealing?

Of course, Winter Park had attractions of its own. There was quaint Park Avenue for shopping and a gorgeous Chain of Lakes for recreation. Rollins College, the state’s oldest institution of higher learning, enlivened the cultural scene for residents and visitors alike. And the beaches weren’t far away by car.

But the Million-Dollar Mile’s appeal may have had more to do with its folksy ambience. It was an unfussy home away from home, sans the snow.

“Families from up north built long-term relationships with the motor court owners and just kept coming back,” speculates Kulmann. “Some of it was probably familiarity.”

Local historian Joy Wallace Dickinson, whose grandparents owned a grocery store on the periphery of the Million-Dollar Mile — B and D Market, at 1000 South Orlando Avenue — agrees. 

“People also tended to stay in places their friends told them about,” she says. “There were plenty of annual visitors who just enjoyed it here and spread the word among their friends. A kind of community developed.”

It didn’t hurt that Winter Park was a convenient place to stop en route to South Florida, Dickinson adds. “It’s right in the middle of the state,” she says. “I expect quite a few people who stayed along the Million-Dollar Mile were coming back from, or were on their way to, someplace else.”

Joy Wallace Dickinson’s grandparents, Bill and Alice Wallace, owned a grocery store along the Million-Dollar Mile. It was called B and D Market, located at 1000 South Orlando Avenue. Shown (above) are the Wallaces and their 5-year-old granddaughter. Now a journalist and a local historian, Dickinson (below) recently gave a nostalgic presentation about Winter Park’s once-thriving motor court industry for the Winter Park History Museum.

Dickinson, who recently gave a presentation about Winter Park’s motor court heyday during the museum’s monthly membership meeting, noted that Orange Blossom Trail — today synonymous with sleaze — was once also dotted with family-oriented motels, including the eye-catching Wigwam Village, which was demolished in 1973.

Virtually all of Winter Park’s motor courts were mom-and-pop, meaning that they were literally owned and managed primarily by husbands and wives — many of whom lived and raised families in the motor courts that they managed. 

For travelers, it was comforting to be greeted warmly by a hospitable couple who would meet them at the office door, personally escort them to their rooms or cottages, and help them unload their luggage. 

Many were annual extended-stay customers who developed close friendships with the owners. The courtyards created a back-home familiarity as both owners and travelers gathered for evening conversations while children frolicked in courtyard pools and playgrounds. 

Old acquaintances were renewed and new acquaintances were made as guests gathered to gossip and swap tales of their road experiences. They dined nearby at Anderson’s Restaurant, grabbed a burger at Roper’s Grill — which boasted one of the first “animated” neon signs in Central Florida — or enjoyed a sugar fix at the Donut Dinette. 

If it was a special occasion, D’Agostino’s Villa Nova or the Imperial House — “where the royal rib reigns supreme” — offered more upscale options. In nearby Orlando, nightclubs advertised programs packed with comics and crooners.

It should be remembered, however, that such idyllic getaways were available only to white families in the Jim Crow era. Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African-American families often consulted The Negro Motorist Green Book to find lodgings, businesses and gas stations that would serve them. Likely, none in Winter Park would have been listed.

Wright’s Motor Lodge (300 South Orlando Avenue), built in the 1930s by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert B. Wright, was one of the first to be constructed along the Million-Dollar Mile. By the 1950s it was owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. J. Stephan. 

A postcard printed by the Stephans touted Wright’s — they hadn’t changed the name — as “the right place to stay.” Other advantages: “New fireproof buildings. Private baths with tile showers. Plenty of hot water at all times. Innerspring mattresses. Insulated rooms. Cool in summer, warm in winter. Cottages off the road.” 

Down the road at 848 South Orlando Avenue — today the site of a Steak ’n Shake — was Baggett’s Cottages, described as “modern in every respect” with a location “in the midst of an orange grove where guests can pick their own oranges right off the tree.”

Other motor courts with identifiable owners included Dandee Cottages (103 North Orlando Avenue) owned by Mr. and Mrs. Edward Wittman; 17-92 Motor Court (401 North Orlando Avenue) owned by Mr. and Mrs. D.I. Sigman; Colonial Motor Court (400 South Orlando Avenue) owned by Mr. and Mrs. Jim Ward; and Greystone Manor Motor Court (700 South Orlando Avenue) owned by Mr. and Mrs. Carl Bleyl.

The Lake Shore Motor Court (215 South Orlando Avenue) exemplified the best of these mom-and-pop operations. It was a member of Quality Courts United — now the Choice Hotels International chain — which was formed in 1939 by seven independent owners who established mandatory quality standards and referred business to one another. 

As it grew and morphed into a franchise, Quality Courts United also worked to overcome negative perceptions of motor courts as either seedy or hideouts for gangsters and other undesirables. 

Members were endorsed by the American Automobile Association and received a stamp of approval from nationally known travel and food writer Duncan Hines.

In its brochures, the Lake Shore Motor Court touted its Quality Courts United membership as well as its playground and its private beach on Lake Killarney. Promised one promotional flyer: “The accommodations are certain to please the most fastidious of travelers and vacationers.”

Changing Times

The three-decade motor court era in Winter Park was not destined to last. Fundamental changes in the roadside-accommodation industry were well underway by the 1970s. 

By the late 1950s, some motor courts had added second stories and offered amenities normally associated with downtown hotels. These larger accommodations were advertised as “motels,” a portmanteau of motor and hotel. 

Individually owned motels became cookie-cutter corporate properties designed to resemble downtown hotels. Holiday Inn was an early example of such a franchise. Quality standards may have become more predictable, but the quirky charm of motel architecture from the 1920s through the 1950s was lost forever. 

Additionally, multistory accommodations such as Winter Park’s legendary Langford Hotel contained all the amenities of a downtown hotel as well as parking facilities and an outdoor pool of the sort ordinarily associated with roadside motels and motor courts. 

The Million-Dollar Mile was lined with inexpensive restaurants that catered to locals as well as motor court guests. One of the most colorful of those eateries was Roper’s Grill, which boasted that “it takes 3 minutes to prove we have the best hamburger.”

The Langford, located at the corner of New England and Interlachen avenues, was also within walking distance of Rollins and Park Avenue. It was closed in 2000 and demolished in 2003. The upscale Alfond Inn, developed by Rollins, now occupies this choice piece of real estate.

These developments, along with the construction of Interstate 4 and the arrival of Disney World — which spurred construction of countless hotels on and around the attraction — led to the decline and, by the 1990s, the demise of motels and motor courts  along U.S. Highway 17-92. 

“The small, family-owned motels, where friends meet on vacations and return year after year to the same kitchenettes and swimming pools, may soon go the way of downtown grocery stores and 35-cent gas,” wrote the Orlando Sentinel in 1979. “For the remaining ‘ma and pa’ motels along U.S. Highway 17-92 in Winter Park, the future appears bleak.”

When the iconic Mount Vernon Inn (110 South Orlando Avenue) was razed in 2015, Winter Park lost the last remnant of motel culture along the Million-Dollar Mile, which is now brimming with new dining and retail projects. These days, motorists can’t even see Lake Killarney from the traffic-choked highway.

There is, however, one remaining vestige of those simpler days: La Siesta Court was located at 325 South Orlando Avenue. Today it has retained its U-shaped bones but has been refashioned into a series of retail stores, including the popular Black Bean Deli. 

Wish You Were Here, like all History Museum exhibitions, is free and open to the public — although donations are gladly accepted. The museum is in the Farmers’ Market building at 200 West New England Avenue. 

Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, visit wphistory.org. 

Portions of this story incorporate research by Jack Lane, professor emeritus of history at Rollins College.

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