Nadeau didn’t much like his first published comic book work, 1989’s Best of the West (above), but says the retro shoot-’em-up was salvaged by inking from Dick Ayers, a former stalwart at Marvel Comics. More recently, Nadeau has continued drawing and publishing comics while expanding his horizons to encompass oil painting.

SEQUENTIAL ARTISTRY

Photography by Rafael Tongol

“I was that kid who drew all the time,” recalls John Nadeau. “In middle school, I discovered comics. And I decided: ‘I want to do that.’” Nadeau still draws mind-bending comics, but has recently begun to display his oil paintings at one-man shows.

John Nadeau was a senior at Winter Park High School when he landed his first professional gig as a comic book artist. He penciled a western called Best of the West for Americomics, a Longwood-based independent publisher that specialized in Golden Age-style adventure and superhero titles.

He thought, in retrospect, that his 1989 effort looked awful. Luckily, he says, veteran comic book inker Dick Ayers took the penciled pages and “cleaned them up considerably” by adding depth, weight and richness with his pen and brush.

“I didn’t actually see it in print until I was away at college,” says Nadeau, who admits that his high school “cool quotient” increased exponentially at having a forthcoming professional credit. “They mailed a copy to me. My excitement at doing anything at all eclipsed the fact that I didn’t think it was very good.”

Comics, for the uninitiated, are often drawn in pencil. Then, for purposes of reproduction, another artist embellishes the pencils with India ink. A good inker brings his or her own flair to the penciled pages. Ayers — who in the 1960s had been the primary inker on the legendary Jack Kirby’s artwork for Marvel Comics — was one of the greats.

From Best of the West through Aliens and Star Wars, Nadeau, 49, has penciled and inked his way into the upper echelon of comic artists through his mastery of complex, futurist machinery and a vivid imagination that conjures up gigantic space colonies in which cities are enclosed in cylinders that float through deep space.

Such a megalopolis is the setting for a recent series of self-published comics called Vector, which combine the seemingly disparate worlds of science fiction with fine-art smuggling. The stories are fun, but the real treat is Nadeau’s art, which depicts the self-contained colony and its denizens in exquisite detail.

Nadeau, who briefly pursued a career as an aeronautical engineer, loves to render complex machinery and futuristic structures, such as the image from Vector (facing page) of a vehicle speeding along the streets of a floating space megalopolis.

“I was that kid who drew all the time,” recalls Nadeau, who as a child moved to Maitland from Syracuse, New York, with his family. “In middle school, I discovered comics. And I decided: ‘I want to do that.’”

More specifically, Nadeau discovered the work of British-born comic artist John Byrne, who in the late 1970s was teamed with writer Chris Claremont on Marvel Comics’ The X-Men. Byrne and Claremont revitalized the title and made its Canadian character, Wolverine, among the most popular in Marvel’s publishing history.

If Marvel (whose characters included Spider-Man, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four) and D.C. (whose characters included Superman, Batman and the Justice League of America) comprised the comic book equivalent of the major leagues, there were some far-more-accessible minor-leaguers doing good work as well. 

Nadeau connected with one of them, Americomics, when he met publisher Bill Black at a comic book convention at a hotel on Lee Road. Black was already an industry notable, having drawn stories for Warren Publishing’s popular black-and-white horror magazines Creepy and Eerie in the 1960s. 

Those now-defunct periodicals featured the work of Frank Frazetta, Reed Crandall, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood and others who were considered masters of the craft. Several had made their names at E.C. Comics, the company that published stories so gruesome that a U.S. Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency met to discuss “the problem of horror and crime comic books” in 1954.

(As with rock ‘n’ roll, though, the grownups just didn’t get it. Still, the ensuing brouhaha pushed publishers to offer tamer — or, to be honest, duller — material until the superhero genre really took flight in the early 1960s. Some comic artists subsequently came to be regarded as rock stars, and “sequential art” as a discipline began to be regarded seriously.)

Nadeau didn’t much like his first published comic book work, 1989’s Best of the West (above), but says the retro shoot-’em-up was salvaged by inking from Dick Ayers, a former stalwart at Marvel Comics. More recently, Nadeau has continued drawing and publishing comics while expanding his horizons to encompass oil painting. More recently, Nadeau has continued drawing and publishing comics while expanding his horizons to encompass oil painting. Take, for example, Yellow Flower Tree (below), a view of Park Avenue from Central Park.

Nadeau showed Black his portfolio, and shortly thereafter began getting scripts to illustrate. By that time, the comic book industry was no longer driven by single-copy sales at those ubiquitous revolving racks at drug stores (Hey Kids! Comics!) but through direct purchases by comic book retail shops.

While having fun, Nadeau nonetheless recognized the need to earn a living and drifted away from comics, where creators remained poorly paid despite their increasing panache. He enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach to pursue study as an aerospace engineer. “I realized, though, that I just didn’t have the math skills,” he recalls. “I hit the wall at differential equations.”

Short and frustrating stints at Embry-Riddle and later Florida State University confirmed the futility of the effort. “The more I discovered my ineptitude in mathematics, the more I wanted to go back to comics,” says Nadeau, who began drawing again for Americomics in 1991. 

 The title he was assigned was Femforce, an “all-girl” team of shapely superheroines that included some new characters and some that dated from the 1940s and had been resurrected from public domain. The characters were pure eye candy for young male readers, but there was a certain nostalgic quaintness to the series — which is still being published despite its political incorrectness.

By the late 1990s, Nadeau had moved on to a galaxy far, far away with a series of Star Wars comics for Dark Horse, an Oregon-based publisher. A one-off issue that featured bounty hunter Boba Fett was voted “Best Original Star Wars Comic” by readers of Star Wars Galaxy, an officially licensed magazine that focused on collectibles related to the film series. 

Nadeau also drew Aliens-themed mini-comics, which were packaged with action figures from the screamworthy science fiction film, as well as several issues of Wolverine for Marvel and Green Lantern for D.C. Most comic artists love drawing iconic superheroes. But Nadeau was really more suited for the elaborate machinery and horrifying bug-like monsters in Aliens. 

Later, as the comic book industry slumped, Nadeau began to expand his horizons and completed a degree in film production technology from UCF. He also scripted and produced a low-budget feature film — never completed — which he describes as “a horrible idea involving pizza delivery drivers who get involved with murderers.”

Discouraged, Nadeau returned again to drawing and found an outlet for his love of structures and contraptions as a commercial artist and architectural renderer. He worked for various clients in Central Florida and around the world, including GoCovergence, HHCP Architects, OBM International, Simiosys, Sonesta, the Walt Disney Company and others. 

He has subsequently sought to enter the fine art world by honing his painting skills through classes at the Crealdé School of Art. In 2018, he began doing oil paintings for The Art of Disney Galleries, and his creations have been featured in several one-man shows — including one earlier this year at Winter Park City Hall.

But for Nadeau, the lure of comics remains strong. In 2017, he co-wrote and illustrated the series Murder Society for the Dark Horse anthology Dark Horse Presents. And two issues have been printed, but not yet distributed, of Vector, set in the meticulously rendered space colony. 

Nadeau is hard at work on issue three of Vector, a comic book that depicts a massive space colony and its denizens — some of whom are involved in art smuggling.

What’s the future of comic books? “I’m the last person to ask,” says Nadeau, who confesses that he enjoys creating comics but is generally ambivalent about the business model that keeps the industry afloat. “I suppose everything is going digital.”

Well, hopefully not everything. Nadeau is currently hard at work — using a pencil and illustration board — on the third issue of Vector. “Making comics is better than making movies,” he says. “You have the scope of a big-budget movie, but you don’t have to depend on other people — and you have complete control.” 

– Randy Noles

Desserts at BoVine, as one would expect, are housemade. The triple-chocolate layer cake, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, is particularly homey and satisfying — the ideal conclusion to a first-class steakhouse meal.

A DEFIANT STEAKHOUSE

Photography by Rafael Tongol

Opening a new restaurant is never easy. But owner Joanne McMahon (seated); Tony Krueger, executive chef (standing, left); and Ben Peters, chef (standing, right) debuted their upscale steakhouse on Park Avenue just as the COVID-19 pandemic was spiking in Florida.

Owner of two popular Park Avenue eateries, Joanne McMahon, faced a daunting challenge: to create a new restaurant in the space that was occupied for 36 years by the iconic Park Plaza Gardens — regarded by many Central Floridians as the epitome of special-occasion dining.

Over the decades, countless Winter Parkers had strolled into this Park Avenue institution toting gift bags to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, babies and business coups. 

Patrons lingered in the foliage-filled dining room with its partial glass ceiling. And the sidewalk seats were prized for people-watching with a drink and a nibble.

The food? It was at times exceptional, depending upon the chef. But the quality of the cuisine was almost beside the point. Locals simply had a communal emotional attachment to the space. 

But Park Plaza Gardens unceremoniously closed in 2016 during a rancorous dispute between the owner and the landlord over conditions in the restaurant space. (The building, nearly a century old, is enveloped by the charming 28-room Park Plaza Hotel, a separate business.)

McMahon, truly an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur, had the chutzpah to step into the empty space and create something new — something that wouldn’t make people forget Park Plaza Gardens but would be a worthy successor to it.

She already owned 310 Park South and Blu on the Avenue, so McMahon knows the boutique-lined boulevard and what it takes to run a successful restaurant there. The dining room dynamo signed a lease and commenced to turning the once-bustling location into BoVine Steakhouse.

Of course, a major renovation always uncovers surprises — usually not good ones. Just ask anyone who has ever hired a home remodeler. But in addition to the usual construction hassles, a pandemic hit just as the restaurant was finally about to open.

BoVine’s lobster bisque (top left) is made with sherry and lobster broth. The crab-stuffed salmon (top right)is Scottish salmon stuffed with jumbo crab mix and topped with béarnaise sauce. The dry-aged, bone-in ribeye (bottom) is superb and, like all BoVine meat, is shipped directly from Linz, a Chicago-based purveyor.

Still, BoVine Steakhouse welcomed its first guests on June 18, 2020. No grand opening party took place, no marketing reps handed samples to food writers. McMahon simply unlocked the door and ushered in the first diners seeking a socially distanced seat. We suspect that none of those early diners, especially the carnivores, left disappointed

Meals at BoVine are mostly traditional steakhouse fare with a few trendy upticks. McMahon developed the menu in collaboration with Executive Chef Tony Krueger, who has worked in McMahon’s kitchens since 2008. 

They chose beef shipped directly from Linz, a Chicago-based producer of black-hide Black Angus cattle, pampered and corn-fed for their final 150 days. Vegans, though, will find two entrées just for them, while appetizers such as salmon tartare offer light alternatives.

As for the famous atrium-style dining room — you won’t recognize it. The revamped (and now atrium-free space) has brick walls, some of them original. The tables have white tablecloths, and there’s a bar and a banquette as well as loads of booths.

The goal: elegant enough for an upscale experience yet welcoming enough to enjoy dinner while clad in shorts and a polo shirt. “Since the space was iconic Winter Park, we wanted to make it something nice, where people who used to go there would feel comfortable coming back,” McMahon says. Hence the conservative, vintage steakhouse look.

But oh, my! It was no easy task for BoVine to configure its operation to serve crab-stuffed salmon; dry-aged, bone-in ribeye (superb!); and veal chop topped with fontina (cheese) and speck (ham) either at the bar, in the dining room or packaged to take home.

Desserts at BoVine, as one would expect, are housemade. The triple-chocolate layer cake, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, is particularly homey and satisfying — the ideal conclusion to a first-class steakhouse meal.

Back when we were still maskless, hugging each other and innocently sharing food platters, McMahon was unearthing the former Park Plaza Gardens foundation. “Nothing had been done to it for years,” McMahon explains. “Nothing was up to code. We basically gutted it.” 

That meant a new roof, floors, ceilings and bricks as well as a bar and every sort of kitchen equipment. The restrooms were moved for easier access. Those glass ceilings that were a signature feature of Park Plaza Gardens? Not code-compliant and now history. 

And whoa, what’s that? An old chimney? Really? “Things were intermingled,” McMahon reports. “Every stone we turned, we’d see something and wonder, ‘Oh my God, where did that come from?’”

For many months, Winter Parkers — assuming the pandemic would someday abate, or that we’d at least learn to live with it — eagerly awaited a new restaurant in this hallowed space. And McMahon was determined to give it to them.

She and her crews cleared out rubbish and installed a sparkling new food-service system, from state-of-the-art air-conditioning with enhanced filtering capacity — a boon in these crazy times — to copper and black and white Villeroy & Boch Glow plates. Says McMahon: “We had to start from the beginning to do it all right.” 

The menus were printed and the staff was hired — then a mandatory lockdown was imposed that temporarily prohibited restaurants from hosting inside diners. “We were about to start training,” McMahon says. “It’s a three-week training process. At least we hadn’t ordered the food yet.” Some good news, at least.

Still, training proceeded apace. “Everyone had to wear a mask,” says McMahon. “Everyone sat six feet apart.” She added pandemic-related instruction, since masks, temperature checks, social distancing, frequent cleaning and super-sonic sanitizing were required.

The interior of BoVine, with its stately brick walls, bears no resemblance to the atrium-style dining room at Park Plaza Gardens, which previously occupied the space.

Then, with a slightly reduced menu since so much takeout was expected, BoVine swung its glass door open. And, surprise! People did indeed request takeout — but, once reopening began, many more wanted to dine indoors.

Maybe they were comforted by the website’s homepage, which lists an array of sanitation and safety precautions. Perhaps most importantly, with 200 seats, BoVine is big enough to spread guests out. For now, only two tables inhabit the long-popular sidewalk area. 

“If you’re going to buy a nice steak, you’re not going to sit outside and eat it in the summer. It’s just too hot,” McMahon says. She’ll add more tables there when the temperature drops.

On a recent Thursday night in August, I overheard staffers say that they had 22 dine-in reservations for that evening. Other customers would surely call to take home a meal, each item secured in eco-friendly paper packaging, with wines and to-go cocktail add-ons optional. A little thank you note goes into the bag, too.

The situation can only get easier for BoVine from here on, it seems. Kudos to McMahon for not being intimidated by the space’s reputation, discouraged by construction snags or prevented from bringing a new business to Park Avenue by a nasty virus that has done enough damage to our community already.


BoVine Steakhouse
319 South Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-794-1850
bovinesteakhouse.com

Don Sondag is known for portraits, but he’s also a world-class plein air artist.

SALUTING ‘THE VENICE OF AMERICA’

Don Sondag is known for portraits, but he’s also a world-class plein air artist.

Don Sondag has painted two of the past three covers of Winter Park Magazine, and a total of four in all — the most of any single artist. Somehow, though, we don’t think our readers will tire of seeing Sondag’s extraordinary images — especially his photorealistic landscapes.

In this issue, writer Greg Dawson explores the history of Winter Park’s iconic Scenic Boat Tour — and we were looking for an image of the canals through which the familiar pontoon boats travel.

As luck would have it, Sondag had in April staged an exhibition of original pieces called Venetian Canals of Winter Park: The Art of Don Sondag, which ran through April 12 at the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. (Because of COVID-19, the exhibition had to be viewed online.)

A painting of the Fern Canal as it opens onto Lake Osceola — which was part of that collection — graces this issue’s cover. Featured prominently are the banana trees that boat tour operators say are so fascinating to many out-of-town riders. The title: Venetian Canal: Coming to the End.

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, Sondag teaches at the Crealdé School of Art, where he joined the faculty in 1990. He has also taught at Seminole State College, Walt Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney Feature Animation.

He has accepted portrait 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.”

— Randy Noles

Luma on Park’s takeout drink options came in well-sealed, 16-ounce mason jars. They were meant to be shaken, not stirred, with ice and then poured into a drinking vessel of your choice. The Tequila Pine included pineapple and habanero peppers infused over a three-day period with a high-quality silver tequila.

KEEP YOUR SPIRITS UP

Photography by Rafael Tongol

New Standard sent its creations home mostly complete and accompanied by instructions on how to accomplish the finishing touches. The Pistachio Old Fashioned craft cocktail consisted of Old Forester Kentucky Bourbon infused with pistachio and served with The Bitter Truth aromatic bitters and orange.

Rattled but resolute, dozens of Winter Park restaurants remained afloat during the recent shutdown season by offering individual and family-style meals packed for in-store pickup, curbside pickup and home delivery (thank you, from all of us).

Several, though, went a step further: They added spirited beverages to accompany those appetizers, sandwiches and entrées. Thanks to temporary new regulations, permission was granted to nestle martinis and Manhattans into our take-home bags. 

Some restaurateurs took the remote bartender role quite seriously. Many others sold wine bottles at steep discounts. So let’s hear a hearty amen for those who aided us in taking the edge off when we most needed a good numbing. 

Here we feature four local eateries that went gung-ho with bagged-up boozy drinkables. Some should be at least partly reopened for dine-in service by the time you read this issue of Winter Park Magazine. 

We’re kind of hoping they keep up the gin-as-a-tonic, grab-and-go option even after the world returns to something approximating normal. At this writing, however, COVID-19 restrictions were just being relaxed and considerable uncertainty remained.

In other words, the cocktails (and menu items) described here may or may not still be available. Whatever the case, we wanted to salute local restaurants for service above and beyond the call of duty. 

We picked four — in part because of their creativity with takeout libations — but there were dozens upon dozens of others. I hope you’ll return to patronize as many of them as possible once you can dine out safely. They were there for us — let’s be there for them.

DEXTER’S NEW STANDARD
1035 North Orlando Avenue, Winter Park
407.316.2278
newstandardwp.com

The staff of Dexter’s New Standard was ready and set to go as soon as the state gave to-go cocktails the green light. This Orlando Avenue restaurant already made its craft cocktails in batches. 

“The problem with craft cocktails is that it often takes 20 minutes to make a drink, and nobody likes to wait that long,” says Erin Allport, director of operations at the eatery, which opened last October and during normal times offers live music daily. “It’s actually quite frustrating.”

Her team’s solution was to produce several creative martinis by the batch and have bartenders add a couple of final ingredients in the glass. “Then boom! The drinks were out to guests,” Allport says.

Such a process was made to order, if you will, for the new mode of operation required by the pandemic. It likewise didn’t hurt that the New Standard’s chefs already produced key cocktail ingredients.

The culinary team was accustomed to heating bourbon and pistachios together at a very low temperature, sous vide-style, for the Pistachio Old Fashioned, and to making a variety of syrups as well as the house sour mix. 

When word got out that restaurants might be allowed to bottle up beverages traditionally served in clever glassware, Allport rushed to a College Park store that caters to home brewers, where she knew she’d find empty bottles for sale. She snapped them up like you and I filled our carts with hand sanitizer at Publix.

Ultimately, the New Standard sent its creations home mostly complete and accompanied by instructions — printed in Prohibition-style type — on how to accomplish the finishing touches.

The Tonic Blossom ($10), for instance, arrived as a mix of Cathead honeysuckle vodka, Chareau aloe liqueur and Jack Rudy elderflower tonic. Soda water can’t be added until the last minute, so a can of Q club soda came separately. 

Because the Pistachio Old Fashioned (1 liter, priced at $65, makes 10-plus drinks) doesn’t age well when bitters are added to the bourbon mix early, the restaurant sent this key ingredient on the side.

The Skinny Margarita, as it turned out, was the biggest seller, perhaps because it was priced at $25 for 25.5 ounces. (That’s the equivalent of four or five drinks, depending upon the size of the glass). The restaurant also added several flavored margaritas, which customers ordered on weekends to sip on a boat or by a pool. (Some people, obviously, endured the lockdown better than others.)

By law, guests must buy food with the fun stuff. So the New Standard offered a market menu that included not only meals but also pimento cheese, French onion dip, house-made crackers and desserts. That was in addition to to-go menu staples plus daily family-style specials. 

All wine bottles were half price — which likely won’t be the new standard by the time this crisis has receded. But it was appreciated while it lasted.

At Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen + Bar, the two-quart servings of sangria quickly became must-have to-go items. The Reel Red sangria was made with Stillhouse Spiced Cherry Whiskey along with red wine, lemons, limes, oranges and apples. The same fruit with white wine and Stillhouse Peach Tea Whiskey made the Sunset Sangria a standout.

REEL FISH COASTAL KITCHEN + BAR
1234 North Orange Avenue, Winter Park
407.543.3474
reeflishcoastal.com

Since it opened three years ago, Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen + Bar has drawn diners with its house-made oyster crackers (pop ’em and grin), its fanciful fish specialties and its old-time platters of battered and fried Gulf oysters or wild-caught Florida shrimp.

But sangria? Not the first menu item that comes to mind. Yet during the prolonged time of shuttering (and shuddering), two-quart servings of sangria — red or white — quickly became must-have to-go items at $18. 

“They sold consistently well,” says proprietor Fred Thimm, who found that mostly couples, rather than families or groups, were the biggest buyers.

What’s not to like, really? The Reel Red sangria was made with Stillhouse Spiced Cherry Whiskey along with red wine, lemons, limes, oranges and apples. The same fruit with white wine and Stillhouse Peach Tea Whiskey made the Sunset Sangria a standout. 

A third beverage was also popular for the grab-and-go crowd: The Seaside Margarita was essentially tequila that had lingered for a bit with pineapple, brown sugar and house-made sweet-and-sour mix before being served with a grilled pineapple wedge. 

These refreshing beverages — along with bottled wine at 30 percent off — left the premises accompanied by full seafood meals. The restaurant offered a rather extensive takeout menu and often promoted specials. 

“Everyone wants a deal,” notes Thimm, who singled out the popularity of a date night meal for two. At $39, it included fried green tomatoes or a fried clam strip basket with either a boiled or pecan-crusted rainbow trout entrée. To finish, there was a dessert of coconut cake or carrot cake.

“Some restaurants focused on Blue Apron-type meals to cook at home, or they went the grocery store route with bleach and toilet paper, but we didn’t,” Thimm says. “We just did what we know how to do — cook for people, package it and deliver it using our own drivers via Uber Eats. That way, we were able to keep as many staff members employed as possible.”

For its takeout customers, Cocina 214 packaged happy hour priced, ready-made cocktail kits with instructions. The Tex-Mex restaurant is known for its margaritas, so a popular choice was the frozen El Diablo, made with Sauza silver tequila swirled with sangria.

COCINA 214
151 East Welbourne Avenue, Winter Park
407.790.7997
cocina214.com

Groups of merrymakers dine at Cocina 214 as much for the margaritas as for the quesadillas — so this bastion of Tex-Mex cuisine included tequila-laced concoctions from the earliest days of the stay-at-home spell. 

Better still, libations were offered at happy hour prices — $5 for a single drink, $20 for a quart and $70 for a gallon. “The quart sold best,” says Lambrine Macejewski, partner, co-founder and business manager of the eatery just off Park Avenue. “It was great for two people who want two drinks each.”

As for the food, this was no time to get esoteric. So Macejewski chose only the restaurant’s top sellers for home consumption. That meant salsa-
accented suppers could be had with a dizzying array of margarita choices.

While some restaurants relied upon cocktail kits with instructions packaged separately, Macejewski sealed ready-made drinks into a container, put a sticker on the jar and sent it out the door. “The kits sound cute and they’re successful for some restaurants,” she says. “But to me, they just seem like more work for customers.” 

Even with a limited staff, Cocina 214 served up additional liquid mood enhancers. The curbside cocktail menu listed single-, quart- and gallon-sized portions of chef-made red sangria as well as 15 wines and 11 bottled beers. The Justin cabernet sauvignon sold so well that the restaurant ordered new cases every week.

Although Cocina 214’s food menu was smaller than usual, the resourceful Macejewski and her stalwart team added family-style meals to the mix. “Our guests are feeding their families daily, often including kids home from college,” she says. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we make it easier for them?’”

Enter the family dinner options, priced at $50 each and feeding up to six. Choices included beef, chicken or veggie tacos with four toppings, and combo meals such as the Tex-Mex Fave (with quesadillas and fajitas) and the Gringo Tex-Mex Mix (with fajitas and housemade chicken fingers — a favorite of the younger set). 

All meals came with chips and salsa. All the better to accompany the margaritas.

Luma on Park’s takeout drink options came in well-sealed, 16-ounce mason jars. They were meant to be shaken, not stirred, with ice and then poured into a drinking vessel of your choice. The Tequila Pine included pineapple and habanero peppers infused over a three-day period with a high-quality silver tequila.

LUMA ON PARK
290 South Park Avenue, Winter Park
407.599.4111
lumaonpark.com

Just as no food is as simple as it looks at Luma on Park — arguably Winter Park’s cheffiest restaurant — the same is true of its deceptively complex cocktails. 

The herbs and fruits in most of the sleek and stylish eatery’s specialty creations are raised on regional farms. A so-called simple syrup may have been infused by the bartenders with rosemary or lavender. 

And the shrubs — generally used as sweet-yet-acidic mix-ins — are concocted with care, in small batches, adding unseen yet appreciated depth to the drinks in which they’re an ingredient. 

Luma chose five very different drink options to package for take-home consumption. Each arrived in well-sealed 16-ounce mason jars, which were meant to be taken home, shaken with ice and poured into a drinking vessel of your choice. Prices ranged from $22 to $38. 

Prime your patio for this cocktail hour.

Consider the Tequila Pine, which included pineapple and habanero peppers infused over a three-day period with a high-quality silver tequila. Or the Strawberry Fields, made with basil- and strawberry-infused vodka and triple sec.

And let’s not forget the blood orange margaritas with a chili-lime rim, produced in conjunction with local citrus producer Natalie’s. Or the Boulevardier, which combined Mitchter’s Straight Rye, Campari and sweet vermouth

Longtime Luma fans were no doubt comforted that takeout options included the White Linen, a signature drink from the restaurant’s early days a decade and a half ago.

Four draft beers and two bottled ones completed the to-go beverage menu — well, along with discounted wines. Every bottle in the 7,000-bottle vino inventory was offered at half price, creating a significant opportunity for oenophiles. 

Like the cocktail menu, Luma’s food offerings were paired down significantly. Gone were the fanciful presentations topped with perfectly positioned microgreens and other such frills. They were replaced by a variety of meals designed for the road. 

“We chose foods that travel well,” says Tim Noelke, operations partner of Park Lights Hospitality Group, owner of Luma, Prato and Luke’s in Maitland. Salads, pizzas and a burger — albeit a relatively fancy burger with Dijonnaise rosemary fries — were available. 

Also offered were $50 family-style meals, which included a protein and three sides and could feed three or four people. The meats, such as 72-hour short ribs, were ready to eat. Roasted carrots and snap peas with mint and pistachio or potato purée with truffle oil and chives arrived piping hot. A handful of wines were available at $10 a bottle.

Prepare-at-home kits were another top pick. A Bolognese option, at $45, included house-made rigatoni pasta that needed a quick boil and a ragu sauce to be heated and added along with salad and the makings of garlic bread. Steaks and other meats were offered for cooking at home. 

Full yet?

You get the idea. In summary, whether you imbibed on Pistachio Old Fashioneds, fruity margaritas or spiked sangrias on your living room sofa, I’ll wager those liquid indulgences were a tonic eagerly welcomed during these unprecedented times.

They sure were at my house. 

Bill Farnsworth’s paintings appear in numerous museums and private collections across the country.

SUMMERTIME FOR ‘GARDENIA GIRL’

Bill Farnsworth’s paintings appear in numerous museums and private collections across the country.

As Winter Parkers venture back into the world — cautiously, after the pandemic-induced shutdown — they’ll encounter gorgeous summer days that offer no hint of the scary spring in which COVID-19 was (and, at this writing, still is) on a worldwide rampage.

Such days make us wonder how a nasty virus that was apparently spawned by bats in Wuhan, China, could touch a community half a world away; a community so lovely and so replete with flowery enclaves such as the Central Park Rose.

In fact, the city’s summer reemergence reminded us of  “Gardenia Girl,” painted by Bill Farnsworth in 2011 for the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens’ annual Winter Park Paint-Out. 

The work captured both the beauty of the season and, with the presence of the lone figure, a sense of quiet contemplation that we believed was appropriate for the recent ordeal’s aftermath.

So, while we prefer to use newer works on our covers, we tracked down “Gardenia Girl” and asked Farnsworth if we could resurrect it nearly a decade later to represent new hope and new beginnings in the summer of 2020. 

A 1980 graduate of the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Farnsworth, 62, has spent more than 34 years as an illustrator and fine artist. Born in Norwalk, Connecticut, he spent most of his life in New England, painting landscapes of rural areas while supporting his family with his growing illustration career. 

Farnsworth is a Fellow in the American Society of Marine Artists and a Signature Member of the Oil Painters of America and the American Impressionist Society. 

His paintings have appeared in many shows across the U.S. and can be found in numerous museums and private collections. He has earned awards of excellence from the Oil Painters of America’s national and regional shows and took Best in Show honors at the Punta Gorda Visual Arts Center’s 10th Biennial National Show. 

Fine Art Views wrote of Farnsworth’s paintings: “Sensitive and full of human emotion, the heartfelt work of Farns-worth takes us to inner depths.” The Venice (Florida)-based artist says: “My goal with my work is to paint what I love and convey it honestly so the viewer can share that feeling.”

His work is represented by the Hughes Gallery, Dabbert Gallery, Tree’s Place, Reinert Fine Art, Mary Williams Fine Art, Gallery 330, Patricia Hutton Galleries and Gingerbread Square Gallery.

For more of Farnsworth’s artwork and how it may be purchased, check out his website, billfarnsworth.com.

Last year, Valencia College presented its first Gus Henderson Scholarships to a pair of deserving locals. In addition to demonstrating a financial need, recipients of the $1,000 awards must be graduates of Winter Park High School and enrolled at Valencia College’s Winter Park Campus.

HOMAGE TO AN EDITOR

Gustavus C. “Gus” Henderson, a newspaper editor, is an unsung figure in Winter Park’s history. His efforts were instrumental in ensuring the town’s 1887 incorporation. Original image Courtesy of The Rollins College Archives/Digital restoration and colorization by Chip Weston

Valencia College has had a campus on the west side of Winter Park since 1996. But it’s reaching back more than a century to recognize one of the Hannibal Square neighborhood’s most important historical figures — newspaper editor and activist Gustavus C. “Gus” Henderson.

Last year, the college presented its first Gus Henderson Scholarships to a pair of deserving locals. In addition to demonstrating a financial need, recipients of the $1,000 awards must be graduates of Winter Park High School and enrolled at Valencia College’s Winter Park Campus. Going forward, older students who wish to return to college will also be eligible. 

Fairolyn Livingston, chief historian at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center — which preserves and celebrates the history of the traditionally African-American west side — suggested that the scholarship program be named for Henderson, whose efforts were instrumental in the incorporation of Winter Park in 1887.

“Gus was successful because he valued the written word and education,” says Livingston, who notes that Henderson published the first newspaper in Winter Park, the Winter Park Advocate. (Lochmeade, a newspaper that preceded Henderson’s, was headquartered in Maitland.)

In fact, Valencia had previously set aside scholarships for residents of the west side — but the program had somehow fallen through the cracks. Newspaper clippings from the late 1990s indicate that the college had once offered as many as a half-dozen such awards annually until the program ceased. 

One impetus for the original scholarship program was community relations. When the college bought its facility at 850 West Morse Boulevard in 1996, the property was rezoned from residential and office to public/quasi-public.

Many west side residents objected because of traffic concerns, and the Winter Park Planning and Zoning Board recommended against the rezoning due to opposition from the neighborhood. City commissioners, however, voted to grant the zoning change.

At the time, the college agreed to offer scholarships for west side residents — and followed through for several years. But no agreement was put in writing, and the program vanished as college administrations changed and memories faded. 

Livingston and other community leaders hadn’t forgotten, though. For years they had been directing potential students to Valencia with instructions to inquire about the scholarships. But at the college there was no record of the program’s existence and no dedicated funding source. The usual response was, “Gus who?”

The program’s demise usually wasn’t an insurmountable issue, says Sue Foreman, past chairperson of the Valencia College Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises scholarship funds from private sources. “Other scholarships were available, so the students were assisted. But no one knew about this earlier program.”

So in 2018, Foreman convened a committee consisting of Livingston; Mary Daniels, a docent at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center; Lee Rambeau Kemp, a community activist; and Elisa Mora, a guidance counselor at Winter Park High School.

Other members included Ronnie Moore, assistant director of the city’s parks and recreation department; Elizabeth “Betsy” Swart, an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida; and Anne Thomas, mentor coordinator at Winter Park High School.

The group, called the Gus Henderson Committee, decided to formally revive the scholarship program and to adopt Livingston’s suggestion to name the effort for Henderson, whose importance to the city’s history is not generally well known — but should be. 

“It’s wonderful to be able to tell this story through the scholarship program,” says Foreman. “Especially because we’re able to spotlight a person whose name should be remembered.”

Fairolyn Livingston, chief historian at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, suggested that the new Valencia College scholarship program be named for Henderson, whom she describes as “successful because he valued the written word and education.”

WHY GUS MATTERED

Henderson was a newspaper publisher, an entrepreneur and a civic activist who rallied his neighbors and was instrumental in making certain that a contentious referendum to incorporate Winter Park passed in 1887.

Like many African Americans during the 1880s, Henderson and his family moved here because Winter Park was thought to be a relatively enlightened place where they could own their own homes — albeit only on the west side’s designated “colored lots” — and control their own destinies.

The politically savvy Henderson, who had been a traveling salesman, started a print shop and later established the Advocate, a weekly newspaper that primarily covered activities in the Hannibal Square neighborhood but was equally well-read east of the railroad tracks.

Henderson, working alongside city founders Loring Chase and Oliver Chapman, was instrumental in turning out voters from Hannibal Square, which resulted in the incorporation of Winter Park and the election of two African-American commissioners in 1887. 

“If it were not for Henderson’s efforts, the incorporation of Winter Park would not have taken place on October 12, 1887, and Hannibal Square may not have originally been included within the town limits of Winter Park,” Livingston says.

The victory, however, would be relatively short lived. Henderson was an ardent Republican, as were most African Americans at the time. So, when Winter Park was incorporated with boundaries encompassing Hannibal Square, the political balance of power shifted.

William C. Comstock, a grain merchant from Chicago, led an effort in 1893 by Democrats to de-annex the close-knit neighborhood. Although Winter Park’s elected officials refused to change the boundaries, the Florida Legislature did so over their opposition.

In the pages of the Advocate, an anonymous editorial writer — probably Henderson — wondered how Comstock and his associates “could sign their names to such an undermining petition, and one showing such bitterness toward the colored population of this town … there never was a more bitter spirit in existence against the colored people than what is hid behind this scheme.” 

Hannibal Square was not a part of incorporated Winter Park again until 1925, when local leaders sought a change in status from town (fewer than 300 registered voters) to city (300 or more registered voters). Henderson moved to Orlando in 1906 and died there in 1915. His legacy, however, lives on through the west side’s continuing pride and activism.

BRIDGING THE DIVIDE

Winter Park is thought to be an affluent place — and it generally is. But areas of scarcity still exist, and there are substantial numbers of working poor who find Valencia’s modest $103 per credit hour tuition beyond their reach without assistance. It surprises many to learn that 40 percent of Winter Park High School students qualify for free or reduced lunch prices.

 So, the Gus Henderson Scholarship serves a dual purpose: It honors a community leader and provides a lifeline for young people seeking higher education.

The first set of scholarships were made possible by a donation from St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church’s Bridging the Color Divide Program. The program began in 2018 with a daylong conference related to an Advent service and grew into a communitywide effort to bring about compassion and understanding.

“In Winter Park, the railroad tracks have historically been a color divide between black and white neighborhoods, historically forming a barrier across which black residents had to retreat by sundown,” says Swart, who in addition to teaching serves as the group’s parish coordinator. 

Bridging the Color Divide, Swart notes, “works to replace that barrier with bridges of justice and community” between the west side and the east side.

Last year, Valencia College presented its first Gus Henderson Scholarships to a pair of deserving locals. In addition to demonstrating a financial need, recipients of the $1,000 awards must be graduates of Winter Park High School and enrolled at Valencia College’s Winter Park Campus.

Today, the group boasts participants from a diverse assortment of local churches from both sides of the tracks as well as the Hannibal Square Heritage Center.

The first two recipients, Valencia students Tonya Carlisle-Francis and Aaliyah Medina, say they plan to pay it forward once they complete their educations. 

Carlisle-Francis, whose goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, hopes eventually to open a center to care for seniors and children. “I want to help my community here in Winter Park and give back the support that was given to me,” she says.

Medina says she’d like to someday become a child psychologist, hopefully at Nemours Children’s Hospital. “It’s because of assistance like the Gus Henderson Scholarship that I can try and change the world, one child, at a time,” she adds.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

To donate to the Gus Henderson Scholarship, visit the Valencia College Foundation’s website at valencia.org/gushenderson. You can mail a contribution to: Gus Henderson Scholarship, Valencia College Foundation, 1768 Park Center Drive, Orlando, Florida, 32835.

In addition to a roster of individual donors — including Henderson’s oldest living grandson — governmental agencies and foundations are stepping up. Among them are the Winter Park Community Redevelopment Agency and The Joe & Sarah Galloway Foundation, both of which have contributed grants to bolster the fund.

All contributions are tax deductible, and 100 percent of every dollar donated goes directly to the scholarship. More money raised means more scholarships can be awarded later this year and beyond.

Adds Terri Daniels, executive dean of Valencia’s Winter Park Campus: “The Gus Henderson Scholarship will honor [Henderson’s] memory of community service by ensuring that our residents have the resources needed to pursue academic goals that will have a long-term, positive impact.” 

Don Sondag is known for portraits, but he loves to paint outdoors.

A GARDEN'S BEAUTY IN FULL BLOOM

Kraft Azalea Gardens with Lake Maitland in the background by Don Sondag.

The same artist had never painted consecutive covers for Winter Park Magazine. But leave it to Don Sondag to set a new standard. We had planned on using a Sondag image on the Winter 2020 cover. But the death of Thad Seymour, the president emeritus of Rollins College, left no question that the cover should feature the beloved community icon.

Thankfully, the city’s most renowned portrait artist also happened to be an admirer of Seymour’s. 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.

When he took time out to paint the portrait, Sondag was working on original pieces for an upcoming exhibition called Venetian Canals of Winter Park: The Art of Don Sondag, which runs through April 12 at the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. 

A painting from Kraft Azalea Gardens with Lake Maitland in the background — which was shown at that exhibition — graces this issue’s cover. The image was originally a horizontal and had to be cropped, so the unaltered version is shown above.

Don Sondag is known for portraits, but he loves to paint outdoors.

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, Sondag teaches at the Crealdé School of Art, where he joined the faculty in 1990. He has also taught at Seminole State College, Walt Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney Feature Animation.

He has accepted portrait 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.”

Coons enjoyed a backstage reunion with the Backstreet Boys prior to a recent concert at Orlando’s Amway Center. Shown are (left to right) Howie Dorough, Coons and Nick Carter. “I’m very proud of them,” Coons says of Dorough, AJ McLean, Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell. “How long have they been together? Going on 26 years. That’s longer than The Beatles, the original boy band.”

HOW TO BE A POP IDOL

Photography by Rafael Tongol

Tim Coons runs two music companies, produces records and mentors next-gen artists from his home studio in Winter Park. Coons, a 1976 graduate of Rollins College, has a track record of picking winners.

Lou Pearlman and Tim Coons were born six months apart at the same hospital in Queens, New York, during President Eisenhower’s first term. Four decades later, fate brought them together in Orlando, where they collaborated and then diverged. Pearlman, as it happened, was the ultimate scoundrel; Coons the ultimate survivor.

Pearlman, whose insatiable avarice led him to fleece investors in a Ponzi scheme and bamboozle the Backstreet Boys and other boy bands he created, died in federal prison in 2016 at age 62.

Coons, who got into rock ’n’ roll for the music, not the money, is still charging ahead at 66. He runs two music companies and continues to produce records and mentor next-gen artists from his home studio in Winter Park. He has lived there since enrolling at Rollins College in 1972 with the dream of becoming a baseball star.

But it wasn’t to be. The scrappy but undersized walk-on, who grew up a Yankees fan and owns a Mickey Mantle-signed baseball, got the verdict from Tars head coach Boyd Coffie, a former minor-league player and big-league scout: “You’re 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds. You’ll never make it to the pros. You need to think about other options.” 

Coons settled for life as a rocker — perhaps the only occupation that’s at least as cool as being professional athlete. In baseball terms, he was a guy who did many things well enough to have a career in the bigs — as a utility player, a backup to All-Stars or a hitting coach you never hear about who helps mold raw talent into bubblegum-card heroes.

Only baseball geeks know that it was Charley Lau, a lifetime .255 hitter, who taught George Brett to hit at a Hall of Fame level. 

A much smaller circle of pop music aficionados can tell you that the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and Take 5 as well as Rob Thomas (Matchbox Twenty) and JoJo (the youngest female artist to record a No. 1 hit) all owe a measure of their success to Coons, a producer and vocal coach who never released an album of his own but has helped sell millions of them for other people.

After reluctantly exiting his field of dreams, it didn’t take long for Coons to come up with Plan B. Though he had no formal training and didn’t read sheet music, Coons played guitar and had an extraordinary voice. (“I knew pretty early that I’m blessed with incredible pitch, timing and rhythm,” he says.) 

As a Rollins freshman, he won a campus talent contest singing Neil Young’s “Old Man,” and formed a band called Harpoon with four other students. Word got out that the kids were alright, and soon the band had gigs all around Central Florida.

LEARNING FROM LEGENDS

Coons had begun honing his chops as a performer years earlier. In 1968, his mother won $100,000 in the New York state lottery and the family moved to Fort Lauderdale. It was there he made his solo debut, at a joint called the Elbow Room, for “$25 and all the pizza I could eat.”

As a Rollins sophomore, Coons performed with Gary U.S. Bonds (“A Quarter to Three,” “This Little Girl is Mine”) at Dubsdread Country Club. It went so well that Bonds booked him for more dates. 

In his senior year, Harpoon appeared as the “Mary Wells Band” for Motown legend Mary Wells at a Jacksonville concert in which Coons played guitar and wailed backup vocals. It was a master class for the talented undergrad.

“Mary Wells’ husband (Cecil Womack) played with us in the band,” Coons says. “Cecil was an amazing guitar player and record producer who I learned a lot from. During rehearsals, I got to see how a real Motown guitarist plays.”

After Coons graduated in 1976 with degrees in environmental studies and political science, Harpoon toured Yugoslavia. A year later, Plan B came to fruition when Coons signed a five-year deal — as a solo act — with BMG Ariola Records label in Germany. 

Under that label, Coons toured Europe and the U.S. and shared the stage with rock royalty. Back in Florida — he had gotten homesick — he opened for Arlo Guthrie, Ramsey Lewis and Joe Walsh and Glenn Frey (twice) of The Eagles. 

Coons also played guitar with Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) and with Foreigner on Disco, a German TV show. And he opened for Martin Mull, a singer-songwriter better known as a comic actor on TV (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; Fernwood Tonight).

“I was backstage at the Great Southern Music Hall (in Gainesville) with Mull before the show,” Coons recalls. “He was drinking whiskey and joking about how small the dressing room area was. So he took a marker and drew a big door with a doorknob on the wall behind us. He wrote on the door, ‘Dressing room addition, architect Martin Mull.’ Funny guy!”

Two of Coons’ most memorable brushes with the uber-famous came in late 1970s, when he was an intern assistant to the late Joe Lambusta, a veteran music promoter in Orlando. In the summer of 1978, The Rolling Stones kicked off their “Some Girls” U.S. tour in Lakeland, rehearsing for two days before the show.

“It was my job to take care of the needs of the wives and girlfriends of the Stones,” Coons says. “We were driving the girls around Lakeland in a limousine, and that got the population pretty excited. Pulling up to a 7-Eleven in a limo was pretty cool back then.” (Probably still is — certainly in Lakeland.)

He tried to make small talk with Keith Richards’ girlfriend, Swedish model Lil Wergilis. Recalls Coons: “I said something like, ‘So how are the guys doing?’ She looked me in the eye like I insulted her. ‘What do you mean? The Rolling Stones are the best [profanity] rock ‘n’ roll band in the world, man!’”

Coons had more mellow duty assisting backstage when the Grateful Dead played Lakeland. Afterward, he escorted the Dead back to their hotel and ended up in Jerry Garcia’s room. “For no good reason, Jerry proceeded to tell me his life story for the next three and a half hours,” says Coons. “He said the best thing about being a rock star is that you don’t have to do your own laundry.”

Coons enjoyed a backstage reunion with the Backstreet Boys prior to a recent concert at Orlando’s Amway Center. Shown are (left to right) Howie Dorough, Coons and Nick Carter. “I’m very proud of them,” Coons says of Dorough, AJ McLean, Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell. “How long have they been together? Going on 26 years. That’s longer than The Beatles, the original boy band.”

“THESE ARE MY BOYS”

The defining chapter in Coons’ career began the day in 1993 when he took a call from Lou Pearlman. He’d never heard of Pearlman, but “recognized the accent right away.” The fellow New Yorker said he wanted to start a boy band. Coons figures Pearlman had heard about him from mutual contacts in the business.

“I went over to his house off Sand Lake Road,” Coons recalls. “He marched out and said, ‘Here are my boys. We’re going to call them the Backstreet Boys.’” The name was inspired by Backstreet Market, an outdoor flea market near International Drive where teens hung out.

Coons, with two decades of show business under his belt by then, went to work turning the boys into men — or at least into more mature boys. He compares his role as vocal coach to “the concrete guy. I set the foundation.” 

Original Backstreet member Howie Dorough says Coons was “a kind, gentle producer. I remember him making it such a pleasure to work in the studio. He has a great pop sensibility and was always willing to take time to help you sound your best.”

By 1996, the Backstreet Boys were international pop music stars, topping the charts and selling albums by the millions. On a wall in Coons’ office is a framed memento of his relationship with the biggest-selling boy band of all time. 

It’s a diamond CD in recognition of Coons’ pivotal role in launching the group, shaping their vocal style and producing their first half-dozen singles. Over the past several decades, the boys — who now range in age from 40 to 48 — have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide.

“I’m very proud of them,” Coons says of Dorough, AJ McLean, Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell. “How long have they been together? Going on 26 years. That’s longer than The Beatles, the original boy band.”

On a wall in Coons’ office is a framed memento of his relationship with the biggest-selling boy band of all time, the Backstreet Boys. It’s a diamond CD in recognition of Coons’ pivotal role in launching the group, shaping their vocal style and producing their first half-dozen singles.

Coons didn’t see Pearlman’s fall from grace coming. He recalls “a big, jovial man who made you feel like everything he said was believable. I couldn’t say nicer things about him. He always paid me every penny he promised me.” 

That is, up until he didn’t. Coons says Pearlman owed him tens of thousands of dollars for work with the group Take 5. “He came to me and said he couldn’t afford to pay me — and that’s when everyone began to realize this thing was falling apart,” recalls Coons, a straight arrow who quickly shed the stigma of an association with Pearlman.

From 1998 to 2002, while concurrently working on personal projects, Coons was music director of The Go for It! Roadshow, a health education extravaganza sponsored by HealthSouth Corp. that toured coast to coast and attracted arenas full of school kids. The message: Stay in school, don’t do drugs. 

The Go for It! lineup featured a rotating cast of celebrity athletes including NFL superstars Bo Jackson, (chair of the HealthSouth Sports Medicine Council), Herschel Walker, Dan Marino and Doug Flutie along with Olympic diving gold medalist Jennifer Chandler and pro wrestler Lex Lugar, among many others. 

The show also included games, dancing, laser shows and high-energy rock ‘n’ roll, including songs by 3rd Faze, a group created by Coons that signed with Sony Records and toured with Britney Spears before disbanding in 2003. Coons’ wife, Teresa, an award-winning makeup artist, also worked on the tour.

Today, Coons is CEO of Atlantic Hill Music, which he founded in 1990. Then in 2015, he took over as president of Cheiron Music Group, an outfit with a rich legacy in pop music. The companies specialize in finding and developing young talent and offer a smorgasbord of expertise — from music production and film scoring to career counseling and, of course, vocal coaching.

Coons hoped that lightning had struck again with Far Young, a boy band he formed in 2013. But the group, which found limited commercial success despite garnering a huge social media following, broke up a year later and reformed as About Last Night. Original member Eben Franckewitz, 23, who in 2012 finished among the top dozen contestants on ABC’s American Idol, recently signed a contract with Atlantic Records.

These days Coons is excited by the potential of 21-year-old year-old Sydney Rhame, who has just released an EP entitled Off-Brand Love Songs. The six-song compilation was produced by Coons on Cheiron Records, a division of Cheiron Music Group. Rhame competed on NBC’s The Voice in 2015. 

To what does Coons owe his longevity — and contentment — in a business with such a high fail rate? “I’ve thought about that,” he says. “Why am I staying in a business where the product you make is now free, available any time? Honestly, I love it, the music part of it. Money was never the important thing — ever. I think that’s what people respected about me.”

Tim and Teresa have three grown children and three grandchildren, and are happily ensconced in their Melrose Avenue home and in the community. Coons has served as chairman of the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival and has placed more than 20 musical acts in the festival’s entertainment lineup since 2014.

When he’s not working, Coons plays singles and doubles at the Azalea Lane Tennis Center. An ardent Yankees fan, he catches nearly every game on TV and enjoys an occasional spring training excursion. He loves carpentry — a carryover from his senior year at Rollins, when he worked part time on a construction crew — and has restored several circa-1960s automobiles.

“I love it here,” Coons says. “The airport is only 30 minutes away. I fly on a lot of private jets. I can fly to California, then to New York and be home for dinner on the same day.”

STILL STARSTRUCK

At heart, Tim Coons is still the eager kid singing for $25 and all the pizza he can eat. It’s a siren song he heard early, in the days when Mickey Mantle and Tom Seaver were his heroes.

“I had a little transistor radio that I taped to the handlebars of my bike,” he says. “I remember hearing ‘Dock of the Bay’ on my paper route, delivering The Suffolk Sun. That’s what hooked me.”

In 2002, Tim and Teresa were invited to a private reception with Paul McCartney and his then-fiancé, Heather Mills, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta. “Teresa is a hysterical Paul fan,” Coons says. “He shook her hand and wouldn’t let go. He looked her in the eye and was kind of flirting with her.” 

What do you do when Paul McCartney flirts with your wife? You let him, of course — especially when the world’s most important living rock star decides to include you in the conversation. McCartney, in his unmistakable Liverpool lilt, told Coons: “I hear you work with the Backstreet Boys. Well, I’m not going to dance for you.”

However, Sir Paul was happy to drink with Coons. They downed margaritas, talked harmonies and vocals and recalled favorite songs — including the Lennon-McCartney classic “The Long and Winding Road,” which was the final single released by The Beatles.

Besotted by the company — and, it should be said, the margaritas — Coons began crooning the song and Sir Paul joined in for an impromptu duet. At the end, Coons recalls, “Paul looked at my wife, then looked at Heather Mills, and said, ‘You know, we’re doing alright.’”

Indeed they are. A couple of grateful rockers, the Hall of Famer and the ultimate survivor, still truckin’ on the long and winding road after all these years. 

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

connect with us

Winter Park Publishing
Company, LLC.
201 West Canton Ave., Ste. 125B
Winter Park, FL 32789

ph: 407-647-0225
fx: 407-647-0145

Copyright 2020