The Park Plaza Hotel topped the list of places Abby Ober wanted to capture with her brush during the 2020 Paint Out, sponsored by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens.

AN INTERLUDE AT A HISTORIC HOTEL

The Park Plaza Hotel topped the list of places Abby Ober wanted to capture with her brush during the 2020 Paint Out, sponsored by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens.

Cover artist Abby Ober today lives and works in St. Michaels, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay. But she graduated from Rollins College in 1980 with a degree in fine arts and has a special place in her heart for Winter Park and the historic Park Plaza Hotel.

As a student, she worked as a prep chef at the hotel’s restaurant, then The Palms (later Park Plaza Gardens and now Bovine, which is unaffiliated with the hotel).

“I felt a real connection painting the hotel,” says Ober, who did the vibrant image for the 2020 Paint Out sponsored by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. “I stayed at the hotel in 2004 with my best friend from college, so had the chance to view Park Avenue from that balcony.”

So the Park Plaza topped the list of places Ober wanted to capture with her brush when she was in town for the annual invitation-only plein air event. Mindy Spang Livingston, daughter of longtime owners John and Cissy Spang, bought the finished product to hang in her home.

 Ober, a native of Illinois, spent her youth abroad as the daughter of a foreign service officer and lived in Poland, Germany, Russia, India and Greece. She dreamed of becoming an artist since childhood and attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., after graduating from Rollins. 

After a career in advertising Ober moved to Pennsylvania, where she raised two children and began teaching art to adults and children — including those with disabilities — at Wayne Art Center in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

She also began a career as a fine artist, painting both in her studio and at plein air events across the country. She’s looking forward to returning to Winter Park for the Polasek’s 13th annual Paint Out in October.

Ober’s work has been featured in exhibitions and is held in many private collections. She accepts commissions and does many personalized paintings for homes and businesses. She may be reached through her website, abbyober.com.

Part restaurant, part bar, Financier combines the elegance of a comfortable café with the casual nature of a neighborhood eatery. It’s a light-filled space ideal for long lunches of shared dishes or the perfect spot for late-night dinners perfectly complemented by the restaurant’s wine list.

BECOMING A BISTRO

Photography by Rafael Tongol

Executive chef and general manager Théo Goupil and his wife, Danielle, opened Financier primarily as a purveyor of pastries. The reimagined concept is quite different — and quite impressive.

If we all learned one thing this past year, it’s that we can be flexible. Stay home. Dine outdoors. Ditch stiff clothing. Winter Park’s restaurateurs adapted along the way, too, perhaps none more than Financier, a comfy French eatery that opened on Park Avenue in December 2019 — three short months before you-know-what.

By the time this petite purveyor of Parisian breakfasts and impressive pastries emerged from the worst of the year-long travails caused by the pandemic, the operation had been entirely transformed. 

Financier now has Bistro & Bar à Vin after its name instead of Patisserie & Café. Its menu is smaller, heavy on “bistro classics” and entrées, with baked sweets all but absent. 

The hours of operation, once 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., are slimmer too, as breakfast is no more and lunch — originally a brief menu meant to accompany coffee — is the main meal of the day (although it is often consumed during brunch hours). An abbreviated dinner menu is served on select evenings.

“Financier was a New York-style bistro where you could come for your breakfast, then come for your lunch then come for a nightcap,” says Executive Chef and General Manager Théo Goupil, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Danielle.

That concept is gone, and that’s OK. Today, Financier is a charming bistro with familiar Gallic staples and a curated wine selection plus mimosas and wine cocktails — all served at shaded outdoor tables and in a dreamy, Old World-style space with dark woods and ruffly lamps. The back wall is covered in wallpaper resembling old books. 

 

Entrées at Financier Bistro & Bar à Vin include steak frites— strip steak, french fries and herb butter — with a choice of several side salads.

Financier survived the shutdown and the COVID-19-era’s light crowds like most of us did — by adapting. The restaurant was meant to be a clone of the several Financier Patisserie & Cafés serving French pastries and light meals in New York City. 

Théo ran the pastry production kitchen for the chain — owned by Manhattan-based HPH Hospitality Group — which at times has had as many as 14 restaurants under its umbrella. Eager to relocate with their young children, the Goupils — 27 (Théo) and 28 (Danielle) — arranged to scout a location for a Financier outpost in Central Florida, then run it. 

And so they did, selecting a storefront most recently vacated by The Rustic Table. The space was designed by Prototype Design Lab, the same firm that conceptualized the interiors of several other HPH-owned eateries, including Harry’s, a classic Big Apple steakhouse just a block from Wall Street. 

So iconic are Financier’s green and white stripes that New Yorkers in Winter Park could tell what the restaurant was going to be before the sign even went up. That pre-sold following among erstwhile Big Apple denizens boded well for the Goupils, who were pleased that all went according to plan — for not quite three months. 

The son of a French pastry chef and a food industry veteran himself, Théo is no stranger to chaos; pandemonium is built into that profession. He pivoted into survival mode and today, candidly and humbly, shares his trials, errors and experiences as he continues to rebuild his newbie bistro like a schoolboy relentlessly reworking a Lego creation. 

Just as Financier was finding its footing, it had to close for two months. Then it reopened with six staffers instead of 20 — with Théo and Danielle comprising two of the six. Also, the Goupils found that customers didn’t want sacher tortes, almandines, raspberry white chocolate mousse and chocolate eclairs anymore. Mon dieu!

Remember how we all tucked into comfort foods in the pandemic’s early days? We cooked beef stews and mac ‘n’ cheese, baked our own breads and generally sought out treats that we fondly remembered from our childhoods.

The croque monsieur or madame (above) is basically a French ham and cheese sandwich made with country ham, Gruyère, parmesan and a simple béchamel sauce on sourdough bread. The madame version gets a poached egg on top. A bistro classic, the eggs Benedict (below) includes poached eggs, thick cut Canadian bacon and hollandaise sauce, served with smashed potatoes.

Financier, however, was selling artistic edibles in an era of peanut butter cookies and financiers (small French almond cakes, for which the restaurant is named) when folks craved fluffernutters. “Something changed, and people seemed uncomfortable with elegant, fancy desserts,” Théo notes. “So the pastry program kind of died a little bit — which was hard because that’s my roots.”
That’s when the savories began to take center stage. But Financier’s non-sweet dishes really, truly, need to be eaten on the premises — and at that time, to-go meals were all the rage. 

“The only things on our menu good for takeout were the burger, the croque monsieur sandwich and the bacon croissant,” says Théo. “I would never order a steak frites to go. Eggs Benedict would be a mess in a box.” 

Be that as it may, Financier made it through — and business is picking up as vaccinated people have become more comfortable dining indoors. Those who come in should experience a much-appreciated treat after a year of eating easily transportable foods from styrofoam containers.  

The menu offers bistro classics, including that croque monsieur (or madame). It’s basically a French ham and cheese sandwich made with ham (naturally), Gruyère, parmesan and a simple béchamel sauce on sourdough bread. The madame version gets a poached egg on top.

Monsieur or madame, either way it’s quite a production. The kitchen team stacks the sandwiches in advance, lets them “rest” in the fridge and then bakes them — finishing by bubbling up the cheese under a gadget called a salamander.

Other bistro classics include eggs Benedict, quiche lorraine, salmon fumée and avocado toast. Sharable items include prosciutto, burrata, shrimp cocktail, tuna tartare, baked brie and ratatouille. Entrées include the bistro burger, lobster brioche, seared salmon, poulet rôti (roasted chicken) and steak frites (strip steak and french fries). There’s a choice of several salads.

After two independent visits at which I was floored by how fabulous Financier’s food was, I returned with a posse of tasters before reaching out to the Goupils for this feature. Our experience was mixed, but not enough to sway me away. 

The Dijon brussels sprouts (above left) are roasted, tossed in the deep fryer so they crisp up and then drizzled with mustard vinaigrette. The smoked salmon (above right) is served on sourdough bread and topped with crème fraîche, cucumber, dill and lemon juice. The baked brie (above) is baked to gooey glory then topped with fig jam and enhanced by bits of walnut and served with a warm sliced baquette.

We ordered a whole lot of food, and most of it arrived at our sidewalk table lukewarm — likely because of the logistics required to prepare and transport it all from the small kitchen. The culinary skill, the quality ingredients and the heart behind it all were evident. 

I’ll try that steak frites again — although I’ll request to have it delivered to my table the second the chefs finish plating it. I’m an unapologetic medium-steak gal, and my sliced strip steak came out just right. There was a pool of ruby-brown liquid at the bottom of the plate that combined steak drippings and the extras that enhance the beef. 

“Most restaurants cook their steaks on a flat-top grill,” Théo explains. “Mine are seared in a pan, dry, then once it’s gotten a sear we add a nice amount of butter and continue cooking the steak in the butter — which browns, almost to a nutty flavor.” 

That butter, incidentally, is laced with herbs de Provence, salt and pepper. The french fries alongside are addictively thin and crispy, but not house made — yet. Théo speaks wistfully about from-scratch fries, lamenting his lack of space and staff so sincerely that I suspect he’ll find a way to make them over time.

The smoked salmon is notably excellent at Financier. I first had it on a toasted croissant and was obsessed with having it again. A frustrated smoked-salmon shopper myself, I understand how Théo must have scoured Central Florida for a worthy source of this tasty fish before turning to a supplier in New Jersey who offered a spectacular product. 

Part restaurant, part bar, Financier combines the elegance of a comfortable café with the casual nature of a neighborhood eatery. It’s a light-filled space ideal for long lunches of shared dishes or the perfect spot for late-night dinners perfectly complemented by the restaurant’s wine list.

We had started our feast with baked brie, here baked to gooey glory then topped with fig jam and enhanced by bits of walnut. My troupe wanted more walnuts — and toasted walnuts at that. Let’s just say that by the time you read this, Théo will likely be using crisper, darker nuts once again. He’s more than willing to listen to feedback and adapt accordingly.

As for the Caesar salad: It’s just OK. It needs some bite, both crunch-wise and flavor-wise. The croutons, though, are lovely housemade bits of sourdough bread that have been lightly toasted, then pan-fried to golden in olive oil and topped with salt and herbs de Provence. 

Whatever you order, add a side dish called Dijon brussels sprouts. Théo roasts the sprouts then tosses them in the deep fryer for a second or two so they crisp up. Then he drizzles mustard vinaigrette over the toasty brown orbs. He does the same with baby spuds for the “smashed” potatoes served with some dishes. Another reason to return.

One more tip: A crab cake has been wildly popular as a special for a few months. It’s loaded with jumbo lump crab, baked and served with a smear of lemon cream made of butter, shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, pearl onions, crème fresh, lemon juice, lime zest and segments of lemon and lime. I’ll try that next, along with the smashed potatoes.

See you on the Avenue. Just look for the outdated “Patisserie” sign. Yes, it will be swapped out when the Goupils can get around to it. But we’re being fluid in 2021, remember? 

Financier Bistro & Bar à Vin
212 North Park Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789
321.972.2284 | financierbistrobar.com

DESIGN THAT’S UPSIDE-DOWN

Photography by Uneek Image

According to Kean, who has become something of a showcase home guru, he approaches every project by asking a simple question: “Would I want to live there?”

If anyone knows about the potential pitfalls of high-profile showcase homes, it’s Phil Kean, president of Winter Park-based Phil Kean Design Group. Kean’s team has designed and built four such homes, and Kean was the architect on one other.

“It’s an adrenaline rush, doing these homes,” says Kean, 59, who was among the first builders to introduce sleek, modern residential architecture to a city where more traditional genres had long predominated. “It’s fun and cool because you’re using all these new products that people haven’t seen yet. Not everybody’s into that, but I am.”

Showcase homes are the centerpiece of the International Builders’ Show (IBS), sponsored by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). The projects are intended to demonstrate the latest technologies and most leading-edge building materials for the confab’s 65,000-plus attendees.

IBS descends upon Orlando and Las Vegas in alternating years. For nearly four decades, there’s been a New American Home — and more recently a New American Remodel — for attendees to scrutinize and real estate writers to critique.

That fact alone is daunting enough. But the 2021 New American Home — located near the corner of Morse Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue alongside The Coop restaurant in Winter Park — was under construction during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Supply chain disruptions and labor shortages hampered progress, while construction crews had to observe social distancing and practice other unaccustomed safety measures while racing against the clock to complete the home in time for its worldwide debut.

As the virus persisted, however, the in-person show — slated for February at the Orange County Convention Center — was canceled and held virtually. Consequently, the 2021 New American Home could only be seen by taking an online 3D tour accessible to registrants via the IBS website.

The 2021 New American Home is centrally located in picture-postcard Winter Park’s downtown corridor. The three-level structure, which encompasses 5,536 square feet counting the terraces, was originally intended to be two smaller adjacent townhomes. Kean, however, decided to combine the units based on customer feedback.

Perhaps cancellation of the show was a mixed blessing since, pandemic be damned, most builders were much too busy churning out homes to spend a week cavorting in Orlando. One of the anomalies of this health crisis has been a booming real estate market even during COVID-19’s pre-vaccine rampage. But that’s another story altogether.

In any case, New American Homes have been over-the-top mansions on sprawling suburban homesites. Impressive, perhaps, but risky for the builder, who must sell to recoup his or her costs. Kean’s project, however, is a dandy departure from the norm — and likely won’t be on the market long. 

It’s a vertical three-level structure on a 1,969-square-foot homesite that anchors the south end of his company’s most recent local development — which is billed as townhomes but in fact encompasses three tightly packed single-family homes and four attached townhomes.

The IBS home, which has 4,390 square feet of air-conditioned space — 5,536 square feet counting the terraces — was originally intended to be two smaller adjacent townhomes. Kean, however, discovered that many buyers wanted to combine units or to have single-family options. 

Other single-family offerings on the same infill parcel — which stretches all the way from Morse to Shady Park — have more conventional floorplans. But Kean describes the featured design as “upside-down” because the main living space is on the top floor, where views of Winter Park’s lush tree canopy are spectacular. 

There are technically four bedrooms — if you include two rooms that have been repurposed — as well as 4.5 bathrooms, a back-entry three-car garage and terraces on each of the top two floors: one on the second floor and two on the third floor. “It’s about as urban as you can get in Winter Park,” says Kean.

Each floor offers a unique living experience. The first floor, with an art gallery entrance, encompasses a guest bedroom with an en suite bathroom. All the home’s toilets, by the way, include bidets — a change inspired by the pandemic. 

There’s also an office, which was originally another bedroom but ended up being outfitted as a workspace because of COVID-19. Doing business from home will clearly remain a preference for many even after the pandemic abates. 

How’s this for a wow factor? The custom-built floating staircase in the first floor entry area is enhanced by clear glass balusters and lighting under each tread. Of course, if you’d rather look at a staircase than climb one, there’s a hydraulic elevator to get you to the upper levels.

The second floor is dedicated to the owner’s suite, which is anchored by a large master bedroom. (The king-sized bed has a padded leather headboard that takes up most of a wall). The master bathroom connects to an expansive walk-in closet. And there’s a generous lounging area, a laundry room and a bedroom-turned-gym with an en suite bathroom and sauna. 

The third floor is an ideal place to entertain — whether it’s in the great room or the music room, which has a niche that can accommodate a baby grand piano or a small combo of musicians. In fact, it’s difficult to find an excuse to leave the third floor other than an aversion to wasting two floors of space.

There you’ll also find the kitchen, with an array of handy built-ins and a variety of finishes to add interest. It’s a beautiful space, highlighted by the warmth of dark walnut — especially notable on the floor-to-ceiling china cabinet — and a high-contrast color scheme that includes creamy white, soft black (the tone is called “charcoal”) and shiny taupe. The adjacent dining area offers easy access to the wet bar and wine storage units.

On the main terrace there’s another kitchen — of the outdoor variety — and an intimate dining area, where retractable screens keep the pests at bay. Notes Kean: “There aren’t that many places in Winter Park where you can see the sky the way you can from the upper terrace.”

The second floor is dedicated to the owner’s suite (above), which includes a large master bedroom in which the king-sized bed boasts a padded leather headboard that takes up most of a wall. The master bathroom connects to an expansive walk-in closet (below).

Kean and husband Brad Grosberg, a principal in Kean’s company, are dog people and their household includes a pampered basset hound. So it should come as no surprise that the home has plenty of doggie doors and a first-floor room specifically for dog grooming and the storage of dogfood, leashes and other canine paraphernalia. 

That’s a small but endearing touch. If you’re looking for a wow factor, though, get a load of the custom-built floating staircase, enhanced with clear glass balusters and lighting under each tread. Of course, if you’d rather look at a staircase than climb one, there’s a hydraulic elevator to take you to the upper levels.

As you might expect in a home that’s touted as state-of-the-art, this one exceeds the National Green Building Standard’s requirements for Emerald certification. There are numerous high-tech systems to enhance energy efficiency, including solar panels on the roof that help the home to generate its own power. 

As for the exterior, Kean — who attended Harvard University as an undergraduate and later earned both an MBA and a Master of Architecture degree at Washington University in St. Louis — doesn’t believe it fits any particular style except “modern” or “urban modern” with an industrial vibe.

However you label it, you can tell who designed it thanks to its clean lines and white stone veneer highlighted by metal cladding. Early on, Kean and Grosberg planned to occupy the home before eventually selling it. Says Kean: “The way we approach everything we design is by asking, ‘Would I want to live there?’ Well, I definitely would want to live there.” 

Kean and Grosberg had, in fact, lived in two previous IBS showcase homes designed and built by Kean — one in Winter Park and one in Lake Nona Golf & Country Club. Instead, however, they decided to put the New American Home on the market. The anticipated price: $4.25 million. 

In the meantime, Kean — who was named 2013 National Custom Builder of the Year by NAHB and 2014 Contractor of the Year by the Orlando Chapter of the American Institute of Architects — is looking forward to being the architect for the 2022 New American Remodel, which will be in Rose Isle, adjacent to Winter Park. 

The kitchen offers an array of handy built-ins and a variety of finishes to add interest. The space is highlighted by the warmth of dark walnut — especially notable on the floor-to-ceiling china cabinet — and a high-contrast color scheme that includes creamy white, soft black (the tone is called “charcoal”) and shiny taupe.

Moviegoers at Enzian have long met around the bar and at outlying tables, before films or after, for drinks or meals in a congenial and relaxing environment. Now, the alfresco Eden Bar is a dining destination in its own right regardless of what’s on the theater’s marquee. Many guests are attracted by the outdoor setting and the sprawling space that allows for easy distancing and enhanced safety.

FOOD BOLSTERS A CHERISHED CINEMA

Photography by Rafael Tongol

Eden Bar’s Food and Beverage Manager Darren Shakespeare (left) says, “Everyone is pushing for outside dining — and Eden Bar obviously fits right into that niche since we’re exclusively outside.” Chef Marcus Mahone (right) has added a handful of elevated menu options available only outdoors.

Admit it. You fretted about the potential impact of COVID-19 on your health — as most all of us did — then worried about how the virus would impact your job. Would you still have a job? And if so, would you be required to work from home forever?

Peripheral concerns also crossed your mind, such as what the persistent pandemic would mean for your favorite local hangouts — particularly Maitland’s cherished Enzian Theater. Well, it certainly crossed my mind.

The charming art-house cinema is universally acknowledged as a Central Florida treasure, with its off-center films and restful Eden Bar. But, like most businesses and nonprofits, Enzian — which closed from late March to early June last year — has struggled to offer new ways to deliver content and remain viable. 

Watch-at-home options and limited in-person seating have allowed a return of the eclectic flicks for which the theater is known — although it may be a while before 200 guests at a time can once again gather at their favorite tables for a screening and a meal.

The drink vibe at Eden Bar is tropical, using infusions and fresh fruit juices. So why not throw caution to the wind and swap your pinot for a fruity Birds of Paradise, an Old Fashioned made with Kirk & Sweeney 23-year aged rum or a Freaky Tiki (front right), which consists of vodka infused with fresh jalapeños blended with guava, apricot, demerara sugar and lime juice?

Enzian is alive and well not because people are suddenly flocking to movies — but in large part because of the food. Those flatbreads and chicken fingers we ordered showing after showing? Such familiar staples, plus spirited beverages and a few new menu items, have allowed fans of the theater to contribute to its coffers without ever stepping inside the building. 

Enzian is located on three acres, and its open-air Eden Bar has occupied part of the hilly outdoor expanse since 2008. Moviegoers have long met up around the bar and at outlying tables, before films or after, for drinks or meals in a congenial and relaxing environment. 

Now, the alfresco food service establishment is a destination on its own, regardless of what’s on the marquee. Many guests show up for the express purpose of eating, attracted by the outdoor setting and the sprawling space that allows for easy social distancing. The restaurant, for now, is the tail wagging the dog.

“Everybody’s pushing for outside dining — and Eden Bar obviously fits right into that niche since we’re exclusively outside,” says Food and Beverage Manager Darren Shakespeare. “We were very fortunate to have enough space on the property to spread everything out very quickly.” 

The Eden burger (above) is 100% grounded Wagyu beef with lettuce, tomato, aged cheddar cheese and pepper mayonnaise on a Kaiser roll. It’s served with your choice of fries, soup, mac and cheese or house side salad. You’ll also find three kinds of tacos (below), including blackened mahi tacos served on corn tortillas with coleslaw and avocado.

Still, we won’t call Eden Bar a hot spot since the term connotes unseemly crowds, which you’re unlikely to encounter as of now. Yet, the eatery is emerging as a beacon of sorts for those who simply can’t stand another night at home but remain uneasy about indoor dining. 

Naturally, then, the food operation is getting steadily busier. And why wouldn’t it? It’s just so darned pleasant — especially when the weather is temperate, as it is now. 

Settle in and keep your mask handy for when the server approaches; that’s the only time you’ll need it. Other precautions: touchless menus accessed via QR codes and smartphones and signs on every table asking guests to mask up when servers approach. All servers wear masks all the time.

“This is the comfort level of our customers at this point, and they’re not wrong,” adds Director of Operations David Whitfield. “They come here once a week, like regulars. A lot of people have actually said to us, ‘I don’t go anywhere else, but I’ll come to you.’”

Chef Marcus Mahone has added a handful of  “elevated” menu options available only outside. These items take too long to prepare for moviegoers, since the kitchen must churn out up to 100 meals — half the pre-pandemic number, but nonetheless daunting — to a sold-out (and socially distanced) theater crowd before the show ends. 

The pace is more leisurely at Eden Bar — and the menu is more interesting. Outdoor diners, for example, can enjoy the Eden Burger, made of ground Wagyu beef and served on a Kaiser roll topped with aged cheddar cheese, pepper mayonnaise and lettuce and tomato. 

Another outdoor-only option is the blackened mahi sandwich. The grilled fish fillet sits on Olde Hearth butter bread along with gouda cheese, banana peppers and chipotle aioli. You’ll also find three kinds of tacos — the pulled pork trio stands out — as well as two pasta meals: penne with marinara sauce and a version with blackened chicken and creamy-cheesy alfredo sauce. 

The blackened mahi sandwich is grilled and served with gouda cheese, banana peppers, chipotle aioli, lettuce and tomato on Olde Hearth butter bread, served with your choice of soup, fries,
a house salad or mac and cheese.

Thankfully, at Eden Bar you won’t be battling others for table space. Nor will you be dipping warm pretzel sticks into nacho cheese dip while leaning against the bar. When Enzian reopened, it added extra tables to the grassy area near where early ticket holders used to wait in line. 

Concurrently, a construction project doubled the size of the brick patio near the theater’s iconic fountain. The new tables were placed there, so there’s generally plenty of seating — at least until this article appears and the number of regulars swells even further. (Oh, well, reviewers are obligated to spread the word, I suppose.)

The horseshoe-shaped Brazilian walnut bar itself is different, too. To get a drink you’ll stand in line — six feet apart, please — and order when it’s your turn. The barstools are gone, as is the privilege of hanging out by the colorful Bill Plympton wall mural that depicts Florida wildlife. All but two of the two-seat, high-top tables in the covered bar area are packed away. 

It’s always been not quite a secret that you can order a cocktail at Eden Bar and carry it into the theater if you prefer something more intriguing than the wine and beer offered inside. Cocktail options include the tiki-bar-style handcrafted creations that Robert Carter and Andrew Boesch added after becoming mixology managers two years ago. 

The drink vibe is tropical, using infusions and fresh fruit juices. Some of those labor-intensive libations are too time-consuming to make frequently these days, yet several are still available. So why not throw caution to the wind and swap your pinot for a fruity Birds of Paradise or an Old Fashioned made with Kirk & Sweeney 23-year aged rum?

Moviegoers at Enzian have long met around the bar and at outlying tables, before films or after, for drinks or meals in a congenial and relaxing environment. Now, the alfresco Eden Bar is a dining destination in its own right regardless of what’s on the theater’s marquee. Many guests are attracted by the outdoor setting and the sprawling space that allows for easy distancing and enhanced safety.

Carter and Boesch also create concoctions inspired by films being shown in the theater. Such offerings are made in big batches so moviegoers can get them delivered to their tables on a timely basis. The Dog Island, for example — made with gin, pineapple, almond, lime and bitters — was served during the run of Isle of Dogs, a 2018 animated sci-fi movie from Japan. 

Look for similarly clever cocktail offerings for major holiday seasons and, notably, during the 30th annual Florida Film Festival, which will run from April 9 through 22 and feature a combination of in-person and online screenings.

Here’s another Enzian extra: Fountain Features. Every Wednesday through February, the theater set up a screen and showed a film on the expanded patio area. Because guests — particularly members — were pleased, the outdoor experiment will continue intermittently through spring. 

“It’s our opportunity to still show movies to people who aren’t comfortable going indoors yet,” says Director of Development Janie Pope. “We have such a loyal group of patrons who are looking for ways to support us.” 

Additionally, Enzian pairs with the City of Winter Park to screen a Popcorn Flicks movie once a month in Central Park. Guests reserve their 10- by-10-foot pod, then arrive with blankets or chairs to watch the movie in a socially distant setting. 

The bottom line? Inside or outside, locals can still get an Enzian fix when they want one. And now, you can think of your Eden Bar meal as an unusually tasty charitable contribution to a community institution that adds immeasurably to the area’s panache. 

Enzian/Eden Bar
1300 South Orlando Avenue, Maitland
407-629-1088
enzian.org/food

Hilary Stalder and Jacob Stern had planned a large indoor weeding prior to the pandemic, but regrouped and held a family-only ceremony at Kraft Azalea Gardens. Photo by John Unrue

MARRIAGE, REGARDLESS

Rebecca Swanson and Christopher Lee were married at Knowles Memorial Chapel and had an open-air reception at Mead Botanical Garden. Photo by Gian Carlo

It’s not as if large, extravagant weddings with 100 to 150 guests have become extinct in the era of COVID-19. A more accurate assessment would be that over-the-top events are simply on pause, according to wedding planners who’ve had to adapt along with their clients to new (and hopefully temporary) realities over the past year.

And while everyone ponders how to tie the knot during unprecedented times, one thing remains unchanged: Couples are still getting married, pandemic or not. And they’re getting very creative about it.

In fact, it’s not unusual to hear impatient spouses-to-be declare: “We’re not waiting any longer, we’re getting married. We’re not going to put this off another year. We’re going to do it. It’s going to be smaller, but we’re going to do it.” 

The Outdoor Wedding

Darrin Shifrel, co-owner of Orlando Wedding & Party Rentals in Lake Mary, has provided everything from table settings and chairs to tents and dance floors for weddings over the past 13 years. 

He and other vendors have all kept busy running smaller weddings, with 30 to 40 guests, many of them held outdoors because of health concerns about viral spread in enclosed spaces. 

“I anticipate it staying this way at least through the spring and maybe the summer of 2021,” Shifrel says. “Maybe in the fall or next year, things will swing back or maybe this is just how it’s going to be. Who knows?”

Shifrel says that one upside of downsized nuptials is that couples often are working with same budget. With fewer guests, the extra funds are often used to upgrade the event, including such aspects as the cake, the bridal gown, the photographer and the reception.

When it comes to the venue for a micro wedding, many couples are opting for an intimate backyard gathering. “They’re at their house and feel comfortable; they can control the environment more,” says Shifrel. “I think it makes everyone feel more comfortable than going to some venue.” 

Even couples who hold their weddings in popular venues, such as a ballroom at The Alfond Inn in Winter Park or at The Highland Manor in Apopka, are requesting outdoor spaces with tents, lighting and even drapery. 

Shifrel says that couples who previously booked ballrooms are often moving everything outdoors. “We’re setting up tents and bars and all kinds of stuff in the courtyard [at the Alfond Inn] even though they have a beautiful ballroom. People are just more comfortable doing it that way.”

For small weddings, Winter Park has its share of sought-after venues with outdoor space. Topping the list are the aforementioned Alfond Inn, Casa Feliz Historic Home & Venue, The Capen House at the Polasek and the neighboring Art & History Museums in Maitland. 

Shifrel has also seen an uptick in requests from new Florida residents — couples who moved to the state to get married because of fewer and less stringent restrictions here. 

They’ve scaled back their events since out-of-state guests are reluctant to travel and are opting for a small tents needed to host 10, 20 or 30 guests.

Ellie and Drew Watts were married at the Capen House, adjacent to the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. Photo by Kristen Weaver Photography

What to Serve

When planning the menu for small receptions, Shantel Campbell, marketing specialist for Arthur’s Creative Events & Catering, says that many couples are gravitating toward multicourse plated meals that offer a true dinner experience.

With smaller guest counts and clients trying to maintain social distancing, some couples are making reception dining the main event. Says Campbell: “With multiple courses, guests are able to enjoy their dinner and each other’s company in a more relaxed manner.”

Food choices for weddings are more eclectic these days. Multiple chef-inspired stations, formal five-course dinners or even fun late-night snack stations — such as bars with flaming doughnuts (a signature offering from Arthur’s Creative Events & Catering) — can add panache to a smaller gathering. 

Campbell notes that with fewer guests, there’s more to spend per person. A multicourse plated meal is the easy way to go for a small group, she says. 

Examples of entrées from Arthur’s menu that won’t necessarily be found on a buffet include braised beef short ribs, center cut filet with jumbo Tuscan shrimp and coriander-crusted lamb chop with citrus seared scallops.

Flaming doughnuts can add panache to a small gathering. Photo by Gary Bogdon

Given the times we live in, caterers are well-versed in safety measures and always masked. Photo by Gary Bogdon

Choosing Flowers

Whether a couple wants to transform an entire venue or simply order bouquets and centerpieces, flowers and weddings remain synonymous, says Lee Forrest, owner of Lee Forrest Design in Orlando.

Forrest has worked weddings of all sizes, but “smaller weddings can be more luxurious,” he adds. Since there are now fewer tables, there’s more space to adorn, allowing florists to let their imaginations run wild — within budget, of course.

For example, a couple may choose massive centerpieces for tables or fill open ballroom space with lush greenery. Forrest’s design team creates everything from bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages to arches, chuppahs, and altar and aisle décor as well as special cocktail-hour settings.

As a boutique florist specializing in weddings, Forrest welcomes any fanciful idea a couple might bring — and he enjoys the challenge of making it happen. 

“We love people who want something cool and interesting,” he says. “We’re known for being more edgy.” Some of Forrest’s designs use wire mixed with flowers to create a sculptured look, or feathers and crystals worked into floral arrangements. 

This past February, Forrest had the honor of transforming a balcony at Orlando City Hall into a magical setting for the wedding of Susie Shields and Mayor Buddy Dyer. 

The new Mrs. Dyer describes it as a “flower wonderland.” The couple’s wedding, which pulled together in three weeks, was rather spontaneous. “We said, ‘What are we waiting for’ … and the first person I called was Lee,” says Orlando’s new First Lady. 

The Dyers’ small casual wedding — with just 10 guests — took place on a balcony, which was not only outdoors but also a special place to the mayor, who had performed several weddings there.

Forrest’s first questions to Susie were: “What dress are you wearing?” and “What are your favorite colors and flowers?” Even though Shields hadn’t decided on her dress yet — the bride ultimately wore a Florida-inspired green coral-patterned mid-length dress, and the groom wore a white guayabera shirt — she did send Forrest a photo of the balcony. 

Forrest’s team created a bouquet of pink tulips and white tulips, White O’Hara garden roses, Juliet garden roses, blush hydrangea, blush Anna roses, white lisianthus and stock flowers of white and pale pink. The same grouping decorated the balcony’s rail with green leafy swag draped between each cluster. 

 After the grim events of 2020, Forrest encourages use of colored flowers, which add much-needed cheerfulness to any occasion. Deeper pinks, burgundy and blue are showing up more often in his floral designs, he says. 

Other choice flowers include garden roses, peonies, parrot tulips and orchids. However, the time of year influences which flowers are in season and economical to use. Although Forrest can get just about any type of flower a couple wants, the price will be higher if it isn’t in season.

Looking ahead, Forrest is optimistic that the end of 2021 and 2022 will see the return of bigger weddings — and his bookings for larger receptions reflect that optimistic viewpoint.

With the money saved by hosting fewer guests, some couples are splurging on floral arrangements. Photo by Gary Bogdon

Yes to the Dress

Every bride wants to find the perfect dress for her wedding day. At The Bridal Finery in Winter Park, co-owner Roberta Noronha has helped her customers accomplish that goal for more than 10 years.

Some prefer a private appointment experience for the creation of a custom wedding gown, while others choose to buy their dream dress off the rack. To accommodate both types of shoppers The Bridal Finery operates two separate boutiques.

It really doesn’t matter if the wedding is big or small — brides, Noronha has found, aren’t willing to compromise on their wedding dresses. 

“I think they’ve realized how important wedding dresses have become, especially with so many postponements and changes in plans,” she says. “The one thing that doesn’t have to change is the wedding dress.”

Regardless of age, venue and what’s currently trendy, the dress should represent a bride’s personal style. A person who normally wears fitted, tailored clothing may find a sleek, slim-fitted crepe dress with a dramatic pooling train to be an ideal reflection of her personal brand.

A bride who wears prints, patterns and color may opt for a full flowing gown with lace and hand-sewn beading. Lace never goes out of style, says Noronha. Types of lace and different layering techniques may change, but the beauty of lace is iconic.

Even though brides may not walk down a long aisle to the strains of Felix Mendelssohn’s Wedding March at today’s smaller weddings, the train is still an important part of the ensemble. Together with a seductive veil, trains add drama. 

The headpiece is what sets a bride apart from her guests, Noronha adds. Adding a piece of jewelry to the hair — barrette, halo, hair comb — or in addition to the veil, is the finishing touch. 

Noronha’s advice to brides: “You have to pick a dress that you love and one that you feel comfortable in. It needs to be you in a bridal version.”

Some brides know their style and what they want in a dress. Gibby Manatad-Folk grew up walking past The Collection Bridal in Winter Park, and already knew that one day she would walk into the bridal salon and pick out her wedding dress. 

At age 29, she and her fiancé were planning their April 2020 destination wedding in Thailand, where she has family, before travel restrictions derailed the couple’s plans. They opted instead for a small family-only wedding at home.

“I still got the dress I love,” she says of her sleekly silhouetted Inbal Dror gown of lace and beading, with a voluminous front bow and luxurious train. 

Wearing her classic but playful gown and wearing a white top hat with a tulle veil, she said, “I do” at Winter Park City Hall. Her 12 guests then headed to Manatad-Folks’ family home to indulge in a dinner around the theme “Springtime in Shanghai.” 

What was more important than the size of the wedding was being together with family, she says. When international travel returns, they plan to have a symbolic celebration in Thailand, hopefully next July on their one-year anniversary.

At The Collection Bridal in Winter Park, owner Millie Harris has been selling wedding attire for more than 37 years. Today she finds herself dressing not only young brides like Manatad-Folk but the daughters of brides to whom she sold wedding gowns 20-plus years ago. “We love that we have become multigenerational,” says Harris about her customers.

Although Harris has seen her share of celebrations, she has noticed that at today’s smaller weddings brides are choosing plainer dresses for ceremonies and more elaborate ones for receptions. Also, some couples who held scaled-back weddings are planning large receptions on or near their first anniversaries.

“A smaller wedding is more intimate, more romantic,” says Harris. “It allows the couple to concentrate on things such as elegance, or tableware, flowers and the dress. After all, who really has 250 close friends?”

Since wedding gowns aren’t subject to annual seasonal changes, it’s not uncommon to buy a dress one to two years in advance of the wedding date. In fact, the wedding market is always a year ahead, explains salon manager Roya Mahootchi. 

“We just bought dresses for fall 2021, but they are not seasonal,” she says. “We have dresses that are traditional, classic and timeless. They don’t go out of style.”

Besides gorgeous designer wedding gowns by Carolina Herrera and Monique Lhuillier, The Collection Bridal carries mother-of-the-bride dresses that can be custom ordered so you won’t see someone else wearing the same outfit — always a risk with department store-bought apparel. 

Bridesmaid and flower girl dresses are also available. From the day you buy a dress until the day you pick it up for the wedding, the staff will do in-house alterations — extend a train, add sleeves or plunge the neckline — press the dress and store it for you.

Carina Gerscovich and Craig Borkon were married on the grounds of the Alfond Inn in a beautifully draped tent. Photo by Gary Bogdon

The Invitations

Since the beginning of 2021, the phone at Maureen H. Hall Stationery and Invitations in Winter Park has been ringing. Couples who put off getting married in 2020 were no longer waiting to tie the knot; they were ready to order wedding invitations. 

And, Hall says, the orders are big — 100 to 150 invitations. The only difference, adds Hall, is that many couples had changed venues from indoors to outdoors. The Interlachen Country Club and the Winter Park Racquet Club, both with gorgeous outdoor spaces, have been popular choices, she adds.

Another reason for the rush is that couples who had small weddings in 2020 are now planning big receptions for 2021 and 2022. They want exquisite invitations to their long-awaited celebrations.

“We sell classic invitations that in 20 years, you’ll look at and say it’s just as gorgeous today as it was then,” says Hall. “You can’t go wrong with a traditional invitation. It never looks dated.”

Unlike ordering on the Internet, an appointment with Hall and other custom stationery vendors offers an opportunity to handpick your invitations, feel the quality of the paper and visually explore design techniques such as engraving, etching, debossed framing and foil stamping. 

Among Hall’s exclusive vendors are Crane & Co., Vera Wang, William Arthur and Stationery Works. Hall helps couples design a wedding suite, composed of the invitation, envelope, response card and extra touches such as a liner or ribbon.

When selecting an invitation, Hall says that it’s usually the venue that dictates the style. If the wedding is at the Ritz-Carlton, for example, a formal invitation is appropriate. At the Winter Park Farmers’ Market, perhaps not so much.

The invitation is a powerful indicator of how formal the wedding will be and the dress code expected of guests. Even the color of ink is taken into consideration. For example, a fall wedding invitation would likely be printed in hunter green or burgundy to complement the season.

In summary, it doesn’t matter if the wedding is small or large — brides and grooms have found ways to join together in matrimony through world wars, depressions and, most recently, a pandemic. After all, the union is supposed to be for better or worse.

And after the past year, everyone seems to be looking ahead toward something better. 


Hilary Stalder and Jacob Stern had planned a large indoor weeding prior to the pandemic, but regrouped and held a family-only ceremony at Kraft Azalea Gardens. Photo by John Unrue

Love Will Find a Way

Hilary Stalder arrived home from her bachelorette getaway to a very different Central Florida than the one she had left a few short days before. While she was away, COVID-19 became a pandemic and major attractions closed. Bars and restaurants quickly followed. 

Suddenly her April 18 wedding to long-time beau Jacob Stern was thrown into flux. With the ceremony — slated for the Winter Park Racquet Club — just 30 days away, the couple had to make some quick decisions.

“It really wasn’t hard,” Hilary says. “Our parents and some of our guests were in high-risk groups. We looked at what was going on and quickly realized it wasn’t going to get any better any time soon. Canceling the big ceremony was clearly the only decision we could make for us, our family and friends.” 

So how do you go about pulling the plug? Hilary and Jacob, both 31, started by notifying their 150-plus guests and breaking the news to their vendors. 

“For the most part, our vendors were understanding,” she adds. “We felt so bad because most of them knew they were probably not going to be working for a while. It was heartbreaking to have to undo everything we had done in the last 10 months of planning.” 

Still Hilary and Jacob did, in fact, get married April 18. “The world had changed but not our love for each other; we wanted to be married,” Hilary says. “We knew it wasn’t going to look like what we had planned. But that was OK.” 

The couple — who both work for general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie and met at work — pivoted and quickly put together a small, intimate ceremony at Kraft Azalea Gardens. Adds Hilary: “The city said they weren’t renting any of their venues, but they wouldn’t kick us out — so we went for it.” 

An outdoor venue requires a less formal bridal gown than the one at the seamstress (which is still there). So, with stores closed, Hilary looked online. Because of COVID-19, delivery times couldn’t be guaranteed — but she was fortunate enough to find a resale version of the dress she wanted. 

Her florist, Lee Forrest Design, put together a bouquet and boutonniere and delivered it to their home the morning of their wedding.

“[Forrest] was so wonderful, when we told him our plans, he said, ‘Let me see what I have in the shop,’ and he created the perfect bouquet,” Hilary says. When he delivered it to their home, he stood at a safe distance on the sidewalk. 

Naturally, it rained on April 18 and Hilary recalls saying a prayer: “God. I’ve been really cool with all of this, but can you just give me this one?” As the wedding party arrived at the garden, the sun came out and her long-awaited nuptials were held on a beautiful afternoon. 

Hilary and Jacob’s guest list was downsized to include just immediate family — a party of 12 including the couple — and their reception was moved from the Racquet Club to their backyard with takeout from Hillstone. 

But Hilary is happy with how everything turned out: “The wedding ended up being ‘more us,’ and we’re happy with that.” Naturally, she was less happy with losing several deposits for the original wedding. 

The government of Thailand, for example, kept their up-front payment. Which is one reason they still plan to go on a belated honeymoon next year to the Southeast Asian country.


Venue Guide

ROLLINS COLLEGE

Alfond Inn
300 East New England Avenue, Winter Park
407-278-8159
thealfondinn.com/meetings-events/weddings

Hilton Garden Inn Winter Park
1275 Lee Road, Winter Park
407-755-3733
hilton.com

Knowles Memorial Chapel and the Rice Family Pavilion
1000 Holt Avenue, Winter Park
(Rollins College Campus)
407-646-2541
rollins.edu/chapel/wedding-information

OUTDOORS

Central Park Rose Garden
250 South Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-599-3397
cityofwinterpark.org/venues

Kraft Azalea Garden
1305 Alabama Drive, Winter Park
407-599-3397
cityofwinterpark.org/venues

Mead Botanical Garden
1300 South Denning Drive, Winter Park
407-599-3397
cityofwinterpark.org/venues or meadgarden.org

HISTORIC PLACES

Capen House at the Polasek
633 Osceola Avenue, Winter Park
407-636-9317
capenhouse.com

Casa Feliz Historic Home & Venue
656 North Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-628-0230
casafelizvenue.com

The Chapel & Hudson’s Cellar Hannibal Square
16 West Lyman Avenue, Winter Park
407-644-3151
chapelandcellar.com

Winter Park Country Club
761 Old England Avenue, Winter Park
407-599-3416
cityofwinterpark.org/venues

Winter Park Farmers’ Market
200 West New England Avenue
407-599-3341
cityofwinterpark.org/venues

CLUBHOUSES

University Club of Winter Park
841 North Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-644-6149
interparkvenue.com

Woman’s Club of Winter Park
419 South Interlachen Avenue, Winter Park
407-644-2237
womansclubofwinterpark.com

COMMUNITY CENTERS

Winter Park Community Center
721 West New England Avenue, Winter Park
407-599-3275
cityofwinterpark.org/venues

PRIVATE CLUBS

Interlachen Country Club
2245 Interlachen Court, Winter Park
952-924-7406
interlachcc.org
Note: You must be a member or be sponsored by a member.

Winter Park Racquet Club
2111 Vía Tuscany, Winter Park
407-644-2226
wprc.net
Note: You must be a member or be sponsored by a member.

NEW VENUES

The Winter Park Library and Events Center
1050 West Morse Boulevard, Winter Park
407-599-3525
cityofwinterpark.org/venues
Note: The venue is not yet open, but reservations are now being accepted.

Services Guide

BEAUTY SALONS

Bangz Park Avenue
228 North Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-645-2264
bangzparkavenue.com

Dolce Vita Salon
1286 Orange Avenue, Winter Park
407-374-3333
dolcevitaorlando.com

Gary Lambert Salon & Nail Bar
517 South Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-628-8659
lambertsalon.com

Salon Ciseaux
658 North Wymore Avenue, Winter Park
407-865-5881
salonciseaux.com

Stella Luca
Hannibal Square
433 West New England Avenue, Winter Park
407-740-7006

Winter Park Village
460 North Orlando Avenue, Winter Park
407-740-6711
stellaluca.com

Una Donna Piu
216 Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-628-4555
unadonnapiu.com

BRIDAL ATTIRE

Calvet Couture Bridal
Winter Park Village
520 Orlando Avenue, Winter Park
407-951-5670
calvetcouture.com

The Bridal Finery
976 North Orange Avenue, Suite C, Winter Park
407-960-5225
thebridalfinery.com

The Collection Bridal and Formal
301 North Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-740-6003
thecollectionbridal.com

The Seamstress
1143 Orange Avenue, Winter Park
407-740-7544
seamstresswinterpark.com

CATERERS

Arthur’s Creative Events & Catering
860 Sunshine Lane, Altamonte Springs
407-331-1993
arthurscatering.com

Cuisiniers
5470 Lake Howell Road, Winter Park
407-975-8763
cuisinierscater.com

Dubsdread Catering
549 West Par Street, Orlando
407-809-5740
dubsdreadcatering.com

John Michael Exquisite Weddings and Catering
627 Virginia Drive, Orlando
407-894-6671
johnmichaelevents.com

Puff ’n Stuff Events Catering
250 Rio Drive, Orlando
407-629-7833
puffnstuff.com

FLORISTS

Atmospheres Floral and Décor
2121 West Fairbanks Avenue, Winter Park
321-972-2976
atmospheresfloral.com

Fairbanks Florist
805 South Orlando Avenue, Winter Park
321-695-5440
fairbanksflorist.net

Winter Park Florist
537 North Virginia Avenue, Winter Park
407-647-5014
winterparkflorist.com

Lee Forrest Designs
51 North Bumby Avenue Orlando
407-770-0440
leeforrestdesign.com

INVITATIONS

Maureen H. Hall Stationery and Invitations
116 Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-629-6999
maureenhallinvitations.com

Rifle Paper Co.
558 West New England Avenue, Suite 150, Winter Park
407-622.7679
riflepaperco.com

JEWELERS

Atelier Coralia Leets Jewelry
307 South Park Avenue, Winter Park
321-203-2716
coralialeets.com

Be On Park
152 South Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-644-1106
beonpark.com

JC Designs
307 South Park Avenue, Winter Park
321-444-6128
jcdesignersllc.com

Jewelers on the Park
116 South Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-622-0222
jewelersonthepark.com

Reynolds & Co. Jewelers
232 North Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-645-2278
reynoldsjeweler.com

Simmons Jewelers
220 North Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-644-3829
hsimmonsjewelers.com

GROOM’S ATTIRE

John Craig Clothier
132 South Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-629-7944
johncraigclothier.com

Leonardo 5th Avenue
121 East Welbourne Avenue, Winter Park
407.622.0296
leonardofifthavenue.com

Siegel’s Winter Park
330 South Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-645-3100
siegelsonline.com

MUSIC

The Buzzcatz
Contact: Ricky Sylvia
321-277-5522
thebuzzcatz.band

The Elite Show Band
7512 Dr. Phillips Boulevard, Orlando
888-400-5013
eliteshowband.com

Leonard Brothers Band
info@leonardbrothers.com
leonardbrothers.com

Weddings Only DJ Entertainment
Contact: Brian Scott
407-493-2617
weddingsonlydjentertainment.com

PARTY RENTALS

A Chair Affair
613 Triumph Court, Orlando
386-479-4308
chairaffairrentals.com

Fenice Events
1255 La Quinta Dr., Orlando
407-404-1895
feniceevents.com

Orlando Wedding & Party Rentals
2452 Lake Emma Road, Lake Mary
407-739-5740
orlandoweddingandpartyrentals.com

RW Style
1075 Florida Central Parkway, Longwood
407-374-2534
rw-brands.com

PHOTOGRAPHERS

Allan Jay Images
407-252-8094
allanjayimages.com

Art Faulkner Photography
805 South Orlando Avenue, Winter Park
407-461-6628

Brian Adams Photo
321-206-6285
brianadamsphoto.com

Cricket’s Photo & Cinema
16618 Broadway Avenue, Winter Garden
407-484-2931
cricketsphoto.com

Gian Carlo Photographer
407-312-7932
giancarlophotography.com

Jensen Larson Photography
407-409-8499
jensenlarsonweddings.com

Kristen Weaver Photography
1624 Smithfield Way, Suite 1126, Oviedo
407-476-4597
kristenweaver.com

Rudy & Marta Photography
321-270-9524
rudyandmarta.com

Sunshine Photographics
13953 Lake Mary Jane Road, Orlando
407-481-8425
sunshinephotographics.com

Award-winning Winter Park artist Stacy Barter loves still-life images and landscapes. But she’s also an accomplished painter of people, as this issue’s cover, Pausing in My Red Tutu, demonstrates.

A DANCER’S CONTEMPLATIVE MOMENT

Award-winning Winter Park artist Stacy Barter loves still-life images and landscapes. But she’s also an accomplished painter of people, as this issue’s cover, Pausing in My Red Tutu, demonstrates.

Winter Park artist Stacy Barter constantly strives to capture depth and dimension in her oil paintings and prefers to work from life — whether it’s outside with landscapes or in her studio on still-life images of flowers (her favorite). She’s also a master at figure studies. 

Pausing in My Red Tutu, an oil-on-linen image of a dancer taking a break, was completed last year and first displayed virtually at the prestigious annual Winter Park Paint Out sponsored by the Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. That’s where we saw it and an idea took shape.

Since this issue of Winter Park Magazine contains a major story on the enduring legacy of Edith Royal and the Royal School of Dance, it seemed appropriate to feature a dancer on the cover. And this contemplative work by one of the region’s most accomplished artists seemed to fit the bill beautifully.

“[Painting] is my life, my passion and my contribution,” says Barter, who began drawing in high school when a friend invited her to paint Christmas-themed watercolor images on postcards. She later attended Parsons School of Design in New York City but graduated from the University of Central Florida in 1987 with a degree in — of all things — journalism.

“I just didn’t have the family support to think of art as a full-time career at that time,” recalls Barter. But that all changed after a five-year stint in public relations and marketing, when she attended an oil painting workshop by Gregg Kreutz, an instructor at the Art Students League in New York City. 

Kreutz has written several highly regarded books on oil painting, including the classic Problem Solving for Oil Painters: Recognizing What’s Wrong and How to Make it Right — in print for 34 years — and the more recent Oil Painting Essentials: Mastering Portraits, Figures, Still Lifes, Landscapes, and Interiors.

Says Barter: “Seeing what [Kreutz] could do with
minimal brush strokes ... such rich darks and glowing lights, such depth. It was overwhelming. Oil painting became my consuming passion.” As a result of that workshop, Barter has been a full-time painter now for more than 25 years.

And a successful one, at that, winning many top awards and seeing her work snapped up for numerous permanent collections. In 2020 alone — a year during which many art exhibitions were canceled or converted to online events — Barter snared an array of awards for excellence and was granted signature member status in the National Oil Painters of America and the American Artists Professional League.

Her crowded mantelpiece also holds a slew of other recent accolades, including a Best in Show from It’s Only Human: The Figure in Art at the Crealdé School of Art and the Judges Choice of Excellence from the Maitland Rotary Art Festival. And for the third time, she won the Helen DeCozen Award for Best Floral from the American Artists Professional League’s Grand National Exhibition.

Barter — whose husband of 30 years, Terry Barter, remains her business manager and biggest booster — continues to study with master artists whom she admires and conducts workshops around the country and around the world. She’s on the faculty at Crealdé — inspiring other artists the way Kreutz inspired her — and participates in numerous plein air events, including the annual event at the Polasek.

As for this issue’s cover painting, the subject is Megan Crawford, a local dancer and model who donned a tutu for a series of four works by Barter painted in her Winter Park studio. “I like to capture the quiet times,” she says. “And I loved the colors.”

So did we — as well as the theme and the relevance to this issue’s dance content. If you enjoy Barter’s paintings — and who doesn’t? — then check out her Facebook page or see a gallery at her website, stacybarter.com. You can also go to @stacybarterart and follow her on Instagram.

Cynthia Edmonds, whose works have appeared on Winter Park Magazine covers three times, is a popular plein-air painter who lives in the house where she grew up near Lakemont Elementary School.

I’LL HAVE ANOTHER CUP OF COFFEE

Cynthia Edmonds, whose works have appeared on Winter Park Magazine covers three times, is a popular plein-air painter who lives in the house where she grew up near Lakemont Elementary School.

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. In fact, an image of her garden appeared on the cover of the Summer 2019 issue.

Park Avenue Café — the third painting by Edmonds to grace a Winter Park Magazine cover – marks a departure from nature themes and captures a familiar scene at the iconic Briarpatch Restaurant, where countless Winter Parkers enjoy breakfast, lunch and people-watching.

That’s never been more true than now, in the era of COVID-19, when many are choosing to dine outdoors for safety reasons. Although Park Avenue Café predates the pandemic, Edmonds updated the painting to add masks to the server and several bystanders.

“This scene is so Winter Park,” says Edmonds. “I especially liked the way the figures were backlit by the sun shining from Central Park across the street. The graphic design of the awnings and roofline also appealed to me.”

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

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 provided 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, is a signature member of the American Impressionist Society and Plein Air Florida. She participates in plein-air exhibitions throughout the U.S. — including the annual Paint Out Winter Park, sponsored by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens.

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 wildlife habitat garden and around Winter Park, but also finds inspiration in Maine, France and Italy. More of Edmonds’ work can be seen at cynthiaedmonds.com.

Edyth Bassler Bush

HERE COMES ‘THE EDYTH’

The Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation has recently begun work on a new, 16,934-square-foot headquarters to replace its existing building at the corner of East Welbourne and South Knowles avenues, a block off Park Avenue. The project will be “transformative,” according to foundation David A. Odahowski, president of the foundation for 30 years.

Could picture-postcard Winter Park possibly become even more exceptional? For generations it has been a hub for dining, shopping, education and the arts. And it’s one of the most charming small cities in the U.S., highlighted by genteel, old-world ambiance and the business district’s signature, oak-shaded Central Park.

Rollins College, a top-rated liberal arts institution that anchors the southern terminus of Park Avenue, appears on virtually every compilation of the nation’s most beautiful campuses. And, from downtown, a half-dozen one-of-a-kind museums are within walking distance from one another.

Still, despite this superabundance of style and substance, the answer to the question is yes. The city could — and soon will — increase its already off-the-charts cultural and intellectual quotient. 

The Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation has recently begun work on a new, 16,934-square-foot headquarters to replace its existing building at the corner of East Welbourne and South Knowles avenues, a block off Park Avenue (next to the popular Cocina 214 restaurant). 

But this won’t be just another building. “The Edyth,” set to be completed in 2022, will house not only the 49-year-old foundation’s administrative offices. There’ll also be community meeting spaces that will bustle with activities ranging from classes, performances, art exhibitions and more.

“I think this project will be transformative,” says David A. Odahowski, now entering his 30th year as president of the foundation. “We’ll have to start calling Park Avenue ‘The Avenue of Ideas.’”

Odahowski is referring not only to the foundation’s project but also to the Innovation Triangle, which is planned by Rollins on what’s now known as the Lawrence Center — a city block bounded by New England, Interlachen, Lyman and Knowles avenues, just down the street from The Edyth.

According to college officials, the 40,000-square-foot building now occupied by Valley National Bank and other tenants would remain on the site’s northwest corner. Two new buildings — one housing the Roy E. Crummer Graduate School of Business and one housing the Cornell Fine Arts Museum — would be built on the southeast and northeast corners, respectively. The third component of the triangle is 72-bed expansion of the college-owned Alfond Inn.

Each component of the Innovation Triangle is dependent upon fundraising, which COVID-19 has temporarily upended. Still, plans call for the project — which earned city approvals earlier this year — to continue apace when the health crisis resolves and economic stability returns. 

The Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation, however, is pushing ahead now with a view toward positioning itself for a post-pandemic world in which philanthropy will be more important than ever.

“This too shall pass,” adds Odahowski, an attorney by training who ran the Wasie Foundation in Minneapolis before finding a decidedly warmer home in sunny Central Florida. “Between our project and the Innovation Triangle, downtown Winter Park will be buzzing,”

Ironically, Odahowski’s Minneapolis connection continued in Winter Park. Archibald Granville “Archie” Bush and Edyth Bassler Bush, his wife and the local foundation’s benefactor, were also from Minneapolis, and became seasonal Winter Park residents in 1949.

Odahowski continues: “Our new home will reshape our ability to serve the community in a very dramatic way. Our intention is to create a gathering place that will spark creative new ideas, connect individuals and organizations doing good in the community, and provide the tools, space, and resources that many nonprofit organizations would not have access to otherwise.”

Odahowski, who prefers to keep a low profile, has nonetheless come to be known as “Mr. Winter Park” for his scrupulous stewardship of the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation — which supports numerous good causes in the city where it was founded nearly 50 years ago. Odahowski has been at the foundation’s helm for 30 years.

Designed by SchenkelShultz Architecture, The Edyth will feature a glass facade, a two-story atrium and three levels — each with a specific purpose. The layout is comparable to a theater, a nod to Edyth’s advocacy for the arts and the foundation’s history of supporting the local arts community.

The first floor will be dedicated to meeting rooms and open space for use by local groups. Odahowski describes it as “a hub for creativity and connection.”

The second floor, dubbed “The Archibald” in honor of Edyth’s husband, will house a community board room equipped with state-of-the-art technology. The third floor will encompass administrative offices and perhaps another nonprofit tenant.

Since it was formed, the foundation has distributed 4,141 grants to nonprofit organizations totaling more than $113 million. Most of the grants have gone to nonprofit organizations involved with education, healthcare and programs for the underprivileged “that help people help themselves.” 

But the foundation casts a wide net — and was the first and largest contributor to the under-construction Winter Park Public Library and Events Center in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The $750,000 matching grant gave the project — which was controversial in some quarters — a seal of approval from one of the region’s most respected philanthropic organizations.

Most Central Floridians know the Bush name because of the foundation and its wide-ranging work. But the people who made it all possible have fascinating backstories.

Edyth Bassler Bush

Edyth (1887-1972), whose name would one day become synonymous with philanthropic giving in Central Florida, was a successful actress, ballet dancer and playwright until she gave up her stage career in 1919 to marry Archie (1887-1966), sales manager for the then-struggling Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing company. 

Archie was not wealthy at the time — but he later became the chairman and largest individual shareholder of the company known worldwide as 3M. The Bushes first visited Winter Park in 1949, buying a winter home and immersing themselves in civic life. 

Most notably, they donated to Rollins and helped found Winter Park Memorial Hospital (now AdventHealth Winter Park). After Archie’s death, Edyth decided to settle permanently in Winter Park and focused on giving to programs that advanced education and the arts. 

In 1967, for example, she funded construction of Loch Haven Park’s Central Florida Civic Theater, which was renamed the Edyth Bush Theater following her death. (It’s now known as Orlando Repertory Theater.)

The Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation, formed in 1973, has kept on giving. Rollins has been a major beneficiary, receiving almost $15 million — including an $800,000 gift for construction of the original Archibald Granville Bush Science Center. (In 2013, the foundation gave another $1 million for renovation and expansion of the building.) 

In collaboration with the college, it operates the Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership, which provides consulting services to some 3,000 nonprofit executives and board members from around the country every year. 

In 2015, the foundation won the Outstanding Foundation Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals — earning the same honor from both the international chapter and the regional chapter — by effectively carrying out Edyth’s instructions: “Make Central Florida a better place for all of its citizens.” 

Odahowski, who prefers to keep a low profile, has nonetheless come to be known as “Mr. Winter Park” for his scrupulous stewardship of the foundation — which supports numerous good causes in the city where it was founded. 

The epitome of “Minnesota nice,” Odahowski earned a law degree from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul. He likes to point out that as a student, he studied in Hamline’s Bush Memorial Library — named for Archie Bush — never dreaming that he would someday head a foundation that would fund yet another educational building named for the self-made millionaire.

“I’m always asking about the highest and best needs of the people with whom I meet,” says Odahowski. “My role is that of a fiduciary of the philanthropic legacy of Edyth Bush. It’s not my foundation, nor my money, nor my priorities. I’m here to prepare the next generation of board and staff to carry the torch and burn a brighter flame of servant leadership for the future.”

Although it’s basically a sandwich shop, George’s makes fantastic cookies as well as brownies and other yummy baked desserts. They’re made in small batches, Paul says, which means they’re less greasy and more robust-looking than most restaurant cookies.

BY GEORGE, IT’S TIME FOR LUNCH

Photography by Rafael Tongol

George’s Cafe is owned and operated by George John Paul II (right) and his best friend, Alice Eide (left). The welcoming location (site of the former Brandywine’s Delicatessen) offers plenty of bang for the buck.

Those $130 steaks we feature here, those artfully plated luxury foods, those chef passion projects — poof! Gone from our minds. In this issue, we’ll get our culinary kicks from a simple sandwich or well-made salad featuring fresh ingredients. Period. For now, we have no bandwidth for the fussed-up feasts which, until March 2020, were a highlight of Winter Park’s dining scene.

Introducing George’s Café, although most of you probably know George — or at least his food. The eatery, which since April has served daytime meals in the old Brandywine’s Delicatessen location on North Park Avenue, is the right restaurant for these challenging times. 

Here’s why: The food is straightforward. The service is friendly. And the outside seating area is expansive. Trifecta!

George’s Café is a sandwich shop, known also for its oversized cookies. It now serves breakfast, too, in a homey space filled with mismatched furniture and doodads that represent the interests of owner George John Paul II. (He was named for his father, not the Beatles, so there’s no Ringo.) 

Still, those interests, as you may have guessed, include Beatles’ memorabilia. There are also decorative giant fish and assorted Key West gewgaws. The floor stickers reminding customers to stand six feet apart are canine paws because, according to Paul, his English bulldog pets have been “the loves of my life.”

George’s specialty sandwiches include the Philly cheesesteak (center), which features USDA Choice prime rib sliced and topped with grilled onions and peppers plus provolone on a hoagie. Side choices include house-made french fries and macaroni salad The chicken salad sandwich (top left) comes on a croissant with a choice of sides that includes potato salad and roasted beets. The Abigail (top right) is the cafe’s version of a Reuben. It’s made with house-roasted corned beef, fresh sauerkraut and imported Swiss and Russian dressing, then grilled on fresh, house-made bread.

You might remember George’s Café from its small storefront location on Lee Road — then known as George’s Gourmet Cookies and Catering, which operated there for five years prior to moving in the spring. I had heard about it often from enthusiastic friends, so finally I went for lunch a while back. 

The establishment’s name didn’t sound much like a sitdown restaurant, but what the heck. At the time, I was thrilled to see an egg-salad sandwich on the menu, since I had been on a futile 20-year quest to find one I liked at an Orlando-area restaurant. But I was disappointed with the sandwich, and had not since returned to George’s.

Yet, friends continued to talk up the place, and I didn’t understand why. Then it occurred to me that my bafflement was based on a single experience from several years earlier. Perhaps it was time to try again. 

On a recent Wednesday, I walked into the relocated George’s Café and ordered several sandwiches with two side dishes apiece as well as chili, two green salads (classic with mandarin oranges and pecans, and brie and apple with maple walnut dressing, both excellent), two cookies and an indulgent Danish. 

I thoroughly and completely enjoyed every single item — except the egg-salad sandwich. I guess I’m just impossible to please when it comes to egg salad.

Here’s what I learned: George’s Café makes its food from scratch. Unlike most Central Florida restaurants, which buy pre-cooked and often pre-sliced deli meats, George’s uses its oven. 

How about a healthy lunch? The fresh beet and goat cheese salad (left) encompasses creamy goat cheese, romaine lettuce, field greens and pine nuts with a balsamic dressing. Also shown is a brie and apple salad, which is a full meal loaded with wedges of imported cheese, crisp apple slices and roasted pecans with maple-walnut dressing. George’s award-winning chili (right) is topped with sour cream, white cheddar cheese, green onions and Applewood bacon. It comes with cornbread or any other kind of bread your heart desires.

It roasts turkey breast, which you’ll find in the Puddsy, a baguette sandwich with bacon, muenster cheese and house-made sun-dried tomato dressing. The steak in the Elizabeth is tenderloin topped with sautéed onion, smoked provolone cheese and Béarnaise sauce. The French dip is loaded with USDA Choice prime rib and accompanied by French onion au jus and house-made steak sauce. 

And let’s not forget the Reuben, which here is called the Abigail after George’s first French bulldog. It’s made with house-roasted corned beef and rolled (I would have preferred it flat; what is this, TooJay’s?) with fresh sauerkraut, imported Swiss and Russian dressing before being grilled on fresh-baked bread.

The bacon is, of course, Applewood — the best. The potato salad, the cole slaw with celery seeds, the chunky applesauce — all made in the kitchen. The salad dressings are house-made, as are the potato chips. The breads are baked in-house from imported French dough. A pre-pandemic rye was flown in from New York; it’ll be back eventually.

“I want people to feel that our food is just like what their grandmother made,” Paul adds. Except, presumably, you never got a bill at your grandmother’s house. Which is to say, George’s isn’t cheap — but it’s reasonable for the quality.

Each sandwich is about $15, while salads are in the $12 range. “You get what you pay for,” George says. I agree, although I balked at the $120 bill for my (huuuuge) take-home lunch. Still, I’d go back in a flash. 

Although it’s basically a sandwich shop, George’s makes fantastic cookies as well as brownies and other yummy baked desserts. They’re made in small batches, Paul says, which means they’re less greasy and more robust-looking than most restaurant cookies.

It doesn’t jump out on the menu, but George’s — owned by a devout Catholic who had considered becoming a priest — also offers up some serious old-fashioned Jewish fare. 

The cabbage soup is reminiscent of that served at Ronnie’s, the legendary Orlando deli, which was owned by family friends of Paul’s. Brisket, matzo ball soup and potato pancakes are other staples. And those pickles! The crisp spears are exactly like the half-sours set out on the table in New York delis. George’s makes those, too.

George John Paul II has spent nearly his entire 62 years in Winter Park. You might have used Classic Catering, which Paul started with his late mother, Leona, in 1989. The business closed in 2010, shortly after Leona’s death and the national economic collapse. 

All told, Paul has been in food-related businesses his entire life, starting with his parents’ grocery store and the Holiday House and Hostess House buffet restaurants. 

Paul still does catering gigs. In fact, providing food for events accounts for 60 percent of his business — and the food comes from the same kitchen that the café uses.

“When people eat in our restaurant, I want to let them know this is an example of the quality of our catering food; they’re not two different things,” Paul says. “We use the same prime rib, the same tenderloin.”

That’s how crab cakes Benedict came to be on the breakfast menu. George’s already creates the seafood patties for catered events, so why not share them in the dining room? “From an inventory standpoint, from a consistency standpoint, it just makes sense,” Paul adds.

Now, we need to discuss the cookies. George’s always has a variety of cookies that are big, round and look like scones. They date back to the Classic Catering days, when Paul determined that the company needed a signature item and settled on distinctive cookies. 

This was in the late 1980s, around the time Mrs. Fields, David’s and, locally, Selma’s were changing the cookie business nationwide. Paul tinkered with recipes for two years, throwing out batch after batch of creations that friends assured him were terrific. “I wanted a cookie that didn’t flatten out and didn’t look greasy on top,” he says.

The interior is a homey space filled with mismatched furniture and doodads that represent the interests of owner George John Paul II, which range from Key West culture to Beatles’ music. The café also features an expansive outdoor seating area — perfect for the times.

Paul — inspired by something he had seen on the Food Channel — then began baking cookies in small batches. “With large batches, the heat of the mixer starts to melt the product,” he says. “And that’s where they bleed, and the grease comes out.” 

Also, he found that covering nuts with a light dusting of flour keeps grease at bay. The result is a moist, flavorful cookie. I urge you to try a peanut butter one. And a chocolate chip. The restaurant’s menu proclaims: “Life’s Short. Eat Cookies,” which sounds like excellent advice.

Like any small business, George’s is about relationships as much as food — and Paul’s relationships go back a long way. The Bishop Moore alumnus seems to know, or have gone to school with, pretty much everyone in town.

It’s also about giving back. Paul regularly hands cash to homeless people and is convinced that prayers from one grateful recipient helped to cure a sick friend. He also gives each day’s leftover cookies to the Winter Park Fire-Rescue Department. 

OK, these aren’t huge, gaudy acts of magnanimity. But they’re important to Paul, a believer in karma (although that’s not a term he would likely use). “Gandhi said what we do might be insignificant, but we should do it anyway,” Paul says. “I just think we should try to help one another and be kind — with sincerity.”

Humbly, Paul accepted kindnesses in return when the pandemic struck and his catering engagements were cancelled in rapid succession. The crisis erupted just as he was moving the restaurant into its new space and just as the state banned restaurants from allowing diners to eat on the premises. 

Selling $100 gift cards for $70 was a way to raise quick cash. One local philanthropist and longtime acquaintance, recalls Paul, came in and announced: “I want to buy $50 gift cards for 100 of my friends. No negotiations. This is what I’m going to pay you for them.” The amount, he says, was many times what it should have been.

“It makes you realize that you hear about the horror stories but seldom hear about the people who are supportive,” Paul notes. “We’ve had so many of them. So much of what has happened has been by the grace of God.”

So, when you really need to experience a good version of a food you’ve known forever (OK, maybe not the egg salad) or a friendly smile, George’s Café may be the place to go. “I don’t take myself seriously,” Paul says. “But I take what I do seriously.”

George’s Café
505 North Park Avenue, Winter Park
407-622-1499
georgescafewp.com

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

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