Blu’s carbonara is made with sublimely sweet Maine lobster chunks tossed with prosciutto, scallions and Grana Padano cheese along with delightfully thick bucatini pasta. The “Super Shrimp” sushi roll (top left) sits atop a long deep-green leaf placed on a stylishly curved oblong plate and embellished with a zigzag of eel sauce. Almond coated swordfish (bottom left) is grilled, then topped with brown butter and served with sweet potato purée and a load of way-too-tasty fried brussels sprouts.

Crustacean Destination

JoAnne McMahon is the multi-restaurant entrepreneur behind Blu on the Avenue, where the seafood is fresh and unpretentious. She also owns 310 Park South and, coming soon, Bovine.

It’s kind of all about lobster at Blu on the Avenue. The clawed crustaceans are flown in daily from Maine — where else? — and the swordfish, like the menu’s other finny features, are just as fresh.

Yet, while Blu’s dining room has a certain panache, the space isn’t so formal that you’d feel uneasy settling around a table for dinner with your whiny toddler or bickering teens. 

“It’s not a special-occasion, white-tablecloth establishment,” explains JoAnne McMahon, the multi-restaurant entrepreneur behind this five-year-old eatery. “It’s a little bit more upscale than the 310 concept. It’s hipper, I guess.” 

The 310 to which McMahon refers is neighboring 310 Park South, her first table-service restaurant, which now has clones in downtown Orlando and Lake Nona. Even more so than Blu, 310 was designed to be the opposite of stuffy. 

“Back in 1999, when I opened 310, Park Avenue had very few restaurants, and the restaurants it had were very high end,” she recalls. “They didn’t welcome children. None of them even had highchairs.”

McMahon, who also owns the Partridge Tree gift shop on Park Avenue, recalls that her retail customers often asked her where to take their children for lunch. “There wasn’t much to recommend,” she says.

Over the subsequent two decades, 310 has become an Avenue stalwart, offering family friendly fare from burgers to steaks. Jeans and T-shirts are entirely appropriate attire.

McMahon kept approachability in mind as she developed Blu. It, too, offers highchairs, although the ambiance is more urbane than that of its laid-back sibling. A swervy ceiling feature above the bar adds a sliver of sleek, as do dual waterfalls behind the bar. Subtle theming, such as pictures of sand and shells, carry forth the nautical vibe.

The seafood selections are fresh. The kitchen makes its own sauces and dressings from scratch, while most of the produce is raised locally. Still, the presentation at Blu is noticeably un-fancy. 

The seafood platter at Blu has a highbrow name: plateau de fruits de mer. Its oysters, shrimp and jumbo lump crabmeat are welcomingly fresh and served on a metal compartmentalized plate with a trio of dips.

While the restaurant offers upmarket dishes such as sea scallop risotto and filet Oscar, the menu lists far more sandwich and salad selections than fine-dining entrées. Similarly, the food is presented in an unpretentious way. 

The seafood platter, for example, has a highbrow name: plateau de fruits de mer. Its oysters, shrimp and jumbo lump crabmeat are welcomingly fresh. But they’re served on a metal compartmentalized plate with a trio of dips in the middle and plastic-wrapped saltine-style crackers. 

My dining companion and I concluded that the light brown dip, a mignonette, must have been for the crab, since the cocktail sauce obviously went with the shrimp. And the horseradish — well, that could have gone with the shrimp, too. 

Our server confirmed that the mignonette is, indeed, for the crab, so that’s how we ate it. An internet search later revealed that mignonette dip is designed specifically to pair with raw oysters. I would have welcomed that information as the platter was served. 

Our “Super Shrimp” sushi roll was presented with more dramatic flair. It sits atop a long deep-green leaf placed on a stylishly curved oblong plate and embellished with a zigzag of eel sauce. The base is tempura shrimp, and the flavors work well.

As for entrées, our server told us that “anything with lobster” was the house specialty. That gave us three tempting options: lobster carbonara, a lobster roll and a lobster cobb salad. 

We went with the carbonara, and it was a sound choice. Sublimely sweet Maine lobster chunks are tossed with prosciutto, scallions and Grana Padano cheese along with delightfully thick bucatini pasta. 

Blu’s carbonara (above right) is made with sublimely sweet Maine lobster chunks tossed with prosciutto, scallions and Grana Padano cheese along with delightfully thick bucatini pasta. The “Super Shrimp” sushi roll (above left) sits atop a long deep-green leaf placed on a stylishly curved oblong plate and embellished with a zigzag of eel sauce. Almond coated swordfish (bottom left) is grilled, then topped with brown butter and served with sweet potato purée and a load of way-too-tasty fried brussels sprouts.

We also ordered the swordfish, which is coated in a layer of thin almond slices, then grilled. Add brown butter, a sweet potato purée and a load of way-too-tasty fried brussels sprouts and you’ve got a satisfying meal.

I usually skip dessert, but when the server explained that McMahon personally prepares the sweet indulgences — including the peanut butter pie — I couldn’t say no. The pie is a moussey, nutty confection on a crust made of chocolate wafer crumbs. We were full, but scooped up every bite.

McMahon has certainly succeeded in creating a seafood restaurant that’s far more high-end than a fried shrimp joint, yet quite a bit humbler than a fine-dining restaurant. That’s a nice, comfortable niche to occupy.

At press time, McMahon was preparing to open a new steakhouse, called Bovine, located across Park Avenue in the space occupied for decades by Park Plaza Gardens. There’ll be some upscale touches, she says, such as Caesar salads prepared tableside.

Still, since Bovine is part of the 310/Blu family, you know the ambiance won’t be stuffy. Notes McMahon: “It’ll be affordable, even as we bring back traditional steakhouse service.”

I’ll bet Bovine’s will even have highchairs. 

Blu on the Avenue
326 South Park Avenue
407-960-3778
bluontheavenue.com

The conceptual site plan for the Lawrence Center included a parking garage. The garage is being reconsidered, but the rest of the redevelopment is proceeding as planned.

A College's Civic Tuition

Rollins College has embarked on a major building initiative, both on and off campus. Reviewing plans are (left to right) Ed Kania, vice president for business and finance; Jeffrey Eisenbarth, who recently retired from the post now held by Kania; Allan Keen, chair of the college’s board of trustees; and Grant Cornwell, president of the college since 2015. Photo by Rafael Tongol

Few colleges and college towns are as intertwined, geographically and historically, as Rollins College and Winter Park. But when the college recently announced its biggest off-campus building initiative in years — a cluster of three projects dubbed the Innovation Triangle — some locals instinctively balked.

“Rollins consumes City of Winter Park services and does not pay property taxes,” wrote one poster on a Facebook page devoted to discussions of city-related political issues. 

This easily debunked view persists in some circles, and usually comes up whenever the college buys property located outside the boundaries of its 70-acre campus hugging Lake Virginia.

Since Rollins has been a player in the local commercial real estate market since the late ’90s, its economic impact on the city has been a relatively frequent topic of discussion.

On one point, there’s apparent unanimity. The presence of a prestigious liberal arts institution is confirmation of Winter Park’s stature as the cultural and intellectual mecca of Central Florida. It’s hard to put a price tag on that.

Still, the questions persist. Is the college a beguiling but costly jewel in Winter Park’s crown, valuable primarily for its prestige? Or is it a powerful economic engine whose presence is crucial to the community’s prosperity?

It’s fair to say that the relationship is symbiotic. But it’s not fair — or accurate — to say that Rollins doesn’t pay property taxes. What’s more, property taxes comprise only a fraction of the college’s contribution to the city’s ongoing prosperity.

“We haven’t commissioned a formal economic impact study in a number of years,” says Allan E. Keen, chairman and CEO of The Keewin Real Property Company and chair of the college’s board of trustees. “There just hasn’t been a need. In our view, the facts are pretty obvious.”

The last such report was in 2008. A 27-page tome by Pittsburgh-based Tripp Umbach estimated that in 2006, the college generated $56.9 million in economic activity for the City of Winter Park, $110.6 million for Orange County and $204.9 million for the State of Florida.

Tripp Umbach, like all such consultants, used complex calculations to determine the college’s direct and indirect economic impact. In addition to taxes paid and estimated local spending, it analyzed such factors as volunteer hours from students and faculty to quantify the college’s social and quality-of-life benefits. 

Similar analyses are frequently used by local governments to justify use of taxpayer dollars for construction of high-profile projects such as sports facilities or convention centers. The resulting documents are generally obtuse to non-economists — and subject to suspicion because vested interests usually commission them.

However, a few easy-to-understand numbers related to Rollins offer an unambiguous and irrefutable overview of the college’s importance to the city’s economy.

DOLLARS AND CENTS

All Rollins-owned property in Winter Park is valued at a whopping $196,726,893, according to the college’s Office of Business and Finance and the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office.

Property used for educational purposes — including the 70-acre main campus — is tax exempt. So last year, no taxes were paid on property valued at $117,322,856.

However, property not used for educational purposes, valued at $79,404,037, remained on the tax rolls. In 2017, the college ponied up $998,445 — an increase of $148,222 from 2015 — making it the city’s second-largest payer of property taxes.

At the current millage rate of $4.09 per $1,000 of taxable value, almost a third of that amount — $324,945 — bolstered the city’s general fund. The remainder went to Orange County and Orange County Public Schools. (The millage rate has remained unchanged for a decade, but valuations have soared.)

Within the city, only sprawling Winter Park Village, a major mixed-use development on U.S. Highway 17-92, had a higher property tax bill than Rollins. That’s because the college rarely changes the taxable status of its real estate purchases. And its commercial properties are taxed no differently than those owned by for-profit investors.

“So, people think Rollins doesn’t pay property taxes,” sighs Jeffrey Eisenbarth, the college’s recently retired vice president for business and finance. “That’s an urban legend. And it doesn’t seem to go away, no matter how many times we show and tell.”

In fact, the college’s property tax bill has soared since the Alfond Inn’s 2013 opening. The boutique hotel, which sits on a 3.3-acre parcel at the corner of New England and Interlachen avenues, is valued at $26,164,543. It received a property tax bill of $359,626 in 2017 — an increase of $98,510 from two years ago.

Of more than 60 properties bought by the college since 1993, 45 of them — or 75 percent — have remained on the tax rolls, adds Eisenbarth, who ended a productive 10-year stint at the college in May. He was replaced by Ed Kania, who held a comparable post at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. 

Likewise, Rollins-owned properties get no breaks when it comes to utilities, which have been owned by the city since a 2005 break from Florida Power & Light. 

In the 12 months prior to September 2018, the college spent $2,257,517 on electricity, making it the city’s largest user. The college’s water bill — $153,310 — was behind only AdventHealth, formerly Winter Park Memorial Hospital. 

Rollins employees and students clearly bolster local businesses, says Betsy Gardner Eckbert, president and CEO of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce. “When students leave for the summer, we feel the impact downtown,” she says.

The college has 726 full-time-equivalent staffers and faculty members who earn a cumulative $71,801,893 per year. There are 3,093 students, including those enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts — the day school — and its two evening programs, the Hamilton Holt School and the Roy E. Crummer Graduate School of Business. 

That’s a lot of money and a lot of people within walking distance of Winter Park’s busy Central Business District. And the college itself spends heavily on an array of products and services from local suppliers. 

What would a formal economic impact study show now? Nine years ago, when Tripp Howard calculated $56.9 million, the college’s property taxes were just $140,000 and its payroll was just $46.4 million. 

Since then, its property taxes have increased seven-fold — due in large part to development of the Alfond — and its payroll has leapt by 54 percent. Depending upon the methodology used, a consultant could likely justify a figure north of $100 million today.

And Gardner Eckbert notes that the college’s international students often have parents who are prime relocation prospects. The chamber has even initiated a “global membership” to keep moms and dads around the world connected to — and interested in — Winter Park

BUILDING ON SUCCESS

Rollins entered the commercial real estate arena in 1999, when it developed SunTrust Plaza and an accompanying parking garage on the 400 block of Park Avenue South. Not everyone was happy about it.

The college already owned the 2.5-acre site, upon which sat a three-story brick building that once housed the Winter Park Grade School, later Park Avenue Elementary. Rollins, which had bought the property in 1961, used the building for classrooms and offices. But by the late 1980s, it had fallen into disrepair and had become structurally unsafe.

The college announced plans to demolish the building — which had been built in 1916 — and redevelop the site. The move inflamed preservationists, some business owners and many longtime residents who had attended the school and retained a sentimental attachment to it.

Still, after much debate, SunTrust Plaza was opened as a three-story, 82,000-square-foot complex abutting an 850-space parking garage. Today’s tenants include Gap, Starbucks, Restoration Hardware and Merrill Lynch, as well as its namesake bank.

At 40 feet tall, the structure exceeds the city’s height limit by 10 feet. But with the third story partially recessed, it doesn’t feel out of scale with the rest of Park Avenue. And last year it generated $273,615 in property tax revenue.

Subsequently, Rollins began buying various commercial properties along the south side of West Fairbanks Avenue, from the campus entrance to the railroad tracks.

In 2012, it redeveloped Winter Park Plaza — a strip center anchored by Ethos, a vegetarian restaurant — and is now landlord to an array of businesses, from a waxing salon to a vitamin emporium.

The center’s original developers had defaulted on a $7 million note, and the college snapped it up for $2.8 million via an online auction. It generated $49,279 in property taxes last year.

Other college-owned commercial properties lining Fairbanks bring in considerably less, but all contribute proportionally, based upon their assessments. A few properties, however, have been removed from the tax rolls as they’ve been converted to educational use.

In 2015, for example, Rollins jumped across Fairbanks to buy its only property on the north side of the street — the building at 315 West Fairbanks that for years housed the law offices of the late Russell Troutman. 

That building — which now houses the Hamilton Holt School — no longer generates tax revenue. Neither does 200 West Fairbanks, once home to a bar and restaurant and now site of the college bookstore. 

In 2007, Rollins began buying up townhomes, corralling nine units on Orchard Avenue near Mead Botanical Garden. The college uses these and other scattered townhomes and single-family homes for faculty housing. New hires pay market rate for rent and may remain for a maximum of three years.

The homes remain on the tax rolls because they’re considered incidental to the college’s core educational mission. Faculty housing generated $81,981 in property taxes last year.

In the Central Business District, Rollins owns the Samuel B. Lawrence Center, a city block gifted to the college in 1994. A four-story commercial building on the site, home to Valley National Bank and other tenants, generated $89,530 in property taxes last year. 

Although the Lawrence Center is slated for redevelopment through the Innovation Triangle initiative, the commercial building will stay and remain on the tax rolls.

A WIN WITH THE INN

Still, the biggest commercial project ever undertaken by the college was the Alfond. “I was on the job two months and got the job of hotel developer,” recalls Eisenbarth, who had been hired from a comparable post at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. 

The Alfond family — longtime college benefactors — had already committed to contributing $12.5 million for the project, with the condition that profits be used to provide scholarships and endow a scholarship fund. But $12.5 million wasn’t nearly enough to get the job done.

Instead of partnering with a developer, though, Eisenbarth and Keen recommended that the college finance the remainder with a $20 million loan from its reserves, to be repaid over 25 years at 4.5 percent interest.

In 2009, the college spent $9.9 million for a 3.3-acre parcel at the corner of New England and Interlachen avenues, just blocks from the campus.

On the site once stood the legendary Langford Hotel, a local landmark that closed in 2000 and was demolished in 2003. Ground was broken for the new hotel in November 2011, and its grand opening was in August 2013.

Almost immediately, the 112-room facility began earning rave reviews. Most recently, in Conde Nast Traveler’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards, it was rated No. 1 in Florida, No. 7 in the U.S. and No. 63 in the world. It also holds a AAA Four-Diamond rating.

But if you’re an accountant, you’ll be more impressed by the numbers. Last year, the Alfond grossed more than $16 million and earned an operating profit of more than $6 million.

From the net, the college was repaid $1.2 million. The remainder bolstered Alfond Scholars, a program established by the hotel’s namesake family. This agreement will continue for 25 years and is expected to eventually boost the scholarship endowment to $125 million.

The Alfond Inn is the biggest — and most lucrative — of the college’s commercial developments. Profits endow a scholarship fund.

FOR THE FUTURE

Keen says the college isn’t looking to buy more property unless it’s strategically placed near the campus or offers proximity to other college-owned assets. “We try to be a good neighbor,” he notes. “That’s why nobody builds anything prettier or better than we do.”

Not that they don’t try. Comparably sized colleges, particularly those in unremarkable towns or even rural areas, are increasingly promoting mixed-use commercial and residential development around their campuses to help lure students and faculty.

But such colleges rarely have the expertise — or the cash — to do it themselves. So they take on development partners who assume the risks (and reap most of the rewards).

However, creating an appealing college-town atmosphere around Rollins has never been necessary. It’s hard to improve on Winter Park just the way it is — and has been for generations.

So why is Rollins in the development business? Because it can be, for one reason, blessed as it is with resources, expertise and an enviable location. 

But it’s also positioning itself for growth — perhaps decades from now — and in the meantime generating healthy returns in both asset value and profit. Not including the Alfond, the college’s commercial real estate ventures in 2017 grossed $4.7 million and netted $2.6 million — an eye-popping 55 percent margin.

“The campus is landlocked and lake-locked,” says Keen. “When we buy property, it isn’t to sell. Rollins has been here for 130 years, so we hope to keep what we buy basically forever. Obviously, that means we look further ahead than most buyers would.”

Eventually, Keen says, much of the real estate Rollins absorbs may be used for campus expansion. But “eventually,” in this context, may mean generations from now. In the meantime, profits are supplementing the college’s budget and allowing for more generous financial assistance programs than would otherwise be possible. 

“The sole purpose of our commercial real estate holdings is to provide revenue to support financial aid for our students,” says President Grant Cornwell. “We’re committed to keeping Rollins financially accessible to qualified students without regard to their socioeconomic status. The only way we can do this is by having sources of revenue other than tuition to support our budget.” 

That’s especially important, considering that Rollins is the most expensive college in the state, according to a survey in Business Insider. Tuition, room, board and other expenses amount to $67,110 per year — more than triple what a state university costs. 

But very few actually spend that much. According to the college, the average financial aid package for students who show a demonstrated need is $35,000 — and more than 85 percent of students receive assistance in some form.

“It’s certainly not a trend for small liberal arts colleges to do what we’ve done, because no other small liberal arts college is located in Winter Park,” says Cornwell. “Unlike other colleges, we’re incredibly fortunate in that we happen to be situated in such a beautiful, charming and prosperous city.”


ROLLINS EARNS NATIONAL KUDOS

For the 24th consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Rollins College among the top two regional universities in the South in its annual rankings of “Best Colleges.”

Rollins was ranked No. 2 among the 165 colleges and universities in that category, which encompasses schools that provide a full range of undergraduate and master’s-level programs. Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, finished first.

“Rollins is proud to be recognized so prominently among the nation’s best colleges year after year,” says Rollins President Grant Cornwell. “Our longevity at the top of this ranking is a testament to the college’s long tradition of academic excellence, the rigor of a Rollins education and the achievement of our innovative faculty and industrious students.”

The U.S. News & World Report rankings evaluate colleges and universities on 16 measures of academic quality, including such widely accepted indicators of excellence as student retention, graduation rates and qualifications of faculty members.

In addition to ranking among the top regional universities in the South, Rollins was recognized for its strong commitment to undergraduate teaching, its high proportion of international undergraduates and for having one of the best undergraduate business programs in the country. 

The college was also named one of the South’s most innovative schools. And it made the list of schools whose 2017 graduates had the lightest debt loads. The average was $32,700 for those who completed undergraduate degree programs.


INNOVATION TRIANGLE IS MOVING FORWARD

The conceptual site plan for the Lawrence Center included a parking garage. The garage is being reconsidered, but the rest of the redevelopment is proceeding as planned.

Rollins recently announced — and then unexpectedly placed on temporary hold — plans for what it dubbed the Innovation Triangle, which involves redeveloping the Samuel B. Lawrence Center and expanding the Alfond Inn.

Occupying a city block in downtown Winter Park, the Lawrence Center — owned by the college since 1994 — is bounded on the north by New England Avenue, the south by Lyman Avenue, the west by Knowles Avenue and the east by Interlachen Avenue, across the street from the Alfond.

According to preliminary plans, the four-story, 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 Pioneer Building, on the southwest corner, would be razed and replaced by a two-story, three-level parking garage. The city had expressed interest in negotiating a public/private partnership that could have added one or two levels and at least 120 additional spaces of public parking.

However, in late August the college announced that it was delaying the Innovation Triangle projects “in order to explore and evaluate some cost-saving and project-sharing opportunities that will benefit the college and the community,” according to a statement.

Plans for the Alfond expansion were set to go before the Winter Park Planning & Zoning Commission in September. The Lawrence Center redevelopment was scheduled for consideration in October, when the college planned to seek a conditional use permit for the property’s site plan. 

Later, once details for the buildings had been finalized, a zoning change from O-1 (office) to PQP (public, quasi-public) would have been required before the Lawrence Center could get underway.

Had the college changed course? Had the spectre of public opposition to city participation in a parking garage prompted a retrenchment?

“The hotel expansion, the business school and the museum are all absolutely going forward,” says Allan E. Keen, chairman and CEO of The Keewin Real Property Company and chair of the college’s board of trustees. “And they’re going forward apace. I regret it if anyone took our statement to mean there’d be a prolonged delay, or that we’d abandoned any of these strategic initiatives. We’re just working some details out.”

More specifically, college officials wanted to think through the parking options. While a garage at the Lawrence Center in which the city partnered might have been welcomed by visitors to the Central Business District, it wouldn’t alleviate the long-standing parking shortage on the main campus. 

Soon to exacerbate the problem is a new $40 million student residential complex, which is being built to replace the mundane maintenance and storage buildings now occupying prime Lake Virginia real estate. 

The housing is needed because the college is raising its two-year residency requirement to three years, moving juniors onto campus. When it all shakes out, college official estimate that about 200 more students will list 1000 Holt Avenue as their address.

Of course, most juniors already drive to class from wherever they live. But having them as full-time residents will mean more cars, more of the time, vying for space. 

One of several possibilities being discussed is construction of a parking garage on a college-owned surface lot bordered by Fairbanks Avenue and Ollie Avenue, abutting Dinky Dock Park. If that happens, the spaces would be only for college use.

None of this has any relevance to the Alfond expansion, which has included in its design about 150 additional parking spaces in an underground garage. The hotel project was conceptually included as part of the Innovation Triangle but is unaffected by what happens — or doesn’t happen — in the Lawrence Center, according to Keen.

Plans call for the addition of 70 rooms to the 112-room hotel along with a 7,000-square-foot spa and health club, a 4,000-square-foot meeting space/gallery and 323 square feet of retail space.

“We want to do this expansion in the most efficient and effective way possible,” says Keen. “But all of the projects we’ve announced are moving ahead.”

Rollins President Grant Cornwell says that the Innovation Triangle initiative will strengthen three of the college’s major strategic assets by further integrating them into the community.

Cornwell notes that the Alfond clearly needs additional capacity for lodging and events. “What I hear from fellow Winter Park residents all the time is they can’t imagine Winter Park without the Alfond,” he says. “I also hear that they can never get a room. We know now is the right time to move forward with the proposed expansion.”

Having the museum and the business school join the hotel in a downtown location, he adds, will “impact business synergies and provide an enhanced arts and culture presence” in the Central Business District.

“Rollins greatly values our history and involvement with Winter Park,” Cornwell continues. “We’re proud that our being here and the programs we offer are high on the list of what makes Winter Park a great place to live and work.”

The Alfond and the Cornell are already soulmates, notes museum director Ena Heller. Ted and Barbara Alfond, both members of the Class of ’68, gave the college $12.5 million to jump-start construction of the hotel. They also donated a world-class contemporary art collection, pieces of which are displayed at the hotel on a rotating basis. 

More space will allow more of the museum’s encyclopedic collection to be on view, Heller says. The current Cornell building, tucked away on the Rollins campus, is just 10,000 square feet. The proposed building is about 36,000 square feet.

“It’s very exciting,” notes Heller, who adds that the move will make the museum more inviting for the public and more conducive for teaching — which is crucial for a curricular museum with a college affiliation. 

“There’ll be more galleries, room for lectures and a seamless connection between the museum and the Alfond,” she says. “The facility we have now is inadequate for events and classes.”

Best of all, upon completion of the new Cornell, both the northern and the southern reaches of the Central Business District will be anchored by world-class museums. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, located on Park Avenue North, has been a major downtown draw since 1997.

The Crummer, which operates on the main campus from Roy E. Crummer Hall and the Bush Executive Center, will also be a benefit to the Central Business District, says Cornwell. Its new building is expected to be 80,000 square feet.

“The thought was to encourage linkages between the Crummer’s resources and those who run businesses in Winter Park,” he notes. “We see a natural synergy here that we can improve upon.”

The Innovation Triangle’s timetable is flexible, says Keen, but will happen as quickly as possible. Funding from an anonymous donor is already in place for the Alfond expansion, which is expected to cost between $35 and $45 million.

The Cornell and Crummer projects, however, will depend entirely upon fundraising. The business school could cost between $50 and $60 million and the museum between $30 and $40 million, all of which must be raised through philanthropy.

At first glance, Cornwell notes, a hotel, a museum and a business school appear to have little in common. But, he adds, placing the trio of projects under the Innovation Triangle umbrella makes sense for a place as eclectic as Rollins.

“As an educational institution, we constantly strive to stimulate new learning paradigms and encourage the application of new ideas to complex problems,” Cornwell says. “Specifically, the Innovation Triangle highlights the intersections of art, business and interdisciplinary teaching and learning.”

Henry Peter, a self taught artist known for the photographic quality of his paintings, has found collectors on four continent for his meticulous (and vivid) depictions of outdoor scenes. He describes his work as “simple and direct; free of artifice and superficial mannerisms.”

Picture-Perfect Paintings

Henry Peter, a self taught artist known for the photographic quality of his paintings, has found collectors on four continent for his meticulous (and vivid) depictions of outdoor scenes. He describes his work as “simple and direct; free of artifice and superficial mannerisms.”

Henry Peter, a native of Burglengenfeld, Germany and a resident of Brevard County, is primarily a self-taught artist. Which is remarkable considering the photographic quality of his paintings, such as the image of the iconic exedra in Kraft Azalea Garden on this issue’s cover. 

As a 12-year-old in Engelwood, New Jersey, Peter recalls receiving a few lessons on color and theory from painter Margaret Stucki, a vehement realist who, ironically, moved to Brevard County in 1973 and taught art for Rollins College when it offered evening programs at Patrick Air Force Base.

“When I moved down here, I tried to get in touch with her but didn’t hear back,” says Henry of Stucki, who wrote a book denouncing contemporary art as “crud.” She died in 2017 — but would likely be pleased that her former pupil has garnered a large following with his meticulous (and vivid) depictions of outdoor scenes.

The first work by Henry to appear on the cover of Winter Park Magazine was a 2015 image of the Venetian Canal and the Palmer Avenue Bridge. Several dozen readers emailed to ask who had taken the beautiful photograph — which was, in fact, an oil painting.

Henry earned a degree in philosophy from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and after graduation apprenticed in a machine shop. But by the late 1980s, his paintings had begun winning regional and national awards. 

In 1993, Henry made his first trip to Florida, where he displayed his work at the Old Island Days Festival. He moved to Key West a decade later, then relocated to Titusville in 2008.

Henry’s paintings have been selected for the Top 100 in the prestigious Arts for the Parks competition, a program created by the National Park Academy of the Arts to benefit the National Park Conservation Alliance.

He was a mainstay at Key West’s Gingerbread Square Gallery for almost two decades and has been represented by the Fredlund Gallery in Winter Park. His paintings have found collectors on four continents.

Henry describes his work as “simple and direct; free of artifice and superficial mannerisms.” He enjoys being artistically unpredictable and applies his keen eye and steady hand to a broad range of subjects — not just landscapes.

Kraft Azalea Garden, a 5.2-acre enclave that hugs the shore of Lake Maitland along Alabama Drive, is open daily from 8 a.m. until dusk. The exedra — a word derived from the Greek “ex” (out) and “hedra” (seat) — is one of Winter Park’s most cherished symbols. 

The project was funded in 1969 by siblings Kenneth H. Kraft and Elizabeth Kraft Schweizer to honor George and Maud Kraft, their parents for whom the park is named. Its inscription reads: “Pause friend. Let beauty refresh the spirit.”

You can find Henry’s paintings on display at the Cocco & Salem Gallery in Key West, Palm Avenue Fine Arts of Sarasota and the Village Gallery in Orlando. 

Miami Springs-based artist Linda Apriletti prefers Florida settings, and says she enjoys hearing that her images evoke a sense of peace and tranquility.

The Calm Before The Storm

Miami Springs-based artist Linda Apriletti prefers Florida settings, and says she enjoys hearing that her images evoke a sense of peace and tranquility.

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

Apriletti was recently in Central Florida for the 2018 Winter Park Paint Out, held by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. “April Showers,” the painting that adorns the cover of Winter Park Magazine, is a scene from the museum’s grounds, which overlook Lake Osceola. 

“I was scheduled to paint on the Polasek grounds that Monday morning,” she says. “It was a very overcast day, with threatening gray clouds and a 90 percent chance of rain.”

Apriletti figured she had a few hours of dry weather before things turned nasty. “I decided to go for it, and painted this cypress tree and the flower garden by the lake,” she adds. “The bright yellow of the flowers was a great complement to the gray sky that day.”

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

It was at a workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park that she discovered her passion for plein air painting. She launched a full-time career as an artist in 2011 — and never looked back.

“Painting outside is critical to helping me observe and understand patterns in nature,” she says. 

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

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

Visit lindaapriletti.com to see more of her paintings.

The Hunger Street menu features gourmet spins on humble south-of- the-border street fare. The chickpea tlacoyo, for example, is not only flavorful, it’s also vegan. Try it with a refreshing jar of white wine sangria, made with chardonnay, strawberry, lime and hot pequin chili pepper.

Hoşgeldiniz! Bienvenidos!

Photography by Rafael Tongol

 

Winter Park’s restaurant scene is more international than ever. Take, for example, Bosphorous and Hunger Street Tacos, which celebrate the cultures and cuisines of Turkey and Mexico, respectively. The owners of Bosphorous are (above left, left to right) Chris Southern, Tammy Sexter and Doved Sexter. The owners of Hunger Street Tacos are (above right, left to right) Seydi, David and Joseph Creech. Seydi and Joseph are married; David is Joseph’s brother.

 

Hoşgeldiniz! That’s “welcome,” for our readers whose Turkish is a bit rusty. You’ll hear the word (pronounced hozh-gel-din-iz, with a hard “g”) when you walk into Bosphorous, the popular Turkish eatery on Park Avenue.

The owners are American. But they’ve steeped themselves in the vibrant culture of Turkey — and their passion for the country shows in the restaurant’s fresh, authentic and delicious fare.

Bosphorous — which now has additional locations in Lake Nona and Dr. Phillips, with a soon-to-debut outpost in the Hamlin community near Winter Garden — opened right after the 2004 hurricanes under the ownership of a New York couple who offered a menu of authentic dishes from their native Turkey. 

In 2009, the restaurant was bought by Tammy and Doved Sexter, both veterans of Darden. So they knew plenty about the operational side of the restaurant business. However, they knew very little about Turkey. 

Then they traveled to the country — and fell in love with it. “Everywhere we went, people greeted us with ‘hoşgeldiniz,’” says Tammy. “And the food was so wonderful.”

Tender cabbage leaves stuffed with freshly ground lamb and topped with tomato sauce and seasoned yogurt are a favorite at Bosphorous. Americans are often surprised at the creative use of yogurt in Turkish dishes.

The Sexters recall that locals were initially skeptical about trying Turkish cuisine. Tammy was still teaching, so Doved (pronounced Do-veed), worked the restaurant, standing on the sidewalk with a plate of chicken Adana, handing out samples and talking up the unfamiliar dish to passersby. 

It worked, and it continues to work. That’s why you can still find Doved standing outside the restaurant, plate in hand. Only these days, his sales job isn’t quite as difficult.

The Sexters — along with their partner Chris Southern — haven’t tinkered much with the menu, adding just a few dishes here and refining a few others there. “At its heart,” says Doved “it’s basically a kebab house — and we’re happy to keep it that way.” (Kebab is spelled in the more authentically Turkish way, “kebap,” on the menu.)

Turks have one of the healthiest diets in the world. Along the coastline, the fare is heavily dependent upon olive oil and fresh fish. Further inland, in Central and Eastern Anatolia, lamb and beef replace fish as staple proteins. Chicken also appears on Turkish tables, but never pork. 

If you visit Turkey, the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables make it appear as though you’ve stumbled upon the Garden of Eden — the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates are, after all, in Turkey — and the Turks do things with yogurt that turn even the pickiest eater into a glutton. 

Cacik (pronounced juh-jik) is a savory concoction of yogurt, garlic, chopped cucumber and mint served with lamb, beef and chicken. Haydari is a thick creamy yogurt with walnuts, dill and mint. Both are available on the Bosphorous menu and are as good as any you’ll find this side of Istanbul. 

You can’t get much more Turkish than these two dishes: succulent lamb shanks (above left) and shepherd’s salad (above right). Lamb is, of course, the main source of animal protein in Turkish cuisine, which also features an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. No wonder the Turks have one of the healthiest diets in the world.

Turkish food culture is ancient. The term Turkiye (land of the Turks or Turkmen) has only been in use since the 11th century, and the Turkish Republic did not come into being until 1923. Today’s Turks refer to the land east of the Bosphorous — a narrow strait separating European and Asian Turkey and joining the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara — as Anatolia. The name dates at least as far back as the cuneiform tablets written by the Hittites more than 4,000 years ago. 

And what were those Hittites writing about? Among other things, food. 

The Hittites are believed to have been the first to cultivate almonds, olives and apricots. They also may have been the first wine makers — although humans have found ways to become inebriated since they began walking upright, so who knows? 

Almonds and pistachios, both of which figure prominently in Turkish cuisine, are the only two tree nuts to be mentioned in the ancient religious texts accepted by Islam, Judaism and Christianity as, respectively, the Tevrat, the Torah and the Old Testament.

The Sexters love the antiquity, the flavors, the scents and the colors that embrace any visitor to Turkey — and they’ve brought back as much as they could. As they continue to travel, the Turkish character of the Bosphorous restaurants deepens.

Doved notes that the first commercial copper mine was in central Anatolia, and that copper is frequently used in the manufacture of Turkish tableware. Consequently, the Sexters installed copper-covered tabletops at Bosphorous. Like stainless steel, copper is naturally antimicrobial. 

“The health inspectors like it,” says Tammy. “It’s beautiful. It’s different — something you don’t see everywhere.”

That’s just one example of the ways in which, counterintuitively, the American owners have made Bosphorous even more Turkish than its prior Turkish owners had. So is the lavish hospitality, which starts with a hearty “hoşgeldiniz” and continues throughout your visit.

Handmade dolmas (above left) pair well with a fine Turkish wine (above right) sold exclusively to Bosphorous. The restaurant’s owners are American, but they’ve steeped themselves in all things Turkish. Their immersive approach has resulted in delicious fare that’s as authentic as anything you’ll find this side of Istanbul.

Says Doved: “Ironically, the Turkish couple who opened the restaurant had the concept and the menu, but they wanted to be more American-style restaurant owners.” 

Tammy has designed an elaborate training and evaluation system, with attention to detail that would put even the most obsessive among us to shame. While procedures are precisely designed and strictly observed, the hosts and servers are empowered to do what’s necessary to make a customer’s Bosphorous dining experience a memorable one.

Food production is centralized in a Winter Park commissary. Fresh-cut vegetables and salads are produced in the restaurants, but the breads, desserts and most of the entrees are produced in the commissary and distributed daily to the restaurants. 

“We make everything fresh,” says Doved. “We don’t freeze anything. We want the food to be of consistent quality. Having a central kitchen also enables us to circumvent a type of behavior among chefs who, when sharing a recipe, might omit an ingredient or alter a technique to ensure that no one else can make the dish as well as they do.”

The meat at Bosphorous is Halal certified, and lamb is purchased through a Costco wholesale distribution center. Costco, as the largest purchaser of lamb in the world, can provide Halal-certified meat on a consistent basis.

Lamb is, of course, the main source of animal protein in the Turkish diet. Lamb is cubed for shish kabob, minced for skewered lamb Adana and meatball-like köfte, and roasted for the döner kebob that cooks on a rotating vertical skewer. (The word “döner,” translated literally, means “to turn.”) 

There are several steps in the Halal-certification process. The animals must be grass-fed, antibiotic-free and killed humanely by someone certified to do it. A religious ceremony is performed and the carcass is thoroughly cleaned. 

Tammy notes that animals under stress release cortisone, which can make the meat tough. If the animal is calm, no cortisone is released into the animal’s muscle tissue and, therefore, none is ingested by the person who consumes it. 

Each week, Bosphorous butchers go through at least 1,500 pounds of lamb and 1,400 pounds of chicken, which is also Halal certified. During the winter holiday season and the Spring and Fall sidewalk art festivals, consumption is likely to double.

Doved says that even though the Dr. Phillips and Lake Nona restaurants are newer and larger, the Winter Park location will always be their flagship. 

“If you have to own a restaurant, in my opinion, this is the best kind to own,” says Tammy. “The thing I never get tired of hearing is how the locals love to bring their out-of-town guests.”

— Anne Mooney

Bosphorous, Winter Park
108 South Park Avenue
407-644-8609

Bosphorous, Lake Nona
6900 Tavistock Lakes Boulevard, Orlando
407-313-2506

Bosphorous, Dr. Phillips
7600 Dr. Phillips Boulevard, Orlando
407-352-6766
bosphorousrestaurant.com

 

It’s located in a small building, but you can’t miss Hunger Street Tacos. The bold murals are both eye catching and politically meaningful. The restaurant’s name was inspired by Avenida Toluca, a Mexico City neighborhood nicknamed La Calle del Hambre (“The Street of Hunger”). It’s teeming with taquerias — taco stands — on every block.

 

Establishing Street Cred

Talk about a wing and a prayer. When the Creech family’s dream restaurant location suddenly became available, they had to either take a pass or take the space before they were ready. At the time, all they had was an idea, three recipes and a catering tent.

The Creeches — after plenty of praying — decided to open Hunger Street Tacos on the sassy corner lot they coveted at Fairbanks and Formosa avenues. The building is familiar for its blissfully bold visibility and infuriatingly lousy parking. You’ll remember it as home of the original 4 Rivers Smokehouse, then the now-defunct B&B Junction.

Now, a year and a half after its debut, the restaurant is thriving, with a menu offering a gourmet spin on the kind of south-of-the-border street fare you’d find in Mexico City, says Joseph Creech, who owns the eatery with his wife, Seydi, and his younger brother, David. 

Street food, by definition, can be picked up and eaten sans utensils. So Hunger Street’s offerings include, of course, tacos, as well as quesadillas, huaraches, tlayudas, tlacoyos, tamales and tostadas. Burritos, adds Creech, are Tex-Mex and therefore verboten.

The attention-getting name was inspired by Avenida Toluca, a Mexico City neighborhood nicknamed La Calle del Hambre (“The Street of Hunger”). It’s teeming with taquerias — taco stands — on every block. 

“When Seydi was a young woman, she and her friends would go out dancing, then say, ‘Let’s go to Hunger Street’ to have a late-night snack,” Creech says. “The name just made sense.”

The Hunger Street menu features gourmet spins on humble south-of- the-border street fare. The chickpea tlacoyo, for example, is not only flavorful, it’s also vegan. Try it with a refreshing jar of white wine sangria, made with chardonnay, strawberry, lime and hot pequin chili pepper.

Seeking to visually distinguish their restaurant, the Creeches commissioned bold — and meaningful — murals for the building’s exterior. The image facing the street, for example, is of Bety Cariño, an advocate for the rights of indigenous populations in Mexico who was shot and killed in a 2010 paramilitary attack.

The family’s social consciousness comes naturally. Joseph Creech was born in Guadalajara to Presbyterian missionaries, but spent much of his childhood in Acapulco. David was born in the U.S., but also lived in Acapulco and Oaxaca before the family settled in Central Florida.

Still, as young men the brothers returned to Mexico as often as possible, absorbing the culture and savoring the cuisine — especially the kind of scratch-made street fare sold by marketplace hawkers. 

They later lived and worked for a time in Mexico City, where Joseph met Seydi, an environmental attorney. After his return to the U.S., the couple maintained a long-distance relationship for several years before tying the proverbial knot in 2005.

By 2013, all three were living in Lake Mary, going about their workaday lives. Seydi, feeling nostalgic, asked Joseph, the family cook, to prepare tacos de suadero — said to be the only type of taco that originated in Mexico City. He watched YouTube videos to learn the basics, then started experimenting. 

“Literally on the second batch we were like, ‘Wow, this is really good,’” Creech recalls. Enthused, they invited about 20 guests over to share another batch of the savory, pressure-cooked brisket, which was stuffed into corn tortillas with traditional toppings of cilantro, onion, salsa and lime.

Why not be adventurous and try something new on each visit to this creative Mexican eatery? You can’t go wrong with (clockwise, from top center) a squash blossom quesadilla; a combo plate that includes grilled cheese and brisket tacos; a chicken Tinga tostada; or a hibiscus and guacamole taco paired with a fried avocado taco. The savory brisket taco is the dish that inspired the Creeches to go into the restaurant business.

Friends encouraged the Creeches to make cooking their profession — and they were sorely tempted to do so, despite already having good jobs. Joseph worked in finance, David was a trainer for Chick-Fil-A and Seydi worked for a nonprofit organization translating Christian curriculum videos into Spanish.

Ultimately, they bought a $100 Gander Mountain tent and two cast-iron camping grills that heated to 800 degrees, then started a catering company. Among their first gigs was running the concession operation for the Maitland Little League. 

Along the way, they perfected that fateful brisket taco and added a brisket quesadilla and a mushroom quesadilla to their repertoire. To prepare for private parties, they rented time slots in the commissary kitchen at Orlando’s East End Market. 

“East End’s kitchen is a huge incubator for a lot of people, and we owe the people we met there for their ideas and feedback,” Creech says. The trio also pitched their tent at the Audubon Park Community Market every other Monday evening.

“We weren’t worrying about making a profit at that time,” says Creech. “All we cared about was brand recognition — about building a fan base that would finance our first operation.”

Their goal: to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant five years after opening the catering business. Inside of two years, however, 4 Rivers Smokehouse founder John Rivers, who had mentored the Creeches, told them that the location at which he had started his first restaurant, at Fairbanks and Formosa, had become available.

Uh-oh. Acting quickly, the Creeches presented their business plan to about 30 potential investors with the goal of raising $275,000. They didn’t reach the magic number right away, but were heartened enough by the response that they took a leap of faith and signed a six-year lease. The rest is history — albeit fairly recent history.

Today, the brisket taco for which Seydi had yearned is the No. 1 seller at Hunger Street. The less-authentic breaded and flash-fried avocado taco is popular, too, among both carnivores and vegans. 

Huger Street visitors order at the counter, then have dishes — including beer and sangria — delivered to outdoor tables. No one ever goes away feeling, well, hungry (or thirsty).

Another frequently ordered dish is more exotic: a bone marrow and mushroom sope — basically a cornmeal cake spread with cooked bone marrow then topped with beans and veggies. 

Chicharrón de queso, ubiquitous in Mexico City, draws raves for its appearance and its flavor. It’s an oversized roll of crispy gouda cheese that’s melted on a flattop grill. The cheese hardens when removed from the heat.

Hibiscus tacos — yes, they’re made with dried hibiscus flowers — are trendy in Mexico City these days, so they’ve been added to the menu as well. Says Creech: “This dish isn’t for everybody, but a lot of our customers really, really love it.” 

Although the restaurant is busier by the day, Hunger Street Tacos continues to offer catering services. The Creeches and their employees will happily tote that original catering tent to private homes and prepare brisket tacos, or perhaps wood-fired whole snapper like Creech grew up eating at the Acapulco beach. 

“We cook to order and provide food stations as requested,” Creech says. “We create menus that people will talk about for years after the party.”

The Creeches are also beginning to eye expansion opportunities — perhaps opening another restaurant that specializes in a different kind of Mexican cuisine.

For now, though, they’re living like the entrepreneurial restaurateurs they dreamed of becoming. One minute, they’re battling with a trash company that missed a dumpster pickup after a busy Cinco de Mayo weekend celebration. The next, they’re brainstorming ideas for new recipes and new ventures. 

It’s all done on a wing, a prayer and a passion. You can taste it. 

— Rona Gindin

Hunger street tacos
2103 West Fairbanks Avenue, Winter Park
321-444-6270
hungerstreettacos.com




Luke’s rotisserie chicken is prepared on a $30,000 vertical rotisserie cooker, where the dripping fat from one glazes another until each bird is moist and ready for slicing and plating.

Good Food, Honestly

Photographs by Rafael Tongol

Derek Perez (standing) and Brandon McGlamery, of Luma and Prato fame, are the adventurous culinary entrepreneurs behind Luke’s Kitchen + Bar in Maitland, which offers up tasty old-school fare.

"I’m not a glamour job kind of guy,” says Derek Perez. “I like to make honest food that’s not cheffed up.”

Say what? For a full decade, this 6-foot-5 hipster — with gouged earlobes and a sculpted beard — has been transforming luxury foods into works of culinary art at Luma on Park, the Avenue’s foodiest dining room.

From Luma’s exhibition kitchen, Perez pampered Winter Parkers with fanciful, inventive fare of the sort that defines “cheffed up.”

Today, without a whiff of irony, Perez waxes poetic about the hamburgers at Luke’s Kitchen + Bar in Maitland — you can just call it “Luke’s” — where he’s now executive chef. “It has no foams or gasses that cover it up,” he boasts. “It’s an honest, delicious burger.”

That burger — which is indeed honest and delicious — is a menu staple at Luke’s, which describes itself as “classic American.” There, Perez applies the advanced culinary skills he mastered at Luma to somewhat less lofty old-school fare.

That means guests of a certain age will get the chance to revisit with favorites from past decades: crab cakes and French dip sandwiches, prime rib dinners and — this is more exciting than it sounds — potato chips with onion dip.

The burger at Luke’s is to die for. “It has no foams or gasses that cover it up,” says Executive Chef Derek Perez. “It’s an honest, delicious burger.” It’s also a menu staple at the classic American eatery.

The menu is, in fact, chef driven if not cheffed up, considering Perez’s almost religious devotion to quality. And, meals are served in a fittingly sturdy building that locals remember as having been a Steak & Ale location for decades.

But this is no Steak & Ale. Guests are seated in gray-brown banquettes, while glass lampshades line the inviting bar. Together with a raw metal chandelier and a bit of swanky mid-century modern seating here and there, the interior is unpretentious but welcoming. A spacious patio invites alfresco dining.

Perez has taken a new direction in terms of cuisine, yet his employers remain the same. Luke’s is the third restaurant owned by Park Lights Hospitality Group, which brought Luma to the area in 2005 and the modern-Italian Prato seven years later.

James Beard regional semifinalist Brandon McGlamery is chef/partner, with responsibility for all three eateries, while Tim Noelke manages the managers. Brandon and Tim can be seen in all three restaurants regularly. Derek is always at Luke’s.

At Luke’s, what constitutes classic American cuisine is flexible — and we say that with unabashed glee. The chips-and-dip appetizer, for example, shame the ’60s version we’re accustomed to. In our home, Ruffles and a bowl of sour cream blended with dry Lipton onion soup mix were laid out whenever company arrived.

At Luke’s, however, the spuds are thinly sliced Idaho potatoes fried in-house and seasoned with truffle salt and essence. For the dip, crème fraiche — a frothy, tangy, sour cream-like wonder — is blended with chives, onion and garlic powders, “and a lot of love,” Perez says.

Luke’s rotisserie chicken is prepared on a $30,000 vertical rotisserie cooker, where the dripping fat from one glazes another until each bird is moist and ready for slicing and plating.

The crab cakes are straightforward. “It’s simply made with the very best crab you can possibly find,” he says. “There’s not a lot of filler.” The seared golden disks aren’t cheap, but you get what you pay for.

Luke’s rotisserie chicken is a splurge compared to what you’d grab at the grocery store. Here, the chefs make a brine of peppercorns and mint, then let the raw poultry sit in what is essentially a mild mint tea for 24 hours. That way, the subtle flavor seeps all the way through the flesh.

Before cooking, the chicken is air-dried for at least half a day so the skin will be crispy. Only then are the birds positioned on the bell-like holders of a $30,000 vertical rotisserie cooker, where the dripping fat from one glazes another until each clucker is moist and ready for slicing and plating.

This gizmo is so advanced that McGlamery likens it to a Tesla.

But let’s get back to that burger. Perez and McGlamery are so keen on its perfection that they finish each other’s sentences while talking about its creation. Then again, they often finish one another’s sentences. That’s what happens when you’ve worked side-by-side with someone for 11 years.

The how-it’s-made conversation begins with Perez saying that “there are no magic tricks.” Then you hear about how the chefs tested 25 different meat blends before whittling it down to eight, then one. “Different muscles and textures work together for the best flavor,” McGlamery adds.

The winning combo involves a short rib — a special ribeye that’s trimmed between the bones when it’s frenched, says Perez, so it has high fat content — and a stew meat blend.

It’s Florida, after all, so you may choose to dine alfresco on Luke’s spacious patio, which features an indoor/outdoor bar. Lake Lily Park is just across U.S. 17-92.

That’s not all. “The dense muscle holds it all together, and we grind butter into it — unsalted — that gives it the sear that locks in the flavor, and makes it a moister, richer burger.”

I don’t remember if that last quote came from Perez or McGlamery. All I heard was a shared passion for burgers.

Luke’s has a wood-fired grill, and above that is a smokebox through which fish, shellfish and vegetables rotate. If the okra with sea salt, olive oil and lemon juice is on the menu, order it even if you dislike okra. It’s that tender and flavorful. Oysters, shishito peppers, chicken wings — you can’t go wrong.

For a lighter bite, check out the raw bar. In addition to oysters on the half shell, options might include shrimp cocktail, or yellowfin tuna on avocado toast with artichoke relish. All are the extreme level of fresh that you’d expect from this team.

Desserts are created by Brian Cernell, the pastry guru who wowed guests for years at Luma and Prato and now Luke’s as well. The hearty ice creams are especially satisfying. Key lime tart, banana pecan cake and other reinvented sweets rotate through the menu.

Like every new restaurant, Luke’s has had its misses. The twice-baked potato came and went unloved by the masses, sadly for those of us who hadn’t yet tried it. And the raw bar was far less popular than the chefs had hoped — so they’ve trimmed the offerings.

It’s hard to know where to begin when recommending what you ought to try at Luke’s, which boasts an inviting bar (above) in its unpretentious but welcoming dining room. There’s the okra with sea salt, olive oil and lemon juice (top); crab cakes that are actually made from crab (above center); and hearty ice cream (above right), if you have room for dessert.

But now that the restaurant is a year old, the team knows what guests like. They learn it daily, in fact. Every morning, they each receive a spreadsheet detailing every item that was sent back to the kitchen and comped the day before, along with an explanation.

“Everything is under a microscope,” Perez says, before McGlamery pipes in, “We listen to all the complaints, and we take it in.”

Often, customer feedback results in major changes. Guests requested brunch and a happy hour. Now, Luke’s has a large food and beverage happy hour menu seven days a week, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

There was also feedback that prices were too high. The chefs trimmed the numbers “without ever sacrificing quality,” McGlamery says.

Some aspects of Luke’s never change, though. “The sunsets are awesome,” Perez says, sitting on the 50-seat patio that faces Lake Lily across U.S. 17-92. He’s right about that.

Luke’s was a change for the Park Lights Hospitality folks, who wanted to open a third restaurant different enough that it wouldn’t impact business at Luma and Prato.

“We had the operations, the systems and the teamwork,” McGlamery notes. “This time, we went for food that is a lot more approachable. It’s good honest food.”

Honestly.


Luke’s Kitchen + Bar
640 S. Orlando Avenue, Maitland, 32751
(407) 674-2400
eatatlukes.com

Last November, Debbie Potter, marketing director of the Alfond Inn, along with the chamber’s Gardner Eckbert and Keller, talked up Winter Park to tour operators and other influencers at the World Travel Market in London. Local businesses and cultural venues picked up most of the tab for the trip.

The British Invasion

The City of Culture and Heritage is becoming increasingly popular with U.K. vacationers, according to the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, which is implementing programs specifically to entice visitors from across the pond.

It should come as no surprise that Orlando continues to break tourism records. But if you rarely leave the confines of Winter Park, you may believe that only the perpetual hot spots around the attractions and International Drive are impacted.

But maybe you’re not looking closely enough. Tourists are in Winter Park, alright — dining in our restaurants, shopping in our retail stores and wandering through our museums.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, the aptly dubbed City of Culture and Heritage is becoming an increasingly popular draw for visitors from the U.K., according to anecdotal evidence and empirical data gathered by the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce.

Not that Winter Park has anything on, say, London when it comes to culture and heritage. It just seems that the city’s Old World ambience — and laid-back vibe — offers a welcome change of pace, and a taste of home, for visitors from across the pond.

“It could be because we’re so different from what’s expected in Orlando,” says Jana Ricci, chair of the chamber’s executive committee. “In any case, in our strategic planning process several years ago, we began considering international tourism in a very serious and thoughtful way.”

The sheer numbers across the region appear to offer a priceless opportunity for a niche destination such as Winter Park.

About 68 million people visited Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties in 2016 — 2 million more than in 2015, according to figures released last August by Visit Orlando, the region’s tourism marketing agency. This year is on track to set another record, officials say.

Jana Ricci (above left), chair of the chamber’s executive committee, and Betsy Gardner Eckbert (above right), the organization’s president and chief executive officer, say that a concerted effort to reach U.K. vacationers in advance will pay immediate dividends for Winter Park’s shops, restaurants and cultural venues. Longer term, they say, some visitors will relocate or invest here. Photos by Rafael Tongol

Most — perhaps 90 percent — come from elsewhere in the U.S. But among international visitors, Canada and the U.K top the list. In 2016, more than 500,000 people from the U.K. — which encompasses England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales — arrived in Central Florida on direct flights, according to Visit Orlando.

In the U.K., airlines are making the trip particularly convenient.

There are a total of nine direct flights daily from the U.K. — including Manchester, Gatwick, Glasgow and Dublin — to Orlando International Airport or Orlando Sanford International Airport. Another direct flight is planned from London Heathrow Airport.

So, the actual number of U.K. visitors to Central Florida could be even higher, since many travelers take connecting flights and wouldn’t be included in Visit Orlando’s count.

Betsy Gardner Eckbert, president and chief executive officer of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce since 2016, wanted more specific numbers. Anecdotal evidence suggested that the U.K., not Canada, would top the list of international visitors to Winter Park — but no one could be sure.

She began by determining where drop-ins to the chamber’s Winter Park Welcome Center at 151 Lyman Avenue come from.

Over the course of a year, chamber staffers found that 26 percent of several thousand Welcome Center visitors were from other countries. No big surprise there. But of that 26 percent, more than half — 53 percent, to be exact — were from the U.K, with Brazil and Canada following behind.

“It was really sort of a shock,” adds Ricci, who also directs marketing for the Mayflower Retirement Community. “You see more about Canada and even Brazil when looking at the numbers for the region.”

In addition, analytics showed that in 2017, the chamber’s website received more than 5,500 visitors from the U.K. Not huge numbers, perhaps — but encouraging for a small city operating in the shadow of Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal Studios Florida and other tourism behemoths.

“Imagine if we could get just 10 percent of U.K. visitors,” says Gardner Eckbert. “Just 10 percent. What a huge impact that would have.” Best of all, she says, U.K. visitors like to take their vacations in the summer — when business is slowest in Winter Park.

Those pondering vacations who find the chamber’s website will learn about the city’s dining, shopping, history and accommodations as well as its world-class cultural attractions.

And they’ll get a video invitation from Gardner Eckbert, who offers trip-planning assistance from the chamber’s concierge staffers. “I think people from the U.K. who come to Winter Park are looking for a different kind of experience,” adds Gardner Eckbert. “They want an unhurried, no-hassle environment.”

Indeed, laid-back Winter Park provides quite a contrast to the hubbub of the area’s theme parks. The city gives off a European-meets-Mediterranean vibe that makes U.K. visitors feel comfortable.

And some tourism experts have warned that Central Florida’s increasingly stupendous theme parks — and the massive crowds they draw — may ultimately make the region less desirable to visitors. In other words, there can actually be too much of a good thing.

In an interview last August with the Orlando Sentinel, Youcheng Wang, an associate dean at the University of Central Florida and a professor at the Rosen School for Hospitality Management, said it’s unwise to position the region only as “the world capital of theme parks.”

“I think you have a problem if you continue to do that,” Wang said. “That’s not a reflection of reality. Orlando is much bigger than that.”

Last November, Debbie Potter, marketing director of the Alfond Inn, along with the chamber’s Gardner Eckbert and Keller, talked up Winter Park to tour operators and other influencers at the World Travel Market in London. Local businesses and cultural venues picked up most of the tab for the trip.

Yet, absent a large marketing budget, how can Winter Park ensure that it gets its share of those 500,000 U.K. visitors who may be suffering from sensory overload after days of navigating Tourist World?

Gardner Eckbert — as is her style — insists that partnerships and collaborations are the way to go. She has been a proponent of moving the organization toward becoming less event focused and more oriented toward quantifiable, ongoing programs that will generate business for chamber members.

Along those lines, plenty is happening behind the scenes.

Last year, the chamber’s Welcome Center became a Certified Visitor Information Center through a program operated by Visit Florida, the statewide tourism promotion agency. (Visit Florida is now a separate entity, unaffiliated with Visit Orlando.)

Among other things, earning certification means that a link to the chamber’s website now appears on the heavily trafficked Visit Florida website. There are only five certified centers in Central Florida — and all but Winter Park’s are in the tourist corridor.

Then, in November of last year, Gardner Eckbert and Katherine Keller, the chamber’s director of marketing and communications, joined Visit Florida in a booth at the World Travel Market in London, which is attended by tour packagers, travel agents and travel writers.

Picking up the $10,000 tab were the City of Winter Park, the Alfond Inn, the Park Avenue Merchants Association, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, the Winter Park History Museum and the City Arts & Culture Subcommittee.

“We want to get Winter Park added to specific U.K. travel itineraries,” says Gardner Eckbert, who — fortunately for the chamber — lived in London and was an entrepreneur there from 2009 to 2014. “We want to reach people before they get to Central Florida. We don’t want to count on people discovering us by accident.”

In January, she and Keller traveled to Fort Lauderdale to attend the Florida Huddle, a trade show for domestic and international tour operators. Again, they pitched Winter Park as a relaxing and culture-filled experience for those wishing to take a break from Mickey, Harry and Shamu.

Another big plus for Winter Park, Gardner Eckbert says, is its historic — and recently renovated — municipal golf course, which is ranked among Links magazine’s Top 10 nine-hole layouts in the U.S.

Best of all, Winter Park is a bargain. Many of its cultural attractions have minimal (or no) admittance fees. And, of course, it costs nothing to stroll along Park Avenue, relax in Mead Garden or Central Park, or tool around tree-shaded historic neighborhoods in a rental car.

“The average international tourist stays in Central Florida for 12 days,” she notes. “With the price of passes, it becomes extremely costly to spend all that time at the theme parks — especially when Winter Park offers such a major bang for the buck.”

Without question, Gardner Eckbert is happy when a tourist from the U.K. — or from anywhere else, for that matter — spends a few days in the city and patronizes local merchants and restaurateurs. But she tends to take a longer view.

“We want to convert these visitors from people who spend money in our community to people who invest in our community,” she says.

Perhaps that means buying a vacation home. Or sending children to Rollins College — an academically solid liberal arts school with one of the most beautiful campuses in the U.S.

Medical tourism is also likely to increase with expansions at Winter Park Memorial Hospital and the opening later this year of the Center for Health & Wellbeing, a partnership between the hospital and the Winter Park Health Foundation.

As soon as they log on, visitors to the chamber’s website see this inviting image, which embodies Winter Park’s European-meets-Mediterranean vibe. It’s the Palmer Avenue Bridge, which spans the Flamingo Canal. “We see tourism as an economic driver,” says Gardner Eckbert. “Not just as a result of attracting more first-time visitors — but also when they decide to come back.” Photo by Winter Park Pictures (winterparkpictures.com)

Some visitors may relocate permanently and impact the local economy by starting new businesses. “We see tourism as an economic driver,” says Gardner Eckbert. “Not just as a result of attracting more first-time visitors — but also when they decide to come back.”

Jay Goodrow is Florida concierge manager at Virgin Holidays, which is the No. 1 tour operator for U.K. residents visiting Orlando. He says Winter Park boosters are smart to position the city as a quaint and calming refuge.

“We’ve brought tens of thousands of British families here for more than three decades,” says Goodrow. “Many customers return more than once. A key tactic is showcasing just how much more there is to the region than the theme parks — as Winter Park is doing.”

The chamber is also working to secure promotional partnerships with orlandoattractions.com, a website that offers a travel app, and the TUI Group, a huge travel and tourism company headquartered in Germany.

Taktik Enterprises, an Orlando-based restaurant marketing company, now includes Winter Park restaurants on its VIP Dine 4 Less and Kids Eat Free cards, which are distributed to U.K. tourists through Virgin Holidays, British Airways, Orbitz and Thomas Cook Group, among others.

Encouraged by early successes, the chamber is considering formation of a tourism task force that will kick all these efforts up yet another notch.

Local businesspeople think it’s jolly good that the chamber is staking a claim on international tourism.

“Having several businesses on Park Avenue, I’m so excited that the chamber is making an effort to put our great city, which has so much to offer, out to the international market,” says Joanne McMahon, owner of 310 and Blu on the Avenue — both restaurants — and the Partridge Tree Gift Shop.

“We’ve already seen an increase in traffic from this. I’m looking forward to what else is to come.”

Snowy Egret Four-plate, hand-colored etching

Feathered Friends

Lavishly plumed headwear worn by Marie Antoinette set the stage for what would become a frenzy for feathers in 19th century America. Wanton destruction of bird species prompted the organization of Florida’s first Audubon Society in Maitland.

On a warm spring morning in 1900, an influential group of 15 Central Florida women and men gathered at a lakeside Maitland estate to grapple with a troubling issue — the wanton destruction of the state’s beautiful birds.

The smell of orange blossoms likely wafted through open windows and birds chirped nearby as the concerned group of 15 formed the Florida Audubon Society.

Today, Maitland’s original Florida Audubon Society has morphed into Audubon Florida, with a policy office in Tallahassee and an administrative office in Miami. Audubon Florida also operates the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland (see pages 22-23).

There are 44 local Audubon chapters statewide, encompassing more than 61,300 members. The Orange Audubon Society, which usually meets monthly in Leu Gardens, is the closest local chapter. There’s also a Kissimmee Valley Audubon Society in Osceola County.

But it all started 118 years ago with a handful of nature-loving locals appalled at the fact that birds were being killed by the hundreds of thousands to supply plumes and bodies to decorate popular ladies’ hats.

FAS founders were attracted to subtropical Florida in part for its weather and in part for its beauty. Some visited simply to escape harsh Northern winters, while others pondered development schemes or cultivated orange groves.

All shared a deep affection for birds, and were enchanted at the variety of bird life they could view literally in their own backyards. They strolled along lakes to seek colorful Carolina parakeets, and watched in wonder as graceful egrets stalked fish in shallow waters.

But the birds were in serious trouble; indeed, the last Carolina parakeet would die in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918. It was time to act — and act quickly.

Summoned by Clara Dommerich on March 2 to her winter home, known as Hiawatha Grove, the group agreed that its first course of business was to create FAS — and begin a public education program to “arouse as much interest as possible in the work of protecting our feathered friends.”

Clara and her husband, Louis, both German immigrants, were New York City residents who wintered in Maitland. They grew citrus on their 400-acre tract — now the sprawling Dommerich Estates subdivision —  where they enjoyed wild birds such as cranes, owl, quail, doves and turkey.

Every morning, Louis would fill bird-feeding stations on his porch — then whistle to summon eager cardinals, blue jays and juncos.

The first FAS president, the Rt. Rev. Henry B. Whipple, Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, was also an avid birder. “No state or territory in our country has been so richly endowed in plumage and song birds as this state,” he wrote, recalling the creation of FAS.

“At my first visit to Florida, 50 years ago, I saw at almost every turn on the St. Johns River, the pink and white curlews, and scores of other brilliantly plumaged birds. Within the past 20 years I saw, on one occasion, in the woods bordering Lake Jessup, not less than 2,000 paroquets (parakeets).”

But by 1900, Whipple sadly recounted, “Many of these beautiful creatures are no longer to be found, unless in the Everglades. The murderous work of extermination has been carried on by vandals, incited by the cupidity of traders who minister to the pride of thoughtless people.”

It was that familiarity with Florida’s natural richness and knowledge of the perils it faced, mostly from the national and international millinery industry, that spurred the FAS founders.

Men and women had long been adorning their headwear — military for men, and everyday clothing and hats for women — with feathers, and even the bodies of birds. In the 18th century, Marie Antoinette, nicknamed “featherhead” by her brother, set the trend in court for women to wear feathers in their elaborate hairstyles.

Bird wear was revived in the late 19th century, and endorsed by fashion houses, celebrities and national magazines. Bird plumes, especially showy “aigrettes” that wading birds displayed during mating season, were extremely valuable.

Hunters living hardscrabble lives in Florida wetlands and coastal marshes could make a living by shooting birds that congregated in nesting rookeries, then stripping off the birds’ valuable plumes and leaving the carcasses — and babies and eggs — behind.

Feathers and bird parts were shipped to northern markets in a $17-million-a-year industry that employed an estimated 83,000 people in 1900. One London firm reported that 1.5 tons of aigrettes passed through its sales room one year — the equivalent of almost 200,000 birds.

In 1886, according to one anecdote, ornithologist Frank Chapman — curator of the American Museum of Natural History — spent two afternoons prowling New York City shopping areas, observing birds on women’s hats. Three-quarters of the 700 hats he counted were decorated with feathers plucked from 40 different kinds of birds — including sparrows and warblers.

This was big business, and Florida was ground zero for much of the destruction.

By 1900, several Audubon societies had sprung up in 20 states to fight this senseless destruction. The fathers and mothers of FAS, much like their counterparts elsewhere, were influential community members who sought to gain local, state and national attention for their cause.

In 1903, Clara Dommerich convened a meeting at her winter home, known as Hiawatha Grove, for the purpose of forming a Florida Audubon Society. The attendees — concerned about depletion of the state’s bird life due to the plumage trade — included a number of historically important figures in Maitland and Winter Park. Today, the Audubon Society is still thriving. Meanwhile, Hiawatha Grove is the site of Dommerich Estates, one of the area’s largest subdivisions. Photo courtesy of the Maitland Historical Society

They would be described 25 years later as “a little group of people who had a vision for the future.” They were passionate, wealthy, driven by their concerns about dwindling bird populations — and well-connected enough to make an impact.

Whipple was likely the most influential of all. In the 1870s, the aging bishop built a home in Maitland as a winter respite. In 1883, he founded the Church of the Good Shepherd — which still stands on Lake Avenue — in memory of his son.

Always an activist, Whipple had pushed for reforms in U.S. relations with the native Indians. He had corresponded with 11 presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, and his work is considered to have preserved the people and culture of the Dakota and Chippewa tribes, who called him “Straight Tongue” because he kept his word.

Whipple wrote eloquent letters and articles on behalf of FAS, but always credited Clara Dommerich — the first FAS secretary-treasurer, who died just eight months after its formation — as the driving force behind the movement.

At the FAS 25th anniversary commemoration, President Hiram Byrd noted that Clara was “probably the leading spirit in the movement, but as so frequently happens in this world of affairs, the hand that presses the button is not seen.”

The founders included others who might have comprised a Who’s Who of the Maitland-Winter Park area.

They included Dr. G. M. Ward, president of Rollins College, and his wife, Emma; Harriet Vanderpool, wife of Isaac Vanderpool, a local citrus grower and Maitland founder; W. C. Comstock, a Winter Park businessman and civic leader; Lida Peck Bronson, wife of Sherman Bronson, a businessman and former Maitland mayor; Laura Norcross Marrs and her husband, Kingsmill, a wealthy Massachusetts couple who wintered in Maitland; and Evangeline Marrs Whipple, wife of the bishop and Kingsmill’s sister.

Perhaps no other FAS member made more of an impact on the national Audubon movement than Laura Marrs. A member of Massachusetts Audubon — the first Audubon group in the U.S. — and the daughter of a former Boston mayor, Marrs chaired the FAS executive committee until her death in 1926.

There she oversaw much of the organization’s work, wrote annual reports for Bird-Lore — the national Audubon publication — penned leaflets and helped fund the group.

In 1902, Marrs was instrumental in the hiring of Guy Bradley to serve as a game warden in the Florida Keys, and in 1905 helped to form the National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals — later the name was shortened — uniting dozens of state societies under one organization that wielded considerable clout.

When Bradley was murdered three years later by plume hunters, Marrs wrote that his death “fills not only our Society in Florida, but the people of the United States, with horror. A brave man shot at his post, defending the helpless against brutality, and all for what? A feather, to adorn the head of some woman!!”

The Marrs family connected other people to the FAS cause. Rose Cleveland, a close friend of Evangeline Whipple, linked the group to her brother, President Grover Cleveland, persuading him to serve as an honorary vice president.

Many early FAS leaders were involved with Rollins. Ward, then president of the college, at

tended the FAS founding meeting. His Rollins successor, Dr. William Fremont Blackman, served as FAS president for 10 years, while his accomplished wife, Lucy Worthington Blackman, wrote a history of the organization.

William Fremont Blackman traveled around the state and lectured about Audubon issues, penning several newspaper articles and pamphlets to further the cause.

Louis Dommerich, who succeeded Whipple as FAS president, was a Rollins trustee, along with W. C. Temple, a businessman and citrus grower — for whom the Temple orange was named — and W. C. Comstock, a wealthy grain merchant.

FAS wisely claimed many of these influencers as their own through growing lists of honorary and regular vice presidents, who may not have been active, but whose prominence lent credibility to the cause.

These included Theodore Roosevelt, governor of New York, who was associated with national conservation and bird protection during the Progressive Era.

In 1903, during his first term as U.S. president, Roosevelt, in response to reports about Florida plume hunters, created a national bird refuge at Pelican Island on Florida’s east coast — the first federal wildlife refuge in history.

By the time he left office, Roosevelt had preserved 230 million acres of land for bird and wildlife refuges, parks and forests. Four years earlier he had written: “I do not understand how any man or woman who really loves nature can fail to try to exert all influence in support of such objects as those of the Audubon Society.”

Another notable supporter was Mary Barr Munroe, of Coconut Grove, described as one of the most “militant” powers of FAS. She was known for cornering anyone she found wearing aigrettes and eloquently telling the story of how the plumes were obtained.

“It was not unusual for women to be reduced to tears, whether of anger or humiliation or repentance, and several were known to have taken off their hats and destroyed their aigrettes” after such an encounter, according to Audubon historian Lucy Worthington Blackman.

Public condemnation of the plumed-hat trade combined with protective laws had an effect, as did an eventual change in fashion spurred by the fact that prostitutes began to wear feathered hats. In addition, large hats were impractical in modern cars.

FAS had some early successes. In 1901, the organization persuaded the Florida legislature to join other states in passing the Audubon Model Law, which prohibited the killing of all but game birds.

Lucy Worthington Blackman noted, however, that the legislature left hawks, crows, owls, shorebirds, ducks, pigeons, butcherbirds, meadowlarks and robins unprotected. “Faulty as the law was,” she noted, “it was a beginning, and greatly encouraged the bird lovers of the state.”

In the meantime, FAS created educational programs, published multiple brochures and news articles, and gained protection for specific bird species, including the robin. In 1905, the Orange County Board of Education set aside a half-hour per week for bird study.

Because of the expanding influence of FAS, Florida’s birds revived their numbers until mid-century, when new problems such as pollution and habitat loss arose. Florida Audubon was there, and remains a leader in the fight to save Florida’s birds.

“The women that started that battle … thought that by ending the plume trade, they were done, but history has shown us we are never done,” says Dykes Everett of Winter Park, who serves on Florida Audubon’s board. Today there are “different villains but the same old fight.”

Everett noted that in the generations since the FAS founding “we’ve accomplished so much in terms of conservation and species recovery … but unfortunately, we’re still fighting some of the same battles for species survival and habitats that they were fighting. You have to continually stay engaged. There’s always a new threat.”

In the last century, Audubon advocates have turned their attention to not just saving birds, but also the delicate ecosystems upon which they rely. That means understanding habitats and any threats to them — an issue that has human implications.

“If you save the water, you save the fish,” Everett said. “If you save the fish, you save the birds. If you save the birds, you save the planet. And if you save the planet you save the people.”

Although none of the FAS founders lived to witness the scope of what their nascent organization would become, the legacy of that March morning is enormous. Adds Everett: “I think they would be unbelievably gratified to see their legacy.”

For more information about joining Audubon Florida, visit fl.audubon.org. Dues for the statewide organization are $20 per year, while local chapters have separate dues.


Rollins College professor and environmental activist Leslie Kemp Poole visits Maitland’s Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. Photo by Rafael Tongol

Raptor’s Retreat

Maitland’s Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, one of the region’s best-kept secrets, focuses on the rescue, medical treatment, rehabilitation and release of Florida’s raptors.

The center, which is open to the public, offers educational opportunities for all ages — as well as up-close encounters with its feathered patients. It is operated by Audubon Florida, and is one of several Audubon-related centers and sanctuaries statewide.

Maitland’s Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, where you’ll see (left to right) bald eagles, ospreys and burrowing owls, among dozens of other recuperating raptors. Photos by Rafael Tongol

You’ll see bald eagles, ospreys, kites, owls — they are particularly adorable — and falcons. Visitors can wander along a pathway to Disney’s Magic of Flight Barn, which houses birds currently under rehabilitation, and contemplate a man-made wetland over which a gazebo stretches.

It’s a place only Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t love.

Activities include on- and off-site programs, special events, volunteer opportunities and a program called “Eagle Eyes on the Environment,” which uses technology, among other methods, to describe eagle conservation.

The center, which treats about 800 raptors per year, is located at 1101 Audubon Way in Maitland, just off Lake Avenue. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Mondays. Call 407-644-0190 or visit fl.audubon.org for more information.


John Costin

Birds of Paradise: John Costin Just Wings It With His Etchings 

If you attended the 2016 Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, you saw John Costin’s extraordinarily detailed and vibrant work. His snowy egret was selected as the poster image for the event. At Winter Park Magazine, we were so impressed with Costin’s meticulous etchings that we requested another bird image for the cover of our spring 2016 issue. The Ybor City-based artist supplied an image of a red-shouldered hawk, a bird that particularly enjoys the environs of Mead Garden. We’ve been seeking an excuse to showcase Costin’s work again — and Leslie K. Poole finally gave us one with her story about the Audubon Society of Florida’s beginnings in Maitland. So, accompanying the story are more of Costin’s birds, some species of which can be seen in Mead Botanical Garden and other locations in bird-friendly Winter Park. Etching, by the way, is a complex process in which the image is etched by hand on a polished plate of copper, which takes about six to eight weeks. Then the plate is wiped down with ink and printed on high-quality rag paper. Afterward, the printed image is painted with watercolors, making each piece unique. Visit costingraphics.com for more information about Costin and his art.

Caribbean Flamingo
Four-plate, hand-colored etching

Snowy Egret
Four-plate, hand-colored etching

Roseate Spoonbill
Four-plate, hand-colored etching

Great Egret
Four-plate, hand-colored etching

Glossy Ibis
Four-plate, hand-colored etching

Red-shouldered Hawk
Four-plate, hand-colored etching

 


Rollins College professor and environmental activist Leslie Kemp Poole (left) visits Maitland’s Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, where you’ll see (below, left to right) bald eagles, ospreys and burrowing owls, among dozens of other recuperating raptors.

From his Winter Park home, which is adorned with Chihuly glass, Steve Goldman directs several philanthropic efforts, including the National Young Composer’s Challenge.

A Keen Ear For Genius

Photographs by Rafael Tongol and Martin Schiff

From his Winter Park home, which is adorned with Chihuly glass, Steve Goldman directs several philanthropic efforts, including the National Young Composer’s Challenge.

A few weeks ago, an audience of about 500 people gathered at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to watch miracles materialize on the stage of the Walt Disney Theater.

It wasn’t a magic show, a motivational seminar or a spiritual gathering, though it had something in common with all three.

The annual event, dubbed the Composium, is the capstone of the National Young Composer’s Challenge, conceived by Winter Park inventor/philanthropist Steve Goldman to discover and nurture budding musical genius.

Every year, in what amounts to a classical-music version of a fantasy baseball camp, Goldman brings a half-dozen brilliant teenaged NYCC winners to Orlando, where they hear their five-minute compositions rehearsed, performed and recorded by professional musicians.

This year marked the return of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra to the event, along with chamber ensemble musicians from the University of Central Florida faculty. Both groups were under the baton of Christopher Wilkins, the Phil’s former music director and an NYCC mainstay.

Most of the players were at least twice the age of the young composers, several of whom started creating music on their own in grade school.

While the youngsters may have been regarded as anomalies among classmates, teachers and parents, they found themselves among kindred spirits at the Composium. And it’s hard to say who enjoyed the situation more — pros or protégés.

Christopher Wilkins, former director of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, conducts compositions by winner Harrison Collins . The young musician gets to sit onstage, among the musicians, as their winning works are performed live.

 

Christopher Wilkins, former director of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, conducts compositions by winner Elise Arancio. The young musician gets to sit onstage, among the musicians, as their winning works are performed live.

“They’re the miracles of our time,” said violist Melissa Swedberg, one of the Phil musicians who shared the stage with the six selectees. “Their amazing creativity, the sophistication of their music — where does that come from?”

Added Goldman: “These kids are one in a million. More like one in 10 million. A lot of them are already writing at the level of the most advanced adult composers I know of. The level of emotion, the sense of beauty you see from these hyper-talented musicians — it’s something that seems to peak at a young age.”

So, apparently, does a disarming inventiveness. It’s unlikely that a mature composer would have requested the simple but ingenious sound effect prescribed in Paper Man, a winning orchestral score submitted by 17-year-old Harrison Collins of Little Elm, Texas: It called for musicians to hold a sheet of paper in the air and rattle it.

Like the other winners, Collins, a gangly, bespectacled youth with a wild nimbus of reddish hair, sat on stage in front of the orchestra as his composition was rehearsed, bit by bit, and then played all the way through.

Perched on a tall stool just a bow’s length from the cellos, Collins called to mind a child in the middle of a thrumming model-train layout as he swiveled his head — sometimes literally elevating off his seat — to watch his melody wind its way through the sections of the orchestra.

Up until that moment, like most other winners, he had heard the composition only in his head, or as played by a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), which uses a sound-sample library to approximate various instruments. The MIDI’s tinny, music-box tones are, to a full-fledged orchestral rendition, as a pineapple Life Saver is to the fruit off the tree.

But then, flesh-and-blood musicians have their own limitations. Breathing, for example. Young composers — natives of a digital, video-game universe — don’t always take that fact into account.

NYCC winners occasionally request Olympic-level gymnastics from the string section, or appear to presume that wind-instrument players have dirigibles for lungs. “We can cheat a little, but not that much,” advised a smiling, slightly breathless tuba player in mid-rehearsal.

Other young-composer misadventures include the occasional idiosyncratic twist on musical notation — those traditional, “expressive” scoring asides such as allegro, andante and largo that are meant to give players a sense of tempo, volume and overall mood.

This year, 17-year-old winner Elise Arancio, from Tucker, Georgia, submitted an ethereal ensemble piece called Kuma Lisa, the name of a mischievous fox in a Bulgarian folk tale whose personality she hoped to evoke. Members of the UCF chamber ensemble tasked with playing Kuma Lisa were charmed by Arancio’s ability to create a wispy, fairy-tale atmosphere — and amused by her notations advising them to play “devilishly,” “cheekily,” “naively” and in a “snarky” fashion.

All of which begs the question: How does a 17-year-old from Tucker, Georgia, wind up being inspired by a Bulgarian folk tale?

Arancio’s mother, Anne, appeared to have wondered the same thing. From her seat a few rows away from the stage, she could only extend her palms and shrug. “I just have no idea,” she offered. “She reads a lot.”

Others in the audience could relate to such parental bewilderment. Stuart Malina, conductor of the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Symphony Orchestra, was part of an entourage that had travelled to Orlando with another winner — his son, Zev, a slightly built youth who all but disappeared into a dark suit on stage.

Zev was 14 when he wrote his winning orchestral submission, Dreamscape. By then, he’d been composing for several years. His father’s first clue that his son could write music came when he heard a beautiful waltz being played on the piano in their home.

“Who wrote that?” the father asked.

“I did,” replied the son, as casually as if he’d just been crayoning.

Music’s ability to shelter and sooth the adolescent soul has played out among many NYCC contestants. Take 18-year-old Daniel Zarb-Cousin, a winner for the second consecutive year. His Fantasy for Orchestra was an homage to the modern romanticism of Gustav Mahler.

Zarb-Cousin is old enough to see why his self-guided progression through the canon of composers eventually led him to his favorite: the revolutionary Austrian composer Anton Bruckner.

“I had a lot of instability and chaos in my life,” he said, taking a break from a photo session with the winners in the arts center’s lobby. “I think that’s why I wound up idolizing Bruckner. He’s very ordered, very rigid. That’s why I’m drawn to him. I have a need for structure.”

By validating their efforts with a heady artistic adventure and cash prizes — which range from $500 each for chamber pieces and $1,000 each for orchestral pieces — the NYCC often marks a turning point for its participants.

Zarb-Cousin, for example, was admitted to the prestigious San Francisco Conservatory of Music partly because he listed the award on his resumé.

This year, the NYCC itself reached a turning point. The program has, up to now, depended almost entirely upon Goldman’s hands-on participation and funding through his charitable foundation. Such an undertaking isn’t cheap; Goldman estimates that hard costs topped $60,000 this year.

Fortunately, for the first time since the NYCC debuted in 2005, UCF emerged as a partner, covering roughly half that amount by providing the chamber ensemble, paying for the Phil’s appearance and arranging for use of the Walt Disney Theater at no cost to the program.

Stuart Malina listens intently as his music is played by seasoned pros. Before the Composium, many winners had only heard their compositions through MIDI devices, which electronically simulate the sound of instruments.

 

Daniel Zarb-Cousin listens intently as his music is played by seasoned pros. Before the Composium, many winners had only heard their compositions through MIDI devices, which electronically simulate the sound of instruments.

 

Because the arts center was built with the help of a state grant, UCF, as a state institution, has an annual allotment of free performance dates at the downtown Orlando venue. This year, the university donated one of those designated dates to the Composium.

The NYCC’s expenses would also be much higher were it not for key, unpaid volunteers who’ve been with Goldman from the beginning. Those volunteers include Wilkins, who not only serves as the Composium’s conductor but also acts as an insightful and amusing emcee.

Indeed, one of the subplots of this year’s event was an emotional reunion between Wilkins and the Phil, which he directed until 2014. He’s currently music director of the Akron Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra.

Three other key volunteers work with Goldman as judges, listening to more than 100 submissions every year and sending a taped, detailed critique to each contestant: Dan Crozier, professor of theory and composition at Rollins College; Keith Lay, chair of Music Industry Studies at Full Sail University; and Jeff Rupert, director of Jazz Studies at UCF.

Adding another educational component to the NYCC, this year music departments at UCF, Rollins and Full Sail assigned their students to study the winning compositions, and to attend the Composium.

Goldman, 66, doesn’t plan on scaling back his commitment to the program he created anytime soon. But he’s hopeful that the blossoming partnership with UCF will ensure the NYCC’s continuance for decades to come.

That’s also the hope of Jeff Moore, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at UCF. Moore is convinced that Orlando, with its already-diverse arts community, is poised to become a hotbed of musical composition.

He sees the university’s involvement with the NYCC as a major first step toward a future in which UCF — where there’s an up-and-coming music composition program — will become a steward of the program.

“This can be a great tool for recruitment to UCF,” said Goldman. “I can see it helping to bring top-level composition students to the university from all over the country. There’s no reason that can’t happen here. And it needs to go on without me, some day. These kids are a national resource. We need them.”

Goldman’s crusade is rooted in his own teenage years, when he was a student at Maitland Junior High School and Winter Park High School. He began composing music for a full orchestra — an activity that didn’t do much for his social standing.

“I was pretty much of a lone ranger,” he recalled.

Goldman went on to graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in physics. (While in Gainesville, he also played in a rock ‘n’ roll band during an era when a promising, long-haired guitarist named Tom Petty was also making the rounds of local rock venues.

After college, Goldman enjoyed a lucrative stint as a tech entrepreneur. The company he founded, Distributed Processing Technology, pioneered computer disk caching technology and what came to be called RAID: Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks.

The world as we know it now revolves around such computer storage technology: People who understand how computers work — and what RAID and caching did to enhance them — have been known to ask Goldman for his autograph.

In 2000, Goldman sold Distributed Processing Technology so he could devote himself entirely to philanthropy, much as his parents did when they helped to fund construction of the Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Loch Haven Park, where one of the venues in the complex is named for them.

Apart from the NYCC, Goldman has designed and operated an internet-based science-education initiative: Why U. Through the nonprofit program, whimsical animated videos — written by Goldman and animated by Tampa-based artist Mark Rodriguez — augment STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) in the K-12 and college levels.

Why U offers free access to its videos through its website, whyu.org, and its YouTube channel. The offbeat-but-effective tutorials have been used by at least 8 million people worldwide.

“What I realized is, there’s a lot of attention in the educational system that goes out to kids that are struggling,” Goldman said. “And that’s important, no question. But no one was addressing the need at the other end of the spectrum with these high-functioning but isolated kids.”

That sentiment is shared by NYCC donor Alan Ginsburg, who was part of the Composium audience watching this season’s batch of musical miracles unfold.

Ginsburg, an Orlando real estate developer by vocation but a stand-up comedian at heart, knows a good performance when he sees one. During intermission, he strolled up to the apron of the stage to congratulate his friend and fellow philanthropist, for another successful year.

“It’s just great what he’s doing for all these geniuses,” Ginsburg said. “That one kid — how old is he? 14? When I was 14, I couldn’t even ride a bike.”

Guests order at a counter, then have their purchases delivered to a long communal table, cozy booths, rounded banquettes or a spacious outdoor patio where the translucent roof lets in light while keeping inclement weather at bay.

Glass Knife Is Cutting Edge

Photographs by Rafael Tongol

Executive Chef Stuart Whitfield prepares a berry bacon spinach salad, one of the lunch items available at The Glass Knife. There are also sandwiches (roasted turkey club, egg salad and pimento cheese) as well as soup and a couple of shared plates.

The Glass Knife, which opened recently in that modern pink and black building on Orlando Avenue, is not, like many independently owned bakery/cafés, the love-child of some passionate pastry chef scraping by on a shoestring budget.

In this case, the creator is Winter Park resident Steve Brown, founder and CEO of accesso, a global technology company that serves the leisure industry. (Brown insists on the lower-case “a,” despite protests from persnickety copy editors.)

It’s not that Brown doesn’t love The Glass Knife just as he’d love a flesh-and-blood offspring. It’s just that most restaurant owners aren’t also successful tech entrepreneurs. “We worked with no budget. How about that?” he says of his investment without offering a specific number.

Answering to no one freed Brown and his team to design what made sense to them. And Brown’s business background facilitated the use of state-of-the-art technology to make customer transactions easier.

The Glass Knife has a cash-free policy, for example. First, Brown says, overnight workers are safer if the coffers are perpetually empty, so there’s nothing to rob. Second, cash slows down service, since touching money would require counter workers to replace their gloves after every transaction.

Brown and his executive chef, Stuart Whitfield, are Disney World veterans, so they’re well-versed in streamlining. “I bleed Disney,” Brown says with a laugh.

With all its high-tech and low-tech quirks, The Glass Knife is still, is essence, a neighborhood bakery/café — albeit a sophisticated (yet welcoming) one.

The stylish eatery is attracting the most attention for its creative baked goods, including its beautiful strawberry cake. It’s layered with house-made jam and topped with strawberry icing, fresh strawberries, a dusting of rose gold luster and a chocolate curl.

It’s named for pastel glass knives from the ’30s and ’40s that Brown’s mother collected in the family’s Lakeland home. Several vintage knives are displayed under glass in a communal solid walnut table in the dining room.

A flower design on one knife was recreated on the 3,278-square-foot building’s exterior. A star design encompassing three pastel colors adorns the restaurant’s terrazzo floor. Pieces of the Brown family’s heirloom collection of pastel Depression glass are embedded in those stars. “We have such a small floor, we don’t want to waste it,” Brown says.

Elsewhere, the dining room — modern yet feminine — boasts contemporary clean lines and light woods contrasting with blush pink and a bit of tufted velour fabric. It’s all reminiscent of an old-school pastry box.

Near the coffee station, there’s a replica of the patent drawing for what might be the first glass knife, filed by a man named John Didio from Buffalo, New York, in 1938.

Guests order at a counter, then have their purchases delivered to a long communal table, cozy booths, rounded banquettes or a spacious outdoor patio where the translucent roof lets in light while keeping inclement weather at bay.

To the right of the counter, a window to the kitchen allows visitors to watch as bakers ice cakes. Indeed, bakeries have an emotional pull for Brown, 49, as cakes were an integral part of his world as a child.

Guests order at a counter, then have their purchases delivered to a long communal table, cozy booths, rounded banquettes or a spacious outdoor patio where the translucent roof lets in light while keeping inclement weather at bay.

His mother created weddings cakes from the family’s home, and his aunt was a home economics teacher. So, food — especially confections — was always at the forefront.

For 16 years, Brown worked in finance for Disney. After starting accesso, he traveled the world to bring his queueing technology and point-of-sale services to foreign countries. All the while, he was percolating the bakery/café idea in his head.

Taking a break from meetings, he’d visit bake shops wherever he happened to be, taking note of what he might do, and what he might not do, if —more accurately, when — he opened an eatery of his own.

By the time he was ready to break ground on The Glass Knife, Brown had a solid vision: “I wanted an approachable version of a European bakery. In Paris, the baked goods are beautiful, but they don’t always taste good. I wanted to blend that European flair with sensible Southern hospitality.”

That’s why customers might order a lacy pink cake or a sophisticated “entremet” (a single-serving dessert with sponge cake and mousse; the Florida orange version tastes like a Creamsicle). But they also might chow down on an oversized cookie. At mealtime, they might enjoy a nostalgic taste of home with a pimento cheese sandwich or a chicken pot pie.

“Around the world, I never saw a bakery mix rustic products with fancy ones,” Brown observes. “I built a place where you can get a freshly made version of a Twinkie or Ring Ding, or just drink a cup of coffee. Plus, you can celebrate a special occasion with champagne and an elegant cake.” On-tap wine and beer are available.

For breakfast, you can’t go wrong with the Old South biscuit sandwich (left), while lunch includes a variety of salads (top right). What’s for dinner? Try the chicken pot pie (bottom right).

The Glass Knife also offers breakfast, including such items as avocado and egg toast (a poached egg, sliced avocado, house-made tomato confit, arugula and pickled red onion garnished with lemon crème fraiche and pomegranate seeds on toasted sourdough bread).

You can also enjoy an Old South biscuit sandwich (an egg soufflé topped with bacon jam, Applewood-smoked bacon and aged cheddar cheese on a house-made cheddar biscuit) as well as waffles topped with apple compote and toasted pecans, and rolled oats topped with dried blueberries, fresh banana slices and house-made granola.

Lunch items include sandwiches (roasted turkey club, egg salad, and pimiento cheese) as well as salads and soups and an array of shared plates including meat and cheese and an artisanal pretzel served with honey cup mustard, beer cheese dipping sauce and pimento cheese spread. Chicken pot pie is the evening feature.

Baked goods change daily, but may include brownies, cakes, croissants, cookies, donuts, pastries, pies, scones and tarts. You never know what you’re going to find in the bakery case, except that it’ll be delicious.

Since Brown was thinking big during development, he hired an executive who knows all about volume. Whitfield worked as a member of Disney’s culinary team for some time after stints at prestigious restaurants along the east coast.

“Vanilla vanilla” petite cake consists of layers of rich yellow cake filled and topped with house-made buttercream and finished with a delicate blush-colored sugar dogwood flower.

“At Disney, every single item must be as great for the first customer as for the 20 millionth customer,” Brown notes. “Stuart thought of that in recipe development. ‘How can we produce a premium product that can be made in volume?’”

That quest for Disneyesque perfection extends to the coffee service. The Glass Knife uses sustainably sourced, “farm-to-cup” Onyx Coffee Lab beans, and the baristas work with Modbar equipment hidden beneath the counter, allowing face-to-face interaction with guests ordering lattes and espressos.

The duo’s desire to streamline operations came in handy on the restaurant’s first Saturday, its second day in business: Customers ordered 300 slices of cake. “The cakes were fully decorated with multiple fillings and then sliced,” Brown points out.

That big start encourages Brown to believe that he’ll meet his goal: “I want The Glass Knife to be a place where people will sit a spell, maybe stop in for a cup of coffee, maybe have a cookie with it and maybe not; I don’t care. We want to fill that gap.”

How is it going so far? Piece of cake.


The Glass Knife
276 South Orlando Avenue, Winter Park
407-500-CAKE (2253)
theglassknife.com

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