Former Boca Grande chef opens gourmet shop in Asheville, N.C.

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BY SUE ERWIN – Denise Searle and her husband, Jimmy, enjoyed living and working in Boca Grande for many years, but in 2015, they suddenly felt a yearning to pursue a lifelong dream.

Having worked in the hospitality field for numerous years, the couple visualized owning their own business one day.

“My husband Jimmy was a chef at the Boca Bay Pass Club for 12 years, and I worked at Newlin’s Gourmet Market, so we had a hankering to open up our own store,” Denise said.

Jimmy is originally from White Sulfur Springs West Virginia.

A year-long venture led the couple to Asheville, North Carolina, where they purchased a place called The Artisan Gourmet Market/Coffee and Wine Bar.

“It’s a gourmet market and café. We have a full wine inventory and a high-quality meat department with gourmet cheeses and specialty prepared food items,” Denise said.

They offer wine tastings as well as a variety of other community-inspired events.

Originally from Cazenovia, New York, Denise met Jimmy while working in Alaska at a four-star hotel called “The Grand Aleutian.”

They moved to Palm Beach nearly two decades ago and then to Rotonda several years later.

Then in March of 2015, they left Boca Grande in pursuit of their dream.

Answering an advertisement in Craigslist on a whim, they spent the summer of 2015 at Lake Paupac in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. They were in charge of hospitality at a lodge, and Jimmy ran the dining services. Managing a private club with 57 families and overseeing a golf course and lake front property, they said they never enjoyed such wonderful food, at least not since the days when Jimmy worked as a chef at the Pass Club.

The position was only available for the summer season.

“The folks said they have never had such great food,” Denise said proudly.

Denise was the program director at the Friends of the Boca Grande Community Center for four years.

The couple has two sons: T.J. and Oliver, ages 16 and 12.

Both attended The Island School in Boca Grande, and both help out at the gourmet shop establishment.

“The boys certainly do their share. They work right alongside us and help serve meals. There are 30 seats, and we also do a lot of carry-out. It’s definitely a good combination,” Denise said.

Denise said it took about a year to find the right place, but the beautiful weather in North Carolina and the amazing views were beyond temptation. She said she thinks it’s sort of evolutionary for a chef to eventually have the desire to have his own place of business.

And business has been very good.

“We took in over in mid-March of 2016, and we haven’t had a day off since,” Denise said.

The “season” in North Carolina is essentially May through October. So the family is hoping that some of Boca Grande’s seasonal residents, as well as some who knew Jimmy from his days of working at the Pass Club, might just make a stop in Asheville to say hello and enjoy a nice lunch.

“Jimmy was so well liked at the Pass Club. We are very excited about our new business venture, and we hope to be able to visit with all of our Boca Grande friends again soon.”