■ BY NIKKI HEIMANN
A fresh young fellow is running the kitchen at local island restaurant, Dolphin Cove Café (a.k.a. The Pink Pony). His name is Eric Hartshorne, and he’s been the one flipping those decadent half-pound cheeseburgers since this past February.
He is originally from New Hartford, a small town in New York, but transplanted to Southwest Florida when he was 12. He was born on January 25 and is presently 23 years of age.
Eric is an avid fisherman, and has been his entire life. “My dad was so excited, as soon as I took my first step he took me fishing.”
They would frequently fish a pond in the woods behind their home in New York; the local church would stock the pond with fish, so it was a nice spot to cast out.
Eric began playing baseball at the age of four and continued traveling with teams until he was 17. He was also a theatrical child, acting as a pirate in Peter Pan and other performances. He jokingly claimed to be “Mr. Popular” back in the day because he was involved with so many activities at his elementary school.
His most memorable childhood experiences include going to Water Safari, Six Flags, Valley Forge and Darien Lake. He has always been an outdoorsy guy, and still is. “That won’t change ‘til the day I die. I don’t want to die indoors, I would rather be outdoors,” Eric said. He has a younger brother named Justin, 17, who is a senior at North Port High School and plays on the varsity baseball team. Although it seems that little brother followed in big brothers athletic footsteps, Eric admits, “He’s a little better than me.” He also has a younger sister named Danielle, 21, and two parents – Jim and Kim – who he loves and appreciates equally; the most influential people in his life are his family members. Both of his grandfathers have passed away, but both of his grandmothers live in Florida.
The familial cascade to the tropics started with his mom’s mom, then his immediate family, and finally his dad’s mom left New York to join them on the coast. Eric is very close with his family, and displays his affection with tattoos on his upper left arm. The “family sleeve” covers his bicep – a large Italian cross with roses surrounding that represent his grandparents. When he has children someday, he intends to imprint their baby footprints on his forearm.
Since he was 5-years-old, the family would make trips to Fort Myers to visit grandma, and his dad started looking around for opportunities to live in Florida because things weren’t going so well in New York. Eric’s father began working for the Walmart Distribution Center, and when he requested a transfer to Florida, they sent him to Port Charlotte. This altered Eric’s life path at a young age.
“It was weird how much I actually left behind when I moved to Florida, and I wasn’t even that old.” Just as he was entering his teenage years he had to leave life as he knew it behind, say goodbye to all of his friends, and make a whole new name for himself; which left a significant memory. He got along easily though, and was invited to a movie with some new Florida friends a couple weeks after arriving.
He vividly recalls how his parents made him mow the lawn before he could go out that night, which made him so mad. Now, he respects the way he was raised – it instilled a good work ethic. “They taught me right,” he said. At the end of his middle school years, Eric’s parents built a house in North Port – and his situation switched again.
“It was different. I never thought I’d be one of those kids who had to make new friends and start somewhere new. And I did it twice.” He began high school not knowing anyone. Although he wasn’t thrilled about another transition, he managed to mix in well with his classmates, “I knew my entire class I graduated with at North Port High, 2010.” And he is still close with his best friends.
Eric mostly enjoyed science and gym classes, and played on the JV baseball team freshman year. Throughout high school he played for the regional North Port Travel Ball League, traveling as far as Winter Haven. Upon graduation, Eric was accepted into a technical school for Film Production in Colorado, but was unable to attend due to finances. He is still interested in script writing and acting, however, and feels it would bring out his creative side.
“Especially coming out here to Boca, it’s beautiful. Going to different spots, like just sitting here, I could unfold a whole entire scene just off the top of my head – like ninjas hopping over the wall!” as we sit peacefully in the courtyard of the Johann Fust Library. Eric has a variety of interests and work experience. His first job was at a restaurant called Rodeo’s in Port Charlotte when he was 14 years old, “I was the one who made your nachos and pulled pork sandwiches,” and he has been working ever since.
Besides cooking in multiple kitchens, he has cut and grouted tile, laid sod, and roofed in the summer – which he remembers was, “the worst four months of my life.” He would like to attend a culinary school at some point to expand his knowledge in the food field. For three years he cooked and eventually helped manage the kitchen at Buffalo Wings and Rings in North Port, but things weren’t going as planned, so it was time to move on and find somewhere else. “And this was it!” referring to the doubly named Dolphin Cove/Pink Pony establishment on Park Avenue.
So how exactly did Eric land this position? Ken, original owner and father of current co-owners Ken Heimann and Julie Camp, asked his friend Laurie (who works in the kitchen at the Veterans of Foreign Wars – VFW Rotonda Post) if she was interested in helping out for the season. Laurie told Ken she was busy enough already, but knew someone who might be. Laurie recommended Eric to store owner Julie, and at the end of his interview, “She asked when I could start.” Eric has been behind the scenes preparing breakfast and lunch orders for the past eight months, so he hasn’t been able to meet many of the locals or regular customers. But he does know people by their food order, “Like the Sandy salad, or the bagel guy who orders at noon.”
What’s Eric’s favorite food to cook? Chicken. “Chicken in general,” according to Eric, is the best, “You can fry it, grill it, bake it – there are so many options!” Boca Grande is his favorite fishing location. “I’ve been coming to Boca since I moved to Florida,” day tripping to the beach or fishing off the pier on the north end. Now that he works here he brings out kayaks or canoes, and snook lights some nights. Eric attempted tarpon fishing off the south end, “I’ve hooked into two tarpon and they spit me out. It was a hell of a thrill hooking into them. I just want to land one!”
Eric lives in North Port with two longtime friends, Nate and Sarah (who are engaged) and his dog Biggie, an American bulldog and pit mix. They enjoy spending time together going kayaking, fishing and bar hopping. A business idea has been in the making for a while, and it might soon become a reality thanks to his friend who can afford the startup costs. Eric wants to clean boats, “It would basically be an ‘I come to you’ service,” instead of bringing boats to a marina or lot. “I will go to their boat and give it a nice scrub, wax and polish,” he explained, “I’ve never heard anyone say they’re excited to wax a boat, so I think it’s the right job to get into, especially in Florida. People are always going to have boats.” Hopefully his endeavor will be profitable, “If I can make enough money I’d like to send my parents on a cruise to Alaska, because that’s my dad’s wish. I’d like to make that happen for him because he’s helped make a lot of my dreams come true, so I think it’s time to pay it forward.”
Another tattoo reads “Karma” in cursive along Eric’s right bicep. “I treat others the way I want to be treated, my dad always taught me that. ‘Every dog has his day’ – he couldn’t stress it enough.” Eric lives his life by this philosophy, “Respect and karma are two major parts of my life. I believe if everyone based their actions off those two words, everyone would have a better life, and the world could be a better place.”