■ BY SUE ERWIN
Evan Merritt has been coming to Little Gasparilla Island since he was a baby. His parents would come here on the weekends and for several weeks each summer.
“We used to rent places in Englewood and on Little Gasparilla Island and that’s when I first started making contacts in Boca Grande,” Evan said.
His parents bought a home just off island when he was a young child.
Jeff Dietrich, who was then dockmaster at Gasparilla
Marina and is now the current dockmaster at Boca Grande Marina, offered him a summer job at the marina when he was 15-years old.
Five years ago, Evan took over the position of dockmaster when Jeff moved on to Boca Grande Marina.
“I managed the marina for a few years, and through that position I also worked for Pirates Water Taxi out of Eldred’s Marina,” Evan said.
Over the years, the young man thought about starting his own business. Considering the amount of tourism during season, he thought about the people who come to vacation on the barrier islands and that fact they are only accessible by boat. So he decided to launch a grocery delivery business for people who visit Little Gasparilla Island, Gasparilla Island, Palm Island, Don Pedro and Useppa.
Last November, he approached the owners of Eldred’s Marina and asked if he could run the business out of the marina. In March, they agreed to share some space.
Three months ago, the 26-year old launched a new business, “Island Grocery Delivery, Inc.”
And it’s proven to be a success over just a few months. It isn’t just groceries that Evan delivers, he also will make trips to Home Depot, Pet Supermarket, Sam’s Club or he’ll handle other special requests.
“I delivered some hardware to a guy last week,” he said. “And recently, someone from Useppa wanted groceries from Hudson’s delivered.”
He’ll even come out and help you put storm shutters up during hurricane season.
Several comments on “the Island Grocery Delivery, Inc.” Facebook page state that Evan’s service is prompt, courteous and friendly.
Evan is also a fishing charter captain, but he really doesn’t focus much on that these days because of his new business. Both his grandfather and father were fishing charter captains, and Evan has followed in their footsteps.
“My heart has always been in, on and around the water,” he said. “I love talking to people and helping people … I am very customer-service oriented.”
Evan was born and raised in Lake Panasoffkee, Fla, a rural small town in Sumter County known for its fishing and wildlife.
“It’s a beautiful area,” he said. “There’s a small marina with a bait shop and six cabins that people can rent, and there are a couple natural springs on the lake. I love it here, but I also love going home and being on the river. There are deer, turkeys and wild hogs on the property, but I knew at a young age this is where I wanted to live.”
Evan’s mother, Tonya is a teacher and his father, Evan Sr., is a real estate agent. They still live in Lake Panasoffkee and come here on the weekends.
After graduating high school, Evan attended Lake-Sumter State College, a public college in central Florida. He majored in education and business.
But he really missed being near the water, so when he received a phone call when he was 21 and learned he had an opportunity to become the dockmaster at Gasparilla Marina, he jumped at the chance.
Although he only had a few more classes to take before earning a degree, he dropped everything to rush here to accept the job. He plans on completing the courses online and earning his degree in the future.
“That was a big opportunity for me,” he said. “I just couldn’t turn it down.”
Evan also does fiberglass work on boats with Capt. Steve Ahlers just off-island. And he performs the maintenance on the Craig Cat boats at Skip’s Marina in Englewood.
Evan is currently saving to buy a home, and is presently staying at his parent’s place in Gasparilla Estates with his cat, Batman. Years ago, he was outside grilling steaks with his dad and heard a kitten crying in the distance. He approached what was then, the tiny Batman, and scooped him up. Even though the cat bit him and scratched and hissed, Evan still took him in.
“He grew more and more friendly each day,” he said. “Now, he follows me around and he even runs to me when I call him.”
Batman is a black cat that had a small white patch on his chest when he was a kitten. As he grew, the marking ironically became the shape of the Batman symbol.
Evan’s grandfather (Evan A. “Billy” Merritt) served on the United States House of Representatives representing Florida in 1955 and 1956. He is a local legend in the town of Lake Panasoffkee.
“He started a huge restoration project that cleaned the lake up,” Evan said. “He had always ingrained in me first and foremost how to treat people, and how to appreciate and love nature.”
His grandfather was also a fishing charter captain. The Carolina Skiff boat that he uses for his business actually belonged to his grandfather.
“He left it to us and my dad said it would be perfect to use in my business,” Evan said. “It makes me so happy that I get to use his boat almost every day.”
Evan’s dad holds the state record for catching the largest long-nose gar (42 pounds) in 1982.
In the near future, Evan plans on getting a pink top built for his boat and he’ll be donating one dollar from every delivery to a charity called “Hooked on Hope.”
“My mother had breast cancer and beat it, Evan said. “I was always her biggest fan just like she has been with my business.”
“Hooked on Hope” helps uninsured or under insured women in the area. The organization hosts a fishing tournament in Tampa Bay each year that his family fishes in.
When he is not working, Evan enjoys hunting and fishing. And of course spending time with his girlfriend, Taylor, who also works on the island at Gulf to Bay/Sotheby’s International Realty. They met through mutual friends and have been seeing each other for about eight months.
“She helps out with my business and administrates the social media pages.”
Evan will be fishing the Flatsmasters Fishing Tournament in Punta Gorda at Laishley Park in October. He also likes to spearfish. You can find him free diving offshore or around local bridges.
Evan is looking forward to a busy season as more people hear about his growing business.
“I have received wonderful support these past few months, I couldn’t be happier. This is exactly where I want to be.”
To contact Evan, search for him on Facebook or give him a call at (941) 830-1346.