■ BY SUE ERWIN
If you’ve had a drink at the Boca Bay Pass Club bar over the past several years, you would most likely recognize the friendly face of bartender Jeff Ash.
Jeff has worked at the Pass Club for the past ten years, alongside his wife, Janette, also a bartender at the club.
Jeff met Janette when the two worked together as servers at The Gasparilla Inn & Club after he first moved to Florida.
Originally from Elkhart, Indiana, he attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo after graduating from high school. He studied business management and computer information systems, and he held a couple of different jobs while attending school.
One winter he decided to take a vacation and visit a friend who worked at The Gasparilla Inn, and the first time he came down to visit the area he knew he wanted to live here.
“Everything was just so beautiful, and I knew it was a very special place,” he said. So he applied for a few jobs on the island, returned to Indiana to pack his bags and moved to Florida one month later.
He accepted a position at the Boca Grande Club and worked there for a year, then worked for Terry Bisset at The Gasparilla Inn for a few years.
Janette is from Maine, and the couple moved back up north for two years after they were married. Jeff worked as a lobster harvester and Janette worked at a restaurant until they started a family. He would spend days at a time on boats in Matinicus Isle, Maine, one of the best lobster areas in the state.
On a good day, the captain and staff would haul in 800 pounds of lobster. Most average days the workers would get a few hundred pounds. “It was a very good experience, but lobstering was definitely the hardest job I’ve ever done,” Jeff said.
Janette gave birth to a son, James, in Penobscot, Maine 12 years ago. Soon after, Jeff was offered a position that he couldn’t refuse by a company called The Art of Design in his hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. He painted high-end racing boats that were shipped in from all around the world.
“We would do all the graphics, artwork and all the airbrushing for cigarette boats and offshore powerboats,” he said. After a few years, he and Janette decided it was time to move back to Florida in 2009. “Working seasonal jobs was getting too difficult with a newborn, and we were tired of the winter,” Jeff said. “And my wife and I just love it down here.”
So he called Terry Bisset, who was the general manager at Boca Bay Pass Club at that time, and Terry said he had open positions for both Jeff and Janette.
They have both worked at the Pass Club since then. Janette is a part-time bartender who also works in the administrative office at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Englewood. She still plans to help out with weddings and other special events at the club this season.
As a full-time bartender at the club, Jeff wears a lot of hats. Besides making drinks, he answers phone calls, takes reservations and helps out with events.
He spent the summer months painting at the club and getting things all spruced up for the season. He also helps out with maintenance and repairs on the property as needed.
All the columns, railings and doors at the club get painted every summer, and Jeff is responsible for taking care of that.
“I learned to not take the tape down until after hurricane season,” he said, adding that Hurricane Irma came through last year and wrecked a bunch of things he had just freshly painted.
Both Jeff and his wife have been the main bartenders at the annual “Taste of Boca” fundraiser at the Pass Club for several years.
“We have a lot of fun working that event. It’s a great party, and it seems to grow every year,” he said.
Jeff and Janette live in Englewood. James, 12, attends Sky Academy. They also have a five-year old daughter, Natalie. She attends Englewood Elementary School.
“Janette is an amazing lady … she’s a great wife and mother … I’m a very lucky guy,” Jeff acknowledged.
Jeff recently earned his captain’s license. He has a small flats boat, and the family loves to go fishing together as often as possible.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’m looking forward to taking people out on the water in the future. I just love to fish; it’s a big passion of mine.”
Being from Indiana, he grew up fishing in freshwater lakes with his father and grandfather. He said saltwater fishing is an entirely different experience.
James fished in the 2016 Gasparilla Island Kids Classic Tarpon Tournament, and Jeff was an observer on the boat.
“Dusty (Hopkins) sponsored a boat, and the team was made up of kids of parents who worked at the Pass Club,” Jeff said. “We had last fish on, but then we lost it. That was a really fun afternoon.”
Jeff said his five-year-old, Natalie, already loves to fish, and he can see her eventually fishing in a future Kids Classic tournament.
He also enjoys golfing, but being a father of two young children, he doesn’t get a chance to get out on the courses very much these days.
The Boca Grande Pass Club officially opens for the season on Friday, October 12.
“We’ll be weekends only until the end of October, and in November we’ll be open full time,” Jeff said.
He said his favorite part about working in Boca Grande is talking to his regular customers who come to the club almost nightly.
“Jim McManus and his girlfriend, Lynn, have dinner at the club several nights each week during season,” Jeff said. “They are great people, and I really enjoy their company.”
The Pass Club bartender knows the drink preferences of many of the members, and often he has them ready to serve once they take a seat at the bar. He said that during season, there is usually a waiting list to sit at the bar, which offers an amazing view of the water.
Jeff also contributed a drink recipe that was published in Gasparilla Island Magazine last year. The concoction was called the “Boca Granate,” and it featured pomegranate juice, vodka and a splash of Chambord liqueur.
It was taste-tested and approved by Pass Club member Donna Hecker.
He also makes a chocolate martini that is quite popular.
“This is a great environment, and we have so many wonderful members,” Jeff said. “They are all such kind, classy people. So many great memories have been made here over the years.”
If you’re planning to enjoy dinner and an amazing view at the Boca Grande Pass Club this season, wave hello to Jeff, who’ll be busy serving his favorite customers delightful drinks at the bar.