PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO KNOW I don’t cook at all. Couldn’t cook if I had to. I can reheat at a catered event like there’s no tomorrow, but I cannot cook.
I COME FROM A RESTAURANT FAMILY. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. My parents either owned or managed restaurants my entire life. I was [what I called] a restaurant brat. I did my homework at a table in the corner of the restaurant. I thought you could walk into all refrigerators. I thought everything came in a large format like it does in a restaurant. I really grew up in the business. Then I started to get away from the business — I thought, I don’t want to do this all my life — but then I married a chef [Marty Blitz, co-owner of Mise en Place]. Marty and I have been in business for 34 years. We were married for almost the first half of them. We’ve still been very good business partners but divorced for the second half.
I WAS NEVER ONE OF THOSE KIDS WHO KNEW JUST WHAT I WANTED TO DO. But I wanted to be a natural medicine-type doctor when I was a young teen. Then I got into theater when I was in school. I enjoyed it so much that I got a scholarship to Wayne State University and got a theater degree — a major in acting and a minor in theatre management. After college, I was auditioning for commercial work and live theatre and waiting tables. That is where I met Marty. He was an apprentice at the restaurant. When he completed his apprenticeship, we took a trip to Florida and he ended up getting a job. So I got a job at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Four years later, we ventured out on our own with Mise en Place! I very much believe that things happen as they’re supposed to, and you have to pay attention [to the signs you’re given]. You have to be in the moment so you can follow the path laid out for you and where it’s taking you on any given day.
I AM THE MOTHER OF 12 RESCUE DOGS. They’re predominantly border collies, but there are others who have crept into the pack because they needed a home. Rescuing dogs is my hobby, and it is what I dedicate my time to outside of work. I started when I met Russ Alba, who is my significant other. He was sort of a dog rescue person already, and then we both got into it. Rescuing a dog is one of the special moments in life. If it’s in your heart, it just sort of [keeps] happening after that. We’re very attached to our dogs. Our new boutique beach suites and restaurant out on Pass-a-Grille is called the Berkeley Beach Club, named after our dog, Berkeley.
WHAT EXCITES ME MOST ABOUT TAMPA BAY’S RESTAURANT SCENE IS THAT IT’S BECOME FOCUSED ON LOCAL CONCEPTS. We’ve always had big local icons. You’ve got the Columbia and you’ve got Bern’s, and people come from everywhere to visit them. Then [over the past decade] we got a true independent restaurant scene. I own an independent restaurant, so I know how hard it is. My biggest concern is that we won’t have as many independent hospitality businesses when the pandemic is over with. I include bars, entertainment venues, small coffee shops and interesting bakeries in that group. Those are all a part of what makes us a great hospitality community. If you think about something like La Segunda Central Bakery, it’s been in Ybor City forever. It’s synonymous with Tampa. Now they’ve got a new one on Kennedy Boulevard, so more people are experiencing what’s great about them. Independent businesses growing within our community — that’s what I love about what’s happened within our industry in the last few years and that’s what is really important for us to keep.
I’M HOPEFUL ABOUT THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY IN FLORIDA because it has to exist. Florida has always been a welcoming state. It has always been a place where people come to experience magic. And it’s not just magic in the kingdom, although it exists there. Those parks create this fantasy world for us to escape to. But it also exists in [beaches like] Pass-a-Grille. People come to Florida to experience that. There’s magic in the beaches and the water and the tropical climate. I think that’s why in the old days they wrote about the fountain of youth being located in Florida. There truly is something here that people seek as nourishment and refreshment and sustenance. Florida can’t stop providing that. It’s our role in the world.
I’M ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO DOESN’T KEEP A BUCKET LIST. I’m very committed to living in the present moment. It’s also one of our business mottos. “Mise en place” [French for “everything in its place”] is one, and “au courant,” which means staying in the present, is another.
I’D LIKE TO BE ABLE TO PAINT OR DRAW OR TAKE PHOTOS — to be able to capture something visually. I don’t have any of that talent.
MY PERFECT DAY is waking up on a beautiful morning and going on a good long dog walk. Having a big cup of coffee and breakfast. Some creative work, whatever that might be. Usually some ensemble work, being able to get together with the team. Making progress, moving things forward. A sunset on Pass-a-Grille Beach with a great glass of wine. The perfect day has got to have a great glass of wine or two. If I had to drink one thing for the rest of my life, it would be something bubbly, whether it’s cava or Champagne. Then a walk in the moonlight with the dogs. That’s a perfect day.