The Southern (C)ity Guide 2: Florida’s 30A by local Susan Benton
Our Summit alums live in some pretty fantastic places across the South (and beyond!), from small towns to large cities. And how they choose to spend their free time in these places no doubt inspires their creative efforts. With our upcoming event, The Southern C Summit Work + Wellness Retreat, being hosted at Watercolor Inn and Resort on 30A, we reached out to our longtime Coterie friend, Susan Benton of 30AEATS.com and GulfCoastRestaurants.com for a comprehensive guide to 30A, Florida. Susan shares where she works and plays along the Florida panhandle and invites us behind the scenes of the life of a writer and artist in one of our favorite beach destinations.
PHOTO: Aaron Snow Photography
Enjoy my visit with Susan …
Tell us a little bit about an ideal day-in-the-life-of-you-as-an-entrepreneur on 30A …
La Crema Tapas & Chocolate in Rosemary Beach is the perfect spot to work alone, or to meet with clients during the day or with as friends after work. Collaborating over great food and wine is my ideal. Try the empanadas, paella, cheese stuffed peppers and of course the sipping chocolate.
When writing at home ( a big part of my time), I enjoy hanging out in comfortable beach cover ups from Willow in Seaside, and I love their casual wear. When I catch a minute of free time I throw on a suit and head to the beach. Come evening the casual wear can be easily updated with accessories for dinner. Other favorites include Perspicasity and Mercantile in Seaside, as well as Ann Hartley in Alys Beach. My home and office decor comes straight out of the windows and off the floors of Pizits in Seaside and Beau Interiors in Grayton Beach. I prefer clean lines, a minimal approach to design, and few home accessories. I travel to Pensacola for my business cards where Ginger Bender creates mine, and is located in the heart of DUH, a place you certainly will want to get lost in if ever visiting.
When taking time to write or blog among nature, and wanting to skip the beach, Eden State Gardens is a lovely and historical place to reflect. It is near my church and my kids took prom photos there, so it also holds fond memories. South Walton has quite a few local art galleries springing up along with the old. A great place to view several is in Ruskin Place in Seaside. This is where I find inspiration for my paintings and writing.
As a writer, blogger, artist, owner of 30AEats.com and GulfCoastRestaurants.com, along with being a wife and mom, I would call myself a busy entrepreneur who also finds moments of peace and relaxation when cooking for my family, or spending time alone at the beach. I am up and doing the things that most do on vacation everyday (except day drinking … and sometimes that occurs too).
Many mornings I bike to Modica Market in Seaside or to Another Broken Egg in Grayton Beach for exercise and for breakfast, only to return home to my office for work. Lunch meetings are held by phone while sipping on a fresh smoothie made from ingredients from the Seaside Farmers Market (open Saturdays), or I’m casually dressed and and often meet for lunch with other media and clients. Bud and Alley’s in Seaside is the perfect location to meet on a beautiful day for lunch, and later in the day I enjoy The Gathering Spot at WaterColor Inn. It’s a local’s secret.
PHOTO: Aaron Snow Photography
Describe your brand/business and how it got started:
In 2010 when my daughter was preparing to leave home for college and I wanted to provide her with family recipes and stories of my life as well, I sought out local Joe Godbee to help with my logo and to guide me through Word Press (new for many at the time). By 2012, the second child was off and running and so was I. Off and running … as a writer for magazines in print and online, to media travel events, as a celebrity judge to many food events across the nation, and as a speaker on social media and blogging. I am still moving at a fast pace today and loving every minute!
I loved babysitting and worked every weekend in middle and high school until modeling came knocking at my door. It paid very well, even in the 80s, and was better than any minimum wage job I could get. I went to New York for the summer after graduation, signed with an agency and lived with another NOLA model, Bryan Batt (Mad Men). Come fall, my parents beckoned me home to attend LSU and I listened. Though I still continued modeling throughout college.
I’m a travel and nature lover, and it truly inspires me. From the beaches of 30A, to the peaceful side of the Smokey Mountain National Park in Townsend, Tennessee, to the breezes caught from a cemetery mountain top in Bonnieux, France. It’s fulfilling.
#1 skill needed to be an entrepreneur:
My mother. She is a truly gracious Southern lady, who always knows what to say and when to keep her mouth shut. Something I’m still learning at 50. She is full of light, forgiveness, and I wish there were more people like her in the world.
Favorite social media:
Fave Insta accounts to follow:
30AEats, GulfCoastRestaurants, The Southern C, Coastal Living, Riker Chance, Peaches To Pearls (my son was in college in Atlanta), Seaside New Town Old Ways, WaterColor Inn (where we like to stay-cation)
Most used emoji:
Happy face with heart eyes.
Mark Twain and M.F.K. Fisher are favorites, but … “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – Mark Twain
Biggest risk that paid off:
Believing in myself. Deciding after my life altering accident what was best for me. Putting myself first so that I could be a better mother and love myself. Moving to the beach to raise my children near their grandparents. Starting a blog before it was trendy, then keeping it true to its roots.
Interesting tidbit about you or your business:
I survived a head on auto accident in 1998, was life flighted with severe injuries to Baptist Hospital in Pensacola and met my second husband, who was also the surgeon that operated on me for nine hours. He bonded with my family before me. I was not fond of him at first. Our connection came through so many post op visits where we talked about our passion for food, drink and travel. I finally accepted a date, and our first public outing was at Vintij’ Boutique and Wine Bar in Miramar Beach the week they opened almost 19 years ago. Still one of my favorite South Walton restaurants today, along with owners Todd Reber and John Jacob (executive chef).
I Will Survive
Favorite book or author:
The cookbook I am working on now. 🙂
Kayaking in the bays. lakes, and beaches, fishing, bike riding on 30A, yoga
Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation that donates to many of my favorite local charities, like Children’s Volunteer Health Network and Food For Thought.
What you love most about 30A:
Originally that it was an undiscovered gem where I could feel safe and comfortable raising my family in a close knit community. I love that our close kit community is still prominent among the abundance of tourism. I, along with others, have had to adjust to the changes that have occurred in my two decades of being blessed to call 30A and South Walton home. The beaches, especially Grayton, and the Coastal Dune Lakes had me at hello and still do. The positive side to the growth is the food and shopping scene. We do have many wonderful dining choices as well as spectacular places to by clothing, jewelry, art and home goods.
Describe a typical day on 30A:
Before I roll out of bed I check the emails on my phone and try to post on Instagram before 7am. If not raining it’s a walk on the beach from there or quick kayak session before hitting my computer to write for my blog, another magazine, or to prepare a travel plan for an upcoming job. I break to call my parents, test recipes for my cookbook, meet my husband or friends for lunch, and later squeeze in a yoga session or bike ride in the afternoon to clear my mind. Then it is back to the computer to fulfill social media obligations, and write, write, write. I try to quit by 5pm, but when overbooked with deadlines, it can run into the wee hours of the morning. Otherwise it is back to the beach for a sunset cocktail. And, if either of my children call … my world stops so I can talk with them. On the weekends, I try to carve out time for painting.
Favorite South Walton restaurants by community:
We decided to raise our children on 30A, and often found ourselves biking or walking to dinner at Bud and Alley’s. After two decades, it’s still our go-to, even when the kids return home. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the whole fresh catch of the day, or head up to the deck to sip on a cocktail while savoring the tuna dip and the sunset as it dips below the horizon.
Edward’s and La Crema Tapas & Chocolate in Rosemary Beach, Grits & Grind and La Cocina in Seacrest Beach, Cafe Thirty A and Seagrove Village Market in Seagrove Beach, George’s and Caliza in Alys Beach, Bud and Alley’s and Modica Market in Seaside, The Gathering Spot in WaterColor, Another Broken Egg (locally owned), The Red Bar, Chanticleer Eatery, and Hurricane Oyster Bar & Grill in Grayton Beach, Trebeache and Local Catch 30A in Blue Mountain Beach, The Bay and Don Pedro’s in Santa Rosa Beach, The Vue 30A at Gulf Place, Stinky’s in Dune Allen, Sunset Bay Cafe and Marlin Grill at Sandestin, Vintij Wine Boutique, The Ocean Club, Sushimoto, and Fat Clemenza’s in Miramar Beach.
Beau Home Interiors offers a curated selection of local and designer items for the home, as well as beautiful original works of art and jewelry. I can get lost in there for hours, unless my husband is with me. They know how to do coastal living at it’s best.
Favorite outdoor activity:
Kayaking, and of course, the beach. Whether it’s enjoying a morning walk, or sitting in a folding chair to catch up on work with the Gulf as my backdrop, I’m always at peace and get inspired when by the waters edge.
Favorite cultural activity:
I’m a member of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County. They host many fine events throughout the year including the 30A Songwriters Festival. But, the Destin Charity Wine Auction event in combination with the South Walton Beaches Wine and Food Festival is one that hits home. Filled with fashion, fun, wine, craft beer, spirits and amazing food from the best chefs in town, it celebrates the best of the beach while raising money for a significant number of charities.
Go to weekend recipe:
Seafood. When you live near the Gulf, and can access the best and freshest seafood and produce, you’d be crazy not too.
Living in the Florida Panhandle I’m lucky to have an abundance of wonderful seafood that comes fresh off the docks from local fishermen. I found some wonderful corn tortillas and a fresh Florida avocado, so not much more was needed. This is another simple, quick and easy recipe that can feed one, two, or a crowd. You can make your own Ranchero sauce to drizzle on top, purchase your favorite, or do what I did… use Sriracha. The Shrimp are fantastic when grilled (adding to the smoky flavor), roasted, or pan seared which literally takes less then 90 seconds… my choice. The entire cooking process takes less than 20 minutes and the end result is so delicious.
1 lb medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 ear fresh corn, husk removed, corn cut from cob with knife
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons good olive oil (one for the shrimp, rest to cook tortillas)
1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
8 fresh soft corn tortillas
1 cup fresh cilantro
Drizzle olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add shrimp and stir 2 minutes or less or until shrimps turn pink. Do not overcook! Remove shrimp from skillet and place on plate. Add corn and stir fry for one minute, remove and put in small serving bowl. Wipe out pan, drizzle more oil and heat each corn tortilla less than one minute per side till they begin to brown slightly, repeat until 8 are complete. To serve 4, place 2 tortillas on each plate. Spoon shrimp and corn onto taco shells. Top with cilantro, avocado, and (optional grated cheese if desired). Add a dollop of sour cream, squeeze of fresh lime, and a drizzle of Sriracha.
The Southern C(ity) Guides:
Cheri Leavy of The Southern Cotherie in the Golden Isles and Athens, GA
Whitney Long of The Southern Coterie in the Golden Isles, GA
Holly Phillips of The English Room in Charlotte, NC
Kelly Shatat of Moon and Lola in Raleigh, NC
Cassie Kelley of Womanista in Nashville, TN
Molly Waring of Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
Libbie Summers of A Food Inspired Life in Savannah, GA
Beth Aschenbach and Danielle Norcross of Palm Beach Lately in Palm Beach, FLA
Kim Schlegal Whitman of Dallas
Jennifer Goldman of Charleston, SC
Rowanne McKnight of Nashville, TN
Caroline Bramlett of Birmingham, AL
FOR RECENT POSTS BY CHERI LEAVY – click here
I love and echo all of your great advice about 30a. I lived there briefly 20 years ago and it feels like one of those great dreams you can barely remember when you wake up. Thanks for helping me remember!