Friday, August 29, 2014

Ask the Locals: Maryann Ferenc, hospitality honcho

Posted By on Fri, Aug 29, 2014 at 6:04 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY HEIDI KURPIELA
  • Photo by Heidi Kurpiela

Maryann Ferenc is the CEO of Mise en Place, the posh South Tampa restaurant that's been named No. 1 on USA Today’s list of “Best Foodie” spots in Tampa Bay.

Regarded as one of the Bay area’s early pioneers of New American cuisine, Ferenc grew up in the restaurant biz. (Her parents owned a Detroit eatery.) She opened the restaurant in 1986 with then-husband Marty Blitz, who still serves as its chef. The upscale hotspot owes its success equally to Blitz’s delectable fare (lobster manchego mac ’n cheese, anyone?) and Ferenc’s whip-smart management.

A 55-year-old Detroit native, Ferenc is a fast-talking workaholic with keen business instincts. A cheerleader for local tourism, she has served for 15 years on Visit Tampa Bay’s board of directors. She’s on the board of directors of the U.S. Travel Association and Visit Florida, the state’s official non-profit tourism marketing corporation.

Now in her third two-year term on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, Ferenc is committed to bringing more butts to the Bay area. Her sister businesses –– Sono Café at the Tampa Museum of Art and First Flight Wine Bar at Tampa International Airport –– cater directly to tourists.

Yet despite all this power playing, Ferenc feels the most at home in Pass-a-Grille, the sleepy beach community where she spends her Sundays and Mondays flying under the radar with her fiancé Russ Alba and eight dogs.

Favorite local beach bar: The Wharf in Pass-a-Grille. “It’s where the locals meet on a Sunday to wager on a football game. You sit there with the windows open and the wind blowing off the water. It’s so chill.”

Favorite place to hang with co-workers after hours: The Retreat in Hyde Park. “It’s always been an escape for both my staff and management. It’s a great place to have a beer after a long day. It used to be the kind of place that opened at 9 a.m., but not anymore. They keep upscaling it.”

Favorite place to find inner peace: Pass-a-Grille Beach. “There’s a special energy out there. I love the little business district and the little park that leads down to the water. You feel rejuvenated just being there for a few hours.”

Favorite way to tour Tampa Bay with new visitors: Hitch a ride on the Shell Key Shuttle. “It’s a little old boat that takes off from Merry Pier in Pass-a-Grille. It’s a great way to get a boat cruise. It drops you off at Shell Key.”

Favorite outdoor ritual: Walking her pack of dogs. “I have eight dogs. I take them on brisk walks, rain or shine. I walk about 20 miles a week. It’s a big part of my exercise regime and it helps me get to my zen place.”

Favorite cheap thrill: Watching a storm roll in from TMA. “The Tampa Museum of Art is a great place to storm-watch. The outdoor terrace is completely covered, so you can actually sit outside and watch one of these torrential storms come by. It’s amazing.”

Favorite local fundraiser: Fork Fights, benefiting Feeding America Tampa Bay. “Local chefs come together to cook five-course meals for a good cause. It truly is a fine dining experience.”

Favorite item on her menu: Salmon, jasmine rice and grilled asparagus. “I eat this two to three times a week for lunch. Salmon is my burst of brain food. Whenever I eat it, I feel like I’ve kick-started my brain for the week.”

Favorite hidden cultural gem: Suntan Arts Center on St. Pete Beach. “They offer classes on painting and drawing and there’s a yoga studio on the second floor. On Sundays they have fresh produce and different artisans peddling their wares.”

Favorite local tradition: The sunset bell-ringing on Pass-a-Grille Beach. “There’s a gentleman named Captain Jack who does it every night. He even keeps a spiral notebook to write down the names of the people who ring it to mark special occasions. Sunset is one of those things on Pass-a-Grille that no matter what you’re doing, you stop for 15 minutes to hear the bell.”

Favorite canine free-for-all: Fort De Soto Dog Beach. “It’s such a joy to watch my dogs play in the surf and tear around.”

Favorite midday pick-me-up: Squeeze Juice Works. “I have a lot of respect for small business owners. It’s nice to see people go after their dreams with such gusto. Plus Squeeze has got a great product.”

Favorite point of pride: Tampa International Airport. “Their expansion plan is tremendous. We’re a dynamic amazing community that values its quality of life, and the airport is reflecting that.”

Favorite place to be pampered: Kendra & Company. “Kendra York totally knows my style. When I’m stressed and I walk into her salon, she’s like, ‘Put your feet up and relax.’ She’s a nurturing stylist and consultant.”

Favorite local retailers: Bamboozle and Dody in Pass-a-Grille. “I like small stores because they’ve already done the hard work of picking out cool stuff, so you’re not sorting through merchandise forever.”

Favorite place to score a great gown: Fresh Threads. “It’s a consignment shop on Dale Mabry. The last three years in a row I’ve purchased a New Years' Eve dress from them. My favorite one was black and silver striped with sequins. It was perfect. I walked in and boom, it was right there.”

Favorite alternative healers: Michael Pagani of Raydiance Helio Spa & Wellness Center and Martin Keane of Classical Medicine of St. Petersburg. “They’ve kept my family and friends in good health for many years.”

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