When Mike Walguarnery went to work at a local gourmet market nine years ago, he thought it was going to be just "a nice summer job."
The job never went away.
"I started as a dishwasher," said the 27-year-old Palm Harbor resident. "A couple years later, I was managing the store."
During his years at the Surf & Turf Market in Palm Harbor, he graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in electronic engineering. But the food business had become his passion.
After forming a partnership and investing $750,000, he opened the 8,000-square-foot Surf & Turf gourmet grocery store, which has 15 employees, early last year in Belleair Bluffs.
"I didn't want to sit behind a desk," he said. "The timing of this store wasn't the best with the economy as it is, but I've always liked a challenge. We're getting a well-rounded customer base. I pay my bills."
The inventory includes domestic and imported beer, wine and wine accessories, gourmet oils, cheeses from around the world, hors d'oeuvres, frozen sausage, frog legs, conch, orange roughy, filet of alligator, soups, dips, prime cut beef, all natural chicken, seafood, and fresh ready-to-go meals and sides.
"I really like the service and their employees are always so nice," said Largo businesswoman Karen deVlaming, who has shopped at Surf & Turf since it opened. "I can call and say I want salmon for three meals, skin it and freezer wrap one per meal and I'll be there in a couple hours. It's really great to have that kind of service and a store like that around us."
"I love it that they have a chef on staff," she said. "They make gourmet entrees and sides you can't find in other stores."
Why did you give the market the same name as the one you worked for in Palm Harbor?
I did it for name recognition. Because the name is good, it's simple. I think it's far enough away from the other store not to be a problem.
What generates the largest sales?
Thirty-five to 40 percent of our business is the prepared food.
Prepared food on any day may include stuffed baked potatoes to kabobs with Cajun shrimp, sweet and sour chicken, Greek beef, pepperoni cheese pie, seared ahi tuna, crab-stuffed mushrooms, mini chicken cordon bleu, lobster bisque, she crab soup, chicken marsala, smoked fish spread and salads.
Who's in charge of the kitchen?
I have a chef on staff, chef Bill McSweany. He has 25 years' experience and lives in Largo. He was most recently with Marlin Darlin'. We have our own recipes and we make some customer requests.
What are your best sellers?
The four prime filet mignons (4 ounces each) for $26.99 and our fresh seafood. We get seafood six days a week from the Gulf of Mexico.
Does the frozen filet of alligator really sell?
Whenever there's a Gators game, the people who don't like the Gators eat the gator.
Does the market offer other services?
We do a lot of catering for parties, holidays and special events. Once or twice a week we cook for St. Paul's School.
Every Thursday, we have Grill Night when we cook for customers at no charge.
What do you enjoy most about your business?
That my days are so varied. I talk to customers one on one, I do the ordering and the books. I get into every aspect of it. Each day has a little bit of everything about the business in it.