~A YourObserver Article~
By: Katie Johns | Community Editor
Harry and Lynn Christensen were on their way to Naples when they discovered Longboat Key.
They stopped to visit a friend in Sarasota and took a detour to the island.
They never made it to Naples.
Instead, they rented a cottage on the north end of Longboat Key, and Harry Christensen went out the next day and got a job in the kitchen at Sarasota Yacht Club.
After stints with Far Horizons and Cafe L’Europe, Harry Christensen decided he would open his own business.
All they had was $500, a TV and a car.
“That was all we owned at the time,” he said. “We stuck our necks out and did it.”
Christensen leased 5440 Gulf of Mexico Drive in 1978. It took him two months to fix the place up, though he did cater a couple Christmas parties. During the second week of January 1979, they started the take-out service.
In February 1979, they made their first bank deposit.
From roast duck to beef Wellington, customers could come in for gourmet food without having to wait at a restaurant.
Christensen began making desserts, salads and sandwiches, or as he calls them, party specialties. It started with customers ordering a dozen meatballs or vegetable platters for their events.
Then they started asking Christensen to send a bartender. Then they asked for servers, and all of a sudden he was doing dinners for 500 people for the likes of The Out-of-Door Academy and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
In 1982, the business moved to its current location on St. Jude’s Drive. The Christensens later bought the building across the street and opened it as the deli. In 1985, the restaurant opened.
The restaurant and deli shared a building until 1992. And in 2000, the business became even more of a family affair when their son, Hal, joined as catering manager. Now, he is the general manager.
Hal worked at Harry’s as a kid busing tables and running food. But once he graduated college and had experience he joined his parents full time.
“You get kind of like an instant gratification,” Hal said of the business.
Since the beginning, Harry’s Continental Kitchens has become a staple on the island, but before planting roots here, the Christensens honed their skills in Wisconsin.
Harry and Lynn Christensen met in sixth grade in De Pierre, Wis., and started dating. They married in 1973.
But it was his mother who led Harry Christensen into the kitchen and cooking.
Harry Christensen would help his mother, who was a dishwasher at St. Norbert College, during the Green Bay Packers’ summer training camp. He washed dishes, helped the cooks, served food and bused tables. The Packers had chefs come in from Chicago and Milwaukee who taught Christensen some tricks.
“Since sixth grade, it was all
Bring Your Special Valentine To
An Originals Restaurant!
St. Armands Circle
GROVE Restaurant, Patio and Ballroom is the newest offshoot of PIER 22, the award-winning waterfront destination headed by restaurateurs Hugh Miller and Greg Campbell. A fine-casual restaurant, GROVE specializes in a wide-ranging selection of house-made meals served in several distinct dining areas giving guests a choice of cuisine and scene.
The restaurant draws its name from the sown acres of great evergreen that have long provided an idyllic existence for those living and visiting the Lakewood Ranch area. The pine found in our logo embodies elements of our values including heart, balance and spirit. GROVE is reimagining an immersive dining experience, and “We’re committed to using quality fresh ingredients along with innovative cooking methods to inspire, nourish and wholly satisfy our guests,” notes chef Greg Campbell.
RESTAURATEUR, GROVE & PIER 22
|Introducing Greg Campbell, winner Best Chefs America (2013) and recently designated Manatee Tourism Ambassador (Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau: 2017). Campbell’s menus draw inspiration from several types of international cuisines and his French grandmother’s kitchen. Emphasis is on quality ingredients and hands-on cooking. His passion and intrigue with the culinary arts remain just as strong today as when he was a teenager first starting out in the industry as a line cook at a fine dining Italian restaurant in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia.|
| HUGH MILLER
RESTAURATEUR, GROVE & PIER 22
|Introducing, Hugh Miller, a longtime resident of Southwest Florida and entrepreneur. One of Miller’s newest additions to his restaurant and hospitality portfolio, GROVE, offers a fresh take on casual fine dining and once again puts people at its focus—as the GROVE team works to provide service excellence to each and every guest that walks through its doors.|
|While Michael's On East typically offers a traditional French Epicurean Adventure each February, this year Chef Jamil and his team decided to seek inspiration from Selby Garden's new exhibition, Gauguin: Voyage to Paradise. That means you're in for a tropical treat at Sarasota's only AAA Four Diamond Award restaurant! Take advantage of French Polynesian-themed $19.95 two-course lunch and $38.95 three-course dinner menus available through February. (Epicurean Adventures are not available on holidays including Valentine's Day. Speaking of Valentine's Day, it's time to finalize your reservation; availability is limited.)|
|As the exclusive culinary partner of Selby Gardens, the Michael's team can't wait for the opening of the new Gauguin exhibition highlighting the essential role of botanicals in achieving the artist’s vision of the exotic. Together with lush displays of tropical plants in the conservatory and gardens, Gauguin: Voyage to Paradise features ten of the artist’s original dramatic woodcut prints and wood engravings, photographs showcasing Tahiti during the time of his travels, historic maps as well as visual materials that shaped his work. The special exhibition is scheduled for February 10 - June 30, 2019, and you can be sure the program has inspired new tropical dishes at the Selby House Cafe by Michael's On East!|
Michael’s On East
1212 East Avenue South | Sarasota, FL 34239 | 941-366-0007 | www.bestfood.com
If you’ve been to a party catered by Michael’s On East in the past 25 years, you’ve met catering captain Tracey McCammack. With a black apron, a broad smile and her hair pulled up in a saucy topknot, McCammack estimates she’s worked some 5,000 parties for Michael’s—from cozy family gatherings to black-tie galas for 500. Planning is paramount, and she resolutely recommends hiring a professional party planner for those larger-than-life events. But for the intimate home dinner parties and milestone celebrations—anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and more (her favorites, by the way, because they’re often filled with “magic moments”)—she offers us some hard-earned advice on how to make your party magic.
IT STARTS AT THE FRONT DOOR. “How you’re welcomed into a party is important,” says McCammack. “It’s that old standard: how people greet their guests sets a gracious tone.”
BREAK IT UP. “Seating arrangements is a huge issue, who is going to be sitting next to whom. It can make for a great night, or a boring one. Split up that younger generation hooked to their phones. If you seat them next to people in their 40s and 50s you can get them engaged.”
SET THE STAGE. “Make sure the party space is not too crowded by removing the right things from the room. The table settings are extremely important. Dress your table with your finest things. I catered a party where someone put Versace china on the table and I thought I was going to faint; it was so cool the guests didn’t even pay attention to what they were eating. And you just have to have gorgeous flowers. It’s the final touch that sets the table off. Choose flowers that complement what you’re having for dinner.”
PLAN THE MENU CAREFULLY. “Food is love; it’s the biggest gift you can give someone. Share a time-honored recipe; think through your guests’ [dietary] needs.”
BE THOUGHTFUL. “Some of the coolest recent things I’ve seen are hostesses who offer a beautifully wrapped gift for people to take home—boxes of a favorite chocolate or nice candles. Sometimes at a small party, instead of asking for a gift they have a jar and collect donations for a favorite charity.”
KEEP THE PARTY ENERGY GOING. “Pouring the right amount of drinks keeps the party going, of course, but so does the hostess who stays engaged and comfortable. When your guests finish dinner, that’s the time for the hostess to circulate. It’s nice, too, to have a friend as a back-up person to keep the conversation going—a lot of husbands are quiet, but if you go up and engage them, they will talk.”
MY WORST FEAR? “Micromanagers. Once the guests arrive, go with the flow. If you’re worrying about all the nitpicking details, everyone picks up on your vibe.”