Cocoon's Fine Foods is a Seagrove Tradition
February 19, 2012 by SoWal Staff
In March, Cocoon’s on Scenic Highway 30A in Seagrove Beach will begin its 19th year.
Seven days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., owners/chefs Mike and Linda LaDow make the long trip—a flight of stairs down from their residence over the shop—to prepare and serve three meals a day to a devoted following.
Their tastes and backgrounds prepared them for their job running one of the area’s best-known and most popular dining spots.
Mike is the principal chef, while Linda does prep and also handles the business side. Mike grew up in and lived in Detroit, Chicago and Indianapolis. He learned cooking from his mother, who herself “learned from a Greek woman who had married an Italian.” His family, which originally came from Alsace-Lorraine, not only enjoyed eating, they enjoyed talking about food. “I still do that,” he says. Mike also collects, reads and uses cookbooks.
Much of the menu at Cocoon’s reflects his and Linda’s personal tastes and favorites.
Mike’s first experience with restaurants came from working for years in food industry marketing, for bakeries and delis. He also worked as a consultant for several national and regional franchises, including Howard Johnson’s, McDonald’s and Pasquale’s, a pizza business that was the fourth largest in the country.
His industry expertise, along with the “million miles of travel” that he logged, led him to an epiphany of sorts while sitting in an airport. He got the germ of an idea from watching a broadcast by trend-spotter Faith Popcorn. Popcorn spoke of the growing American trend toward “cocooning.” To cocoon is to get food, gather friends, and enjoy a meal at home (the cocoon) rather than go out to eat.
The LaDows had a condo on 30A. They spotted a likely place that had started out as a garage, then became a seafood market. Remodeled, Cocoon’s was born and opened in March of 1992. The LaDows live above the store, a set-up that reminded Mike of old-fashioned businesses in Chicago and the northeast, as well as the Ruskin Place galleries in nearby Seaside.
Linda’s service background was not in restaurants, but as a nurse, a vocation she practiced for 35 years before taking over to prep, do the finances and work behind the counter. The store has two other regular employees, with additional help taken on in the busy summer season.
Mike says that “95 percent of the food on the menu is made here, and what isn’t gets added-to.” The shop makes the most of its space, with shelves along the walls and plenty of local color around the edges. The kitchen is small but carefully laid out, and a large meat smoker dominates the backyard area.
There are some small tables inside and outside the store on a patio, but Cocoon’s main business is call-ahead takeout orders. Diners can order a complete meal—appetizers to salads to main course and dessert, plus side dishes and beverages—ready for cocooning.
There’s an olive bar and wall-of-fire shelves bearing some 150 extravagantly labeled hot sauces. Among the favorite items are the barbecue pulled pork and ribs, rotisserie chicken, Cuban and Muffaletta sandwiches, and some inspirations like the Redneck Reuben (smoked pork is involved), and pork con queso.
There are also crab cake sandwiches, customized and vegetarian options, and daily specials. The day of the interview it was a “fried baloney and cheese,” surely someone’s childhood memory. Sizes for sandwiches are “normal” and “stupendous.” In the high season (summer) Cocoon’s makes about 300 pounds a week of the smoked tuna dip, a house specialty. Thanksgiving means that the smoker will be filled to capacity with 30 turkeys. Cocoon’s also does some catering.
The clientele entails both locals (who come from homes within sight of the store) and seasonal visitors. Some have been coming since the store opened. In addition to counter items, Cocoon’s sells wine, chips and crackers, soft drinks, olive oils, and a variety of sauces and condiments. Mike still travels (though not at the million-mile level), attends trade shows to keep current, and reads restaurant journals (while listening to his favorite Frank Sinatra music). He also enjoys reading, and he and Linda like movies.
They also like going out to eat. “We don’t feel like cooking when we go upstairs.”
To get in on the trend at Cocoon’s, go to 4101 East Scenic Highway 30A in Seagrove Beach. They are open daily 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the telephone number is (850) 231-4544.
Story by Bruce Collier, courtesy The Beachcomber