So, I have to brag a bit here...I make a darn good sandwich.  I have always loved sandwiches.  Growing up in a small town in Northern Michigan, one did not go to a fast food chain and grab greasy fries and cheeseburgers (those were around but only for special occasions).  Instead you went into the locally owned Roast and Toast,  Gurney's or Symon's General Store where you could actually smell the bread baking and feel the moisture from it rising.  You could order off of their specialty menu, or make your own from their ingredients that were fresh, crisp and just sliced.  Not something that had been shipped in pre-packaged plastic bags.  

In the spring of 2013 my family saw the potential in a corner spot on Main Street in Safety Harbor - a quaint town that gives off a vibe like a place in the north; laid back and quiet, but with a little edge.  We began playing around with the recipes we had always loved.  My mom broke out a lot of loaf pans and came up with amazing homemade breads that partnered perfectly with savory meats, homemade sauces, imported cheeses.  We pressed almost all of them so the flavors mingled together as they melted.  Our goal was to not add a sandwich to the menu until you dreamt about it - until you said, "I have to have that again!"  It proved a recipe for success - we opened in June and continue to have a hard time keeping the people out of our tiny dining room.  In fact, one of the toughest decisions I had to make was to cut down on real estate clients for a year and a half because, despite my passion for real estate, the sandwich shop was all encompassing.  We had to figure out our growing pains.

We have participated in The Taste of Safety Harbor for the past three years.  The first year we didn't even know what we didn't know.  We had too little food to feed the 400 plus guests and we were giving away too large of samples.  One of the veteran vendors told us it was "the taste of Safety Harbor, not the meal" when he saw the size of our samples.  We also did not know there was a competition between the restaurants and was awe-struck when we placed second with the People's Choice award.  We vowed to do better, live and learn, the following year.  However, so did everyone else.  Our little town of Safety Harbor, as charming and quaint as it is contains  over 20 bars and restaurants in its five mile square radius. They had all lived and learned as well.  They studied their previous year's flaws and worked out their kinks.  We came in with a vegetarian sandwich and took third.  Our competition is stiff and we respect them fiercly.  

This year, 2016, there were new judges.  A panel of five proclaimed "foodies" were brought in to judge the vendors anonymously.  Now there were the People's Choice Awards and the "Best of Taste" .  The stakes were high.  The ante was upped.  We looked at each other and realized we brought a ham sandwich, chips and cookie to a gourmet gun fight.  We plated them the best we could looked at each other a little bleary eyed and thought, "suck it up kiddos, people love your sandwiches - that's all that matters, just have fun!"  And the fun commenced.  The Taste of Safety Harbor is one of the town's best events.  Several festivals are held each year in town - WineFest, Oktoberfest, SongFest, not to mention the monthly third Friday festivals.  People come out in hordes, residents and visitors alike.  Taste is held at The Safety Harbor spa.  You can experience the ballrooms and its staff is in all its glory.  People are drinking, eating, laughing and enjoying themselves.  You forget that you are being judged, you are just glad people like you and your food.  You make connections, you pass cards.  You see all of your friends in town, you shake hands and hug.  It's a good time.  

And then, they remind you it's time to hear the winners.  You must come to the ballroom and listen quietly.  I've never been to an award show, and truthfully I don't even watch them on TV.  But, when I see cuts of the actors and actresses smiling waiting to hear if theirs is the name that will be called out they seem so unnerved, so calm.  I guess that's why they get paid millions of dollars to act.  My face is unfiltered.  I don't play poker, I don't act.  It may be why I'm also successful in real estate.  I can read people and they can read me.  I prefer transparency. I'm sure everyone knew I was nervous, hopefully just not exactly how nervous.  The first winner of the People's Choice  Award was read out. I had a hard time hearing from where I was because of course I was standing all the way in the back of the room trying to act as nonchalant as possible, talking and laughing, pretending to not even care that we were waiting to hear the verdicts.  The name being called was not ours - not The, Sandwich on Main.  That's okay, I thought, two more tries.  I glanced at my mom and dad, they also seemed unnerved, or perhaps just tired.  They both work so hard and keeping our little dream alive.  The next name was called.  Another befitting restaurant.  I am always happy for them, my competition, they are all well deserving and I respect their dedication and hard work in a way I have never known until I tried it myself.  And then the last name was called.  I realized I was still in a conversation, my pretend-you-don't-care-there's-only-one-name-left-to-be-called conversation, but I was being very rude and had stopped listening.  I realized I also hadn't really been breathing.  The last name was not The Sandwich on Main.  The emcee, sweet and kind and a friend of mine, thanked all of the participants, congratulated the winners and I drew in a breath.  I looked at my parents and my team, my manager and our other sandwich maker, both huge assets to our team and despite the little buzz they had going, had worked incredibly hard to pull of the past three hours of sandwich success.  I realized how hard they worked night and day to make sure that the shop on the corner of 3rd and Main stayed open every day.  To make sure that I could go back in to real estate full time and instead of slicing meat and making sauces I was wearing heels and bringing clients in for lunch.  I saw the huge disappointment in their faces and my mom said "We shouldn't have done the chips".  

Then a friend next to me, grabbed my elbow and said "they are saying your name".  Brendan, my manager, looked back at me and said "they are asking us to go up there".  I looked around the room, still full when I figured it would have cleared out, the awards were over, why would they all still be standing around?  My confused gaze went to the stage and the emcee was standing there holding a large plaque with five others - the panel of judges.  That's right!  There was another award to be given out.  The Sandwich on Main had officially won the "Best of Taste" for 2016.  I always say I'm a cryer and I definitely felt tears sting my eyes.  I also giggle ridiculously when I am excited and I was definitely giggling like a child on Christmas morning as I walked to the stage and hugged everyone who had just granted our little sandwich shop this prestigious award.  Pictures were taken, congratulations given and hands shook.  My team all felt like a million bucks.  We were like those actors and actresses that had just won their first Oscar.  Thank goodness I didn't give a speech.

So, heart felt congratulations to all of the hard working, well deserving restaurants in this great little town.  The People's Choice winners and the other restaurants that just showed up to make the night great.  Safety Harbor is a special place.  There are some days when I feel a bit daunted because it seems like no one wants to eat a sandwich, but then we have a night like last night and our spirits are lifted.  Sometimes all it takes is a ham sandwich, chips and a chocolate chip cookie.  Well, it was probably mostly the cookie.


Mercedes Locke Headshot
Phone: 727-656-5868
Dated: January 19th 2016
Views: 480
About Mercedes: ...

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