When Jan and Brian Ethridge moved to Seagrove Beach to open a new restaurant in 1993, it was winter and the area around Scenic Highway 30A was a ghost town.
“You could shoot a cannon down the middle of 30A and not hit anything,” Jan recalled.
But the Ethridges were determined.
They built Angelina’s Pizzeria and Pasta from the ground up and quickly gathered a loyal following. Jan said they’ve seen generations of families come through the doors of her beloved Italian eatery, which serves up recipes that have been in her family even longer.
“A lot of the people come back year after year,” she said. “You really get to know each other, in good times — and in bad.”
These days it’s mostly good times for the Ethridges and the Angelina’s crew. On a busy Saturday night, 60 to 70 people wait outside to get a table at the restaurant, which doesn’t take reservations.
Though they’ve had their share of challenges as well, Jan said she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
‘Let’s go for it’
When Jan met her husband a few years before, she was in the “crazy rat race” of bustling Palm Beach County, working as a make-up artist for Chanel, traveling all over the country.
It was a great job when she was single, but she and her husband wanted to leave it behind and go into business together.
“We said, ‘let’s go for it. What’s the worst that could happen?’ “ Jan recalled. “We weren’t afraid of hard work.”
They looked around Northwest Florida — Destin, Niceville — but it was when they stumbled across Scenic Highway 30A that they knew they’d found their place.
They bought a lot in little Seagrove Beach, built the restaurant and named it after Jan’s Italian grandmother with plans to cook many of the same recipes she had prepared for Jan back in New York where she grew up.
“Looking back, I didn’t imagine this, I didn’t imagine anything really,” Jan said. “I remember thinking if we made it through our first year and broke even, we would be on it. And then we made a profit in the first year.”
Jan and Brian were working 70 hours a week, but the restaurant was drawing customers from all across the area and it was clear they had a shot at success.
The following year, however, times got tougher.
‘Closed due to hurricane — and fire’
On October 5, 1995, the skies darkened and Hurricane Opal carved its devastating path across Northwest Florida.
It wreaked havoc on houses and businesses, including Angelina’s.
The Ethridges shut down the restaurant and started the long process of repair.
Then one night, right after they reopened, a small fire broke out in the kitchen, spreading quickly. Luckily it was discovered before total destruction, but the damage was still great.
With the sign stating they were closed due to hurricane still out front, they had to shutter their doors yet again.
Jan, with a bit of the humor required to get through these sorts of things, tacked the words ‘and fire’ at the end of the sign and continued on.
“It was a tough year, but I don’t ever remember thinking about quitting,” Jan said. “We were committed for the long haul.”
Building a family
The Etheridges made close friends in the area, including their employees, who have become part of the family.
Gilian, their daughter, grew up in the restaurant and in her younger years could often be found on a bar stool, sketching fanciful cat portraits for the regulars.
Shawn O’Drain, Angelina’s kitchen manager, has worked for the Etheridges for 16 years.
“It’s always been like home to me, like family, ever since I showed up,” O’Drain said.
He said he loves the people, but also the work. Early each morning he takes pleasure in preparing the fresh pizza dough and sauce and getting the ingredients ready for the day’s recipes.
And the Saturday nights, those crazy busy nights, make the bonds between the staff even stronger.
“You can smile — as long as you’re on task,” he joked. “We go through some serious business. It really pulls us closer to each other.”
The family restaurant is steeped in tradition, having some of the same staff since they opened, and also some of the same business practices.
Up until earlier this year, all receipts were hand written — nothing digital — and the carbon copies filled boxes and boxes stored in a closet in Jan’s house.
The change took some getting used to, but Jan has found more than one reason to get on board with it.
“Now I have this huge closet,” she said. “I could ballroom dance in there.”
‘It’s our place’
O’Drain said his favorite dish to cook right now is linguine Fruitti di Mare, which is shrimp, scallops and clams with a sauce made of white wine, garlic, olive oil, crushed red pepper and butter served over linguine.
“It’s simple, a classic,” he said.
“Just the way my grandmother made it,” Jan added.
Despite the occasional struggle, the Ethridges love Angelina’s. Jan said the business has been so good to them.
“If we sold it, I’d have to move away, that’s how much I love it,” she said. “It’s our place.”