The Thirty-A Review July 2020

l o c a l b u s i n e s s

Nikki Nickerson Discovers New Frontiers b y Te s s F a r m e r

B orn in Texas and raised in the South, Nickerson’s enterprising spirit led her away from corporate America that she conquered in the ‘90s toward new, sun-drenched opportunities at the beach. Founder and owner of Cowgirl Kitchen in Rosemary Beach and Cowgirl Kitchen Market in Seagrove, she and her team have recently opened their newest venture, Blue Mabel Restaurant and Bar in Blue Mountain Beach, on the west end of 30-A. What was your original idea for opening a restaurant on 30-A? “I started thinking about the restaurant business in 2004/2005, mostly stemming from my passion for collecting wine. I always enjoyed cooking and entertaining and felt it would provide a good synergy with my real estate clients to have a place to wine and dine while they looked for property. I love the hospitality world, bringing people together to break bread and enjoy each other’s time together. Eating and drinking together is one of the greatest joys we can experience in our day- to-day rituals.” How has doing business changed and evolved since then? “The first ten years were pretty nose to the grindstone. I was working at our flagship location 80-90 hours a week for the first seven years, then my time started to split into the new locations as they were getting off the ground. My focus now is on training my senior leaders to lead with a good amount of autonomy to make smart decisions. I am focused now on culture and innovation— how can we improve everything we do always, for both staff and our customer dining experiences. Can you describe your vision for the future of your businesses? “I strongly believe in putting money back into the businesses to make improvements. I recently was awarded a James Beard Foundation Fellowship, which is a truly rewarding experience to be surrounded by other female culinary chefs and owners with the opportunity to collaborate on our work worlds. The experience has provided great feedback and support for continuing to cultivate my businesses and train new young leaders in my company and in the community.”

What is your vision for building a successful team? “Having a great team working along with me has everything to do with our success and growth. A great team for me is not only managers, it is everyone from servers to assistants to dishwashers. How we treat each other and how everyone feels about the company and working together is essential. I have always made it a point to hire based on mindset first. I feel people can learn skills and become more competent with training and development. It’s most important to have a mindset of thinking positively, taking responsibility, and having a good work ethic to become an integral part of our team. When you love what you are doing, you can have challenging days and look forward to easier days again. There will always be a mix of both. “Growing more locations has enabled us to offer more upward mobility with the company long term, as well as better benefits for everyone. Our goal is to continue to provide opportunities for ownership and equity roles for all staff. I really love my team, they have big hearts and make life really fun.”

Peel & Eat Shrimp

Lump Crab Cake

Now let’s get to the food! What’s your favorite dish at each restaurant? Cowgirl Kitchen Restaurant and Bar: “Hoo Ha Pizza and our house salad. One of our most popular pizzas is the Drunken Cowgirl, we’ve had it on the menu since 2007. It sounds strange but it has a special red vodka cream sauce, garlic, tomato, sliced green olives, bacon, mozzarella and fresh parmesan... the Hoo Ha version was created by Rosemary Beach resident Bret Azzarelli and we add jalapeños to it. (Inside tip: It’s not on the menu, but the staff know what it is when ordered!)” Cowgirl Kitchen Market: “Veggie Tacos. We take black bean patties and top them with roasted corn salsa, hatch green chile crema, queso fresco, and avocado. It’s a terrific combo and makes for the perfect lunch on a beach day.” Blue Mabel Restaurant and Bar: “Peel and Eat Shrimp Bowl. Executive Chef Steven Sandy makes a smoked kimchi butter which has a nice spice level to it, and adds

Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes, house sausage, and gulf shrimp. Then we serve it with sage biscuits to mop up the sauce... it’s pretty delicious and unique, just right for the patio and paired with margaritas.” Do you have the only drive thru on 30-A? What other conveniences do you offer vacationers? “We are the only drive thru on 30-A but it’s not yet open at Blue Mabel. What we do provide on the convenience end that most people don’t know about is catering drop- off service through our catering company, Southern Belle Catering. We do casual offerings that are perfect for visitors staying for the week and also have a full-scale catering department with a great director overseeing the production of all of our dips, spreads, casseroles, which are for sale at each location.”

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