APALACHICOLA, FLA. - The Panhandle village of Apalachicola may be small in
scope, but a closer look reveals a cornucopia brimming with treasures – a
chocolatier to rival the likes of Jacques Torres, majestic Antebellum mansions,
quaint book stores, and historic light houses overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
But there’s one thing you won’t find here: high rises.
In recent decades,
the Florida high-rise has become as ubiquitous as their orange groves, but not
in this Franklin County town, which bills itself as “A Natural
Unlike the glitz of Miami or the sensory overwhelm of Orlando, a
visit to Apalachicola is more like a serene step back in time with more than 250
places on the National Register of Historic Places.
With its miles of
unspoiled beaches and marshlands, it has also become a magnet for artists, and
it’s not unusual to see painters at work along the shore, their easels propped
in front of them as they recreate the sun rising over the Gulf of
Lynn Wilson Spohrer and her husband, Bill Spohrer, own The Coombs
Inn bed and breakfast where they host visitors from around the world, and four
plein-air landscape workshops every year.
“I’m an artist and I love
painting the landscapes here,” said Wilson. “I started the Pastel Society in
town. People love coming to paint the shrimp boats, marshes, sand dunes on St.
George Island, and the oak trees that line the river.”
When Wilson, who
runs the Miami-based interior design firm of Lynn Wilson & Associates, first
visited Apalachicola 30 years ago, the inn was abandoned and in a state of
neglect. Still, she and her husband saw untapped potential for the inn and the
entire town, so they bought the inn and began the renovation process.
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saw something in Apalachicola. It’s precious and unspoiled, and the history is
respected instead of being torn down by raging development,” she said. “We saw
the town as an unpolished gem lying beneath the façade of chipping paint. My
husband and I poured our life savings into the inn and the renovation several
buildings in town. The Coombs house was abandoned when we bought it, partially
gutted by a fire, and the windows were boarded.
And that’s how some of
the other buildings in town were. Now the downtown is beautiful and
The Coombs Inn draws people from around the world, Europe in
particular, according to Wilson.
“We get Florida residents who want a
quiet weekend getaway, but people from Europe love Apalachicola because it’s the
Florida they imagined.
Many of them are disappointed by the crowds and
high-rises of Orlando. We’re really the forgotten coast. Not many people pass
After the couple renovated The Coombs Inn, they rehabilitated
several other buildings downtown, including The Montgomery Building, which
houses Apalach Outfitters, Garlick Antiques, the Alice Jean Art Studio, and
Wombat Sound Music Store; the Apalachicola Cotton Warehouse (now a museum); the
town’s oldest building, “The Sponge Exchange 1836.”
“Once we started,
other people in town got involved in renovating and investing,” said
“Now Apalachicola has a lot going on: museums, boutiques, and The
Orman House, a restored Antebellum home overlooking the Apalachicola
“Apalachicola is a town that tends to attract people with a
genuine appreciation for history and the beautiful nature of Florida,” she said.
“People who become a part of the community want to contribute to perpetuating
that and not just turn themselves over to bottom-line greed. I make my money in
Miami but invest in Apalachicola.”
The town’s chocolate shop, owned and
operated by George Stritikus, draws a steady stream of returning tourists, many
of whom aim to get their fill while they’re in town because he doesn’t ship the
handcrafted chocolates he makes daily. His original plan was to live a quiet
life of retirement when he moved from Birmingham, Ala., where Stritikus ran the
city’s most renowned Jewish delicatessen.
Instead, he became a devotee of
making memorable homemade chocolates and The Apalachicola Chocolate Co. was born
five years ago.
“I have fun every day of my life,” said Stritikus as he
handed a customer a white paper bag filled with Caramel Almond Logs. “I love
watching people’s faces light up when they try my candy…it’s like watching a
“My father had a barbeque stand in
That’s where I learned about the food business. I was known
for my sandwiches at the deli, bought nothing from the outside,” he said. “I
made all the salads, chicken, salmon, briskets, and my own breads.”
of his favorite stories from his years as a deli owner is the day a surgeon gave
him his private home number after being bowled over by Stritikus’s matza ball
“He had heard I was in need of some elective surgery and told me to
call him anytime,” said Stritikus with a laugh.
When Stritikus decided to
delve into the chocolate business, he didn’t approach it lightly. He spent two
years of research at the library, followed by nearly a decade of experimentation
in his kitchen. And then set about creating recipes from his particular
proprietary blend of chocolate: an intoxicating confluence of French Valrona,
Belgium, and Venezuelan chocolate in varying degrees of darkness.
love my milk chocolate, but my dark chocolate has a depth of flavor, and it
finishes with a whisper of sweetness,” said Stritikus. “It’s the Belgian
Some of the creations he dreams up include: Chocolate Peanut
Butter Fudge, Caramel Almond Logs, Peanut Butter Velvets (similar to Reese’s
Cups), Coconut Island Dreams, Milk Chocolate Raisin Clusters, Walnut Butter
Crisps, Chocolate French Pudding, Vanilla Bean Fudge, Pecan Caramel Squares, and
Dark Chocolate Pecan Clusters.
“I do a killer lemonade in the summer,
with real lemons, cherries, and pineapple. And people love my gelato
year-round,” he said of the 33 flavors, that include white chocolate, hazelnut,
toasted pecan, mango, peach, blueberry, and banana. “I have an Italian
Carpigiani gelato maker and only use fresh fruit.”
But the wonders of
Franklin County extend beyond the borders of its quaint, one-traffic-light
downtown. There are hiking and biking trails, miles of sand dunes with waving
sea oats on nearby St.
George Island, historic lighthouses, and fishing
charters, an ever-popular passtime since Apalachicola restaurants are renowned
for their just-caught seafood.
George Ward is a native of Apalachicola
and lifelong fisherman who runs Black Pearl Charters, a fishing and boating
guide service. He sees visitors from around the world returning to the quiet,
unspoiled waters of Apalachicola Bay for its bounty of pristine oysters, red
fish, and picture-perfect sunsets.
“It’s not unusual to see a bald eagle
flying back to its nest while we’re out on the bay fishing,” he
“People come here because the bay is pretty; and you don’t have a
bunch of people all over the place…they come to get away from it
all.”For more information on Franklin County, Fla., visit
Stacey Morris is a freelance writer based in
Lake George, N.Y. Her Web site is www.staceymorris.com .
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