Once upon a time, a young girl from Alabama fell in love with healthy eating. Inspired by a beloved teacher, she decided to go forth and preach the gospel of a healthy lifestyle.
“I started with healthy food when I was in high school,” Stevie Whittaker said. “I had the best home economics teacher.”
Along the way, however, our intrepid heroine learned a few more lessons about eating well and having fun. The result was the happy Cocoa Village watering hole known as Murdock’s and now the elegant Vintage 56 in Rockledge. Here’s more of her story:
Was your goal to open a restaurant?
No, I wanted to teach home economics. I majored in nutrition in college. It’s almost like premed. I got a master’s degree in health, too. When I went to teach school, I was told I was overqualified for home ec, but that I could teach science, so I became a biology and chemistry teacher for 11 years. I taught at Southwest Junior High before I took a leave of absence.
My friends would always tell me that as much as I loved to entertain, I should open up my own restaurant, so I opened Just for the Health of It, this little smoothies place in Indialantic. Then I owned Healthy Habit Cafe in Suntree for six years before I opened Murdock’s eight years ago.
Two and a half weeks ago, we launched Vintage 56. When I took that leave of absence, I had never worked in a restaurant. I never had any restaurant experience, even waitressing. I learned by doing.
Do you miss teaching?
No. I love being in the restaurant business and being my own boss.
How did the switch come about from health food to Murdock’s and now Vintage 56?
My customers at Healthy Habit used to joke that if I could make health food taste so good, just think what I could do with regular food and booze. I fell in love with the building at Murdock’s, and I love the atmosphere. It’s casual, just a little rambunctious. With Vintage 56, I decided to go a whole new direction. It had been the old Ed’s Italian Restaurant, but had been closed for a while, so I gutted it and redid it top to bottom. I call it casually upscale. I didn’t want it to be stodgy. If Murdock’s is the little tomboy, Vintage 56 is the older, dressier sister.
What’s the concept behind the new place?
When I came up with the idea, I wanted something that revolved around tapas and wine. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a fondness for wine. The word “vintage” is a word I like, and I happened to have been born in 1956. It was a good year.
Our lobster bisque is made from scratch, with lots of lobster. One whole side of our menu is nothing but tapas. Some of our specialties include Drunken Thai Shrimp and our Caprice salad served in a martini glass. Our soups, salads and sandwiches are special, and we do a twist on many entrees, such as our almond encrusted tilapia with Amaretto citrus cream sauce. Our duck breast is also very popular.
My husband, Randy, my daughter, Casey, who’s in Tallahassee, and my son, Clint, who manages Murdock’s at night.
Famous person you would invite to dinner?
Elvis Presley, absolutely.