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Gourmet on Display: Sarah K Serves up High-class Takeout

By Bruce Collier
Oct. 29, 2009 Issue

There’s fast food, and there’s memorable fast food. Sarah K. Schreifer, owner and chef de cuisine of Sarah K’s Gourmet in Destin, offers the latter exclusively. Founded in 2005 and a frequent winner of local and area awards for quality (including an apparent lock on the “Best Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes” category), her shop is part kitchen, part bakery, and a popular stopping place for food-lovers on the way to parties, games, or just the couch at home. “Gourmet takeout, specializing in chef-crafted, ready-to-heat cuisine” is her description of the business.

Schreifer herself has done some traveling, partly as a military kid—she lists Illinois, California, Colorado, Oregon, Indiana and Pennsylvania as some of the places she has lived. A graduate of Notre Dame with a degree in business, Schreifer spent time in Philadelphia in banking, until she noticed she didn’t especially want to go to work. From this, she concluded that a career in finance “was not my passion.” Her parents encouraged her, and she enrolled in culinary school at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. She continued to work at a bank while learning to cook, choosing the school’s fast-track course of studies. This was not an impulsive decision. Schreifer had grown up learning to cook from her mother and grandmother, and the fire had already been lit, so to speak.

From school, she moved on to restaurant work, cooking and working in customer service. Her parents had meantime moved to this area, and when Schreifer visited, she “saw a need.” In September of 2005, she opened Sarah K’s Gourmet, a “labor of love.” Which was a good thing, because, as she said, “I did it all,“ with help from her family. Pitching in were her father, mother, sister and even her grandmother, Sophia Kolly-Musick, 94, who still lives in Fort Walton Beach and affixes stickers on the packages.

Four years later, Schreifer is in the original location, staying put while the area around her continued to grow and attract businesses. Schreifer lauds Destin’s “entrepreneurial spirit,” and has built a loyal clientele (including snowbirds) to keep her working year round. Football season always brings heavy weekend party orders, keeping her and her staff of four or five part-time employees (and Mom) busy filling boxes and trays with everything from soups and salads to desserts. In between, as listed on her takeout menu card, are the famous lump crab cakes (perfected in Maryland, she says) chicken salad, gourmet mac and cheese, roasted vegetables, potato salad, seafood specials, a spicy seafood sauce, cupcakes, rum cake, brownies, assorted pastries (including a cake that looks like a stadium), scones, cookies, tea, coffee, wines and other items. It’s all on display behind the counter, if you want to just stop in and take gourmet potluck, or call ahead. Sarah K’s also caters to weddings and other gatherings (food only, not delivery or service), and advises brides and other amateur hosts.

A trademark feature of Sarah K’s is the inclusion of heating instructions for all items that need it. They are included in her distinctive ribbon-wrapped packages, and help make the experience all but foolproof. The kitchen features a refrigerator, ranges, prep table, and non-perishable items stacked ready for use. Schreifer uses seasonal vegetables and fresh seafood, and does 75-80 percent of the cooking. Her mother still helps, and Schreifer is training her staff. In the store on this occasion is Tiffany Eaves, who is seated cutting crab-shaped stickers for packages. Eaves has developed her own passion for cooking, she says, and is working to “venture out there.”

Schreifer has been doing some venturing of her own recently, teaching, taking continuing education classes, developing a local TV cooking show for kids, and gearing up for a busy Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Sarah K’s will offer fried turkey, holiday platters and other items to help maximize family visiting time out of the kitchen. “We want people to spend time with family,” she says. Her target clientele—singles, working families, retirees and tourists—will still be able to get their favorites (the crab cakes, lasagna, chef’s salad and Death by Chocolate brownies are leading choices) by calling ahead, placing their order, and stopping by for pick-up.

Schreifer’s future possible plans include opening multiple stores, offering franchises, and finding time to engage in her favorite leisure activities—water sports. Considering that she puts in an average of 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, the recent chill in the weather may have gone unnoticed by one of this area’s hardest working chefs and business owners.

Sarah K’s Gourmet is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. (“That extra 15 minutes makes a big difference,” she says). The store is located at 34940 U.S. 98 in Destin. The telephone number is (850) 269-0044, and the Web site address is www.sarahks.com.

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