Beachcomber chats with Chuck and Carmen Stiles, the couple behind the legendary Graffiti and the Funky Blues Shack in Destin.
Where were you born and raised?
Carmen: We were both born in Little Rock, Arkansas. Chuck grew up in Little Rock, and I moved from Arkansas to Florida to Spain and back to Crossett, Arkansas.
What brought you to the Emerald Coast?
Carmen: Chuck and I had recently graduated from college and married. My father owned apartments on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, so we thought, why not? Next thing you know, our families and some friends followed.
What’s your boy-meets-girl story?
Carmen: We met in college. I was actually dating Chuck’s roommate. After (we) broke up, Chuck and I started hanging out, and one thing led to another…
Where was your first date?
Carmen: Graffiti Restaurant in Little Rock.
Is your venue name inspired by your first date?
Do you have children?
Carmen: We have two kids—Hayden, 24, and Lily, 17.
What inspired you to open a restaurant?
Carmen: It was always Chuck’s dream to own a restaurant.
Why are you so committed to live music at Funky Blues Shack?
Carmen: Besides the fact that everyone loves music, Chuck’s biggest influence came from his father Joe. Joe played the trumpet and had his own big band called The Style Masters. Chuck grew up listening to most of the jam sessions in the basement of his house.
Music is important to the entire dining experience at Graffiti, because we feel it touches another sense. Music feeds the soul!
Why did you choose Mediterranean cuisine as your signature?
Carmen: Our menu has an emphasis on Mediterranean cuisine, because who doesn’t love pasta? Our very first chef was Italian-American—Gio Varisco. He was very instrumental in creating some of the signature dishes we are well known for and still serve 20-plus years later.
What is the biggest challenge of being business owners, spouses, parents?
Carmen: As most business owners know, a lot of time and energy and sacrifice are needed in order to get a business off the ground and running, and it can take a toll on the family. Even though we were very blessed to have both sets of grandmothers to help, it was heart wrenching leaving our one-year-old son behind due to work.
By the time our daughter joined the family seven years later, Chuck and I were able to take a step back and devote time to our family. Now that our kids are grown, we find it a lot easier to re-devote our time to the business in its new location.
What is the best part of being business and life partners?
Carmen: We get to hang out together a lot. We started out as friends before we started dating, and 31 years later we are still best friends.
What’s your pet peeve?
Carmen: I guess our biggest pet peeve is negativity. Life is too short to be unhappy.
What is Chuck’s greatest strength?
Carmen: Chuck’s greatest strength is as a leader. There is nothing he would ask anyone to do that he would not do himself. He is respectful, loyal and true.
What is Carmen’s greatest strength?
Chuck: Her selflessness. She’s compassionate, loving and a great mother.
What’s on your bucket list?
Chuck: To get an RV and travel all over the U.S. Experience the world and help where help is needed. Hike out west—we love to hike!
How do you spend your free time?
Chuck: We love to spend time with our friends. We all vacation together quite often. We enjoy going out in the boat and also sitting at home watching a good movie on Netflix
Tell us about your art.
Carmen: My art is meant to be fun. It’s lighthearted and colorful. I have always been very observant of people and find tremendous inspiration from music—somehow the two have melded together in my head to create this funky style of mine.
I’ve always painted and been “artsy,” but in the early ‘90s I made a conscious decision to pursue my art. So I found a little artist colony in Grayton Beach called Patrones and set up shop/studio there. I did this for a few years until we started a family. A year after our son Hayden was born, we opened the restaurant and I hung up my paintbrushes. With a name like Graffiti, we knew we wanted some fun decorative art for the walls, never intending to sell any of it, but people were constantly asking to buy the art right off the walls!
We sold the paintings, and out of necessity I started painting again. Throughout the years we’ve consigned, commissioned and bought lots of art from other artists in order to fill our walls. When we opened our newest location, we decided to go with a new look. Most of the art was commissioned from an artist named Butch Anthony. We wanted a cleaner look that still displayed the funky vibe we’ve always tried to maintain.
The artwork is no longer for sale, and if you look around, you can find some of my pieces mixed in with Butch’s.
What do you do to stay healthy?
Carmen: Chuck tries to play tennis as much as possible, and I usually walk my two very slow dogs, so I don’t nearly exercise as much as I used to or get as much as I should.
What advice would you give to someone pursuing his or her passion?
Carmen: Do it! But be willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears necessary to see your dream take flight.