Life and retirement don’t always work out as expected.
John Richardson packed his belongings and left behind more than 20 years as a firefighter in New Rochelle, New York, and headed for the warm paradise of Florida
“I thought I was going to come down here and go to the beach every day,” he said.
Richardson pictured himself in a convertible, top down, tooling off to the sandy shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
His beach dreams are gone now, but his cooking career is taking off.
In November, Richardson opened Jon’s Gourmet Nutrition in a small plaza, at 6745 Land O’ Lakes Blvd.
The restaurant’s name is no misspelling. It draws attention in a way no traditional name spelling would do.
“Jon is more gourmet,” Richardson elaborated. “It’s worked out good.”
His menu features healthy, fresh recipes, including Buffalo chicken spread, jerk smoked salmon spread, honey jerk smoked turkey spread, guacamole, and pasta. He recently added wraps.
Almost all items are “jerk smoked,” a combination that Richardson said makes his recipes unique. Other restaurants offer jerk or smoked meals, but not both together, he said.
“It’s a little longer process to do it, but it’s worth it,” Richardson said.
Customers can dine in or order meals, with free delivery. Richardson also does catering.
Cooking wasn’t totally off Richardson’s radar as a firefighter. But, he hadn’t considered owning a restaurant.
He picked up culinary skills at the New Rochelle fire station.
Mealtime was a group activity.
Richardson did much of the prep work. He chopped carrots, celery, onions and other vegetables. Along the way, he also picked up a few recipes.
“I watched the (other) guys and that’s how I learned to cook,” he said.
For years, his kitchen activity stayed strictly inside his home, or at the fire station. He would try recipes on his daughter and ask for her opinions.
When Richardson left New Rochelle, he relocated to New Tampa, and eventually took a job as medical lab technician at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital. It was a similar job to one he had in New York.
Richardson said it was typical for firefighters to have a second job on their days off.
He worked at the veteran’s hospital for two years.
All the while, he was developing his signature recipes for jerk smoked spreads.
For his going away party, Richardson brought a salad, with jerk turkey breast, that was a big crowd pleaser.
Friends encouraged him to go into business.
Next, he signed up with the Entrepreneurs Collaborative Center in Hillsborough County. The nonprofit helps start-up businesses with resources, training and mentoring.
Richardson’s initially sold his products at area salons and gymnasiums.
He also began selling HerbaLife products, which are available for purchase at his restaurant.
By focusing on nutritious foods, he dropped about 30 pounds.
Richardson also caters and delivers daily meals.
Last year he decided it was time for the next step of opening a brick-and-mortar, Jon’s Gourmet Nutrition.
He found a former computer store, did some renovations, and opened in November.
He makes meals daily at a professional kitchen, and brings them to his restaurant.
His days are split between the restaurant and catering.
He continues to offer free meal deliveries.
In the future, he aims to have a large enough location to accommodate both a kitchen and restaurant seating.
He wants to sell his spreads, and other menu items, at area grocery stores, such as Whole Foods and Publix.
He marvels at how his life took a turn, setting him off in a new direction.
“It’s God, but it’s also a whole bunch of things that fell into place,” Richardson said. “It’s overwhelming. It’s a humbling experience.”
For more information, call (813) 495-2130, or visit Facebook.com/jonsgourmetproducts.com.
Published February 21, 2018