The featured photo, (above), is what lured me to this shack with delectable tendencies. The Shoals Shack opened in August 2020 and has been serving up some really good food ever since.
Co-owners, couple Jennifer Tester and BJ Harris, from Michigan, met at a bar and worked there for 7 and 5 years, respectively. “We both worked the front of the house as Managers,” noted Tester, and ultimately, she ended up attending Kendall College, a culinary school in Chicago. “I didn’t plan on working in the kitchen,” Tester indicated. “I just wanted to learn about the restaurant industry.” However, they envisioned opening a restaurant “one day” and knew she needed to know what went on in the “back of the house.”
Harris’s parents were married in Sanibel Island, and after visiting for a week, Tester and Harris loved the area and decided to move to Key West in 2012. They kept working in restaurants, and by 2019, now working in Fort Myers, decided they wanted to open a food truck. Then COVID happened, which waylaid their plan. When Tester’s parents retired, Tester and Harris decided to help them with their move to Florence, AL. Their visit bought them time to “take a step back and chill.” Again, COVID left them uncertain, but they kept driving around a little building in the St. Florian community.
Finally, BJ said, “You gotta come to see this place.” Now in 2020, after talking with the landlord and assessing the spot, they just “went for it!” They had to renovate the space and figure out what to expect from their market. They were new to the area and the people. “We knew the food we liked and our standards,” Tester explained. They needed to find out what people in the area liked or if folks would pay for the food the couple wanted to serve. “We didn’t want to flip burgers.” As they were painting, people would query, “Are you gonna have a “Meat ‘n Three?” (Popular in the South – meat and three sides). “We got a little nervous,” Tester admitted. The couple calls their fare “Food that we love.” Creativity is the word.
Outside of the many restaurants he worked in, BJ worked for a couple in Fort Myers, where he did daily specials. “He would encourage everyone to come up with ideas, and he would try anything.” The couple also did take-home meals for musicians five days a week. So takeout is not new to Tester and Harris. At Shoals Shack, they both create the food, experimenting as chefs do. They use fresh ingredients and offer some vegetarian dishes. “We feature weekly sandwich and plate specials.”
Facebook, Instagram, or a phone call hold the key to finding The Shack’s menu and specials. They rarely duplicate specials but will do so for some favorites, like their muffelatta, which Tester says is work-intensive but delicious.
With a small space and a dedicated staff, the energy they create is the energy you receive in their service at the Shack, and Tester says it permeates from how they work. Their service extends to donating to Dolly Parton’s library project with United Way. A half slice of Banana Pudding buys a book for a child. “We’ve given away over 100 books a month!” You can thank Jennifer’s love of reading for the pie donation and the free library outside of the Shack.
In the future, the couple hopes to include a deck and tables, but until then, Shoals Shack’s takeout serves us just fine. (Menu)