For Jeffrey Mount, owner of Wright’s Gourmet House, being a restaurateur boils down to one simple statement: You’re only as good as your last sandwich. He was a mere 21 years old and fresh out of the University of Florida when he bought his grandparents’ business for $100,000. Given its success, Jeff had a lot to live up to.
The cakes and pies had to be baked and decorated to perfection. Everything –salads, soups and sandwiches – had to be perfect and promptly delivered. Jeff knew consistency was the name of the game. You’ve gotta make the register ring, his grandmother would tell him.
“She’d sell a grandkid if it made money,” he jokes.
In his first year, one customer made it clear she wasn’t going to settle for anything less than perfection. A regular since Marjorie and Pete Wright opened the tiny storefront on Dale Mabry Highway in 1963, Miss. H. always ordered the roast beef sandwich.
One afternoon, Miss H. ordered her sandwich but upon receiving it, she found that it was missing one crucial ingredient: mustard. Politely, she called Jeff over, and made one simple yet stern declaration: “I’ve been coming in here for 38 years and I just want to know if this is how things are going to be.”
That’s when Jeff realized he had big shoes to fill.
Marjorie and Pete met on a blind date. Both had been widowed and not long after their first meeting, got married, quit their jobs and decided to open a café using some second-hand equipment and a well-crafted plan to be Tampa’s go-to source for caviar, truffles, imported cheeses and sandwiches. Combined from both marriages, Pete and Marjorie had 14 grandchildren, and all but two worked at Wright’s.
“I used to say it was later in life when they started. My grandmother was 48 then and now I’m 49, so I’m saying it’s not so old,” Jeff says.
If you were to examine a family tree, you might notice that technically, Pete Wright is Jeff’s step-grandparent, hence the different last name. But ask Jeff and he’ll tell you Pete’s “as much as my grandfather as anyone.”
Slowly, the Wright’s worked up a good fan base, but not because of their delicacies. People loved sandwiches like the Beef Martini over pounds of meat and cheese. So Pete teamed up with a local German baker and crafted the best gourmet sandwiches in Tampa. When customers started buying the family’s meals fresh out the stove – like Majorie’s famed turkey tetrazzini – they started selling gourmet entrees for take-out, a huge breakthrough then.
“Sandwiches were a part of the beginning but they took off better than grandma thought,” Jeff says. “Then the cakes came about in the early 70s, when she started adding more desserts. In the early 80s it really came around.”
Some of the recipes, like the rum raisin cake, came from Tampa natives or Jeff’s sister, while cakes like the Hummingbird and Hawaiian, both smothered in a thick, rich layer of Wright’s signature frosting, came from recipes his grandmother collected. But most of all, the menu was created by customer requests, because if there’s one thing his grandparents taught him, it’s that making the customers happy is the purpose of Wright’s Gourmet House.
Jeff likes to joke that when he started, Wright’s had 500 menu items and only three recipes. “I’m exaggerating, of course,” he says, “it was probably more like 495.”
Originally, Jeff aspired to have a Wright’s on every corner. Back then he thought everything his grandparent’s did was wrong. Today, he realizes the treasure he’s sitting on.
“I had a lot of hubris then,” he says. “But here it is 28 years later and (this) is plenty. There’s a lot to be said about what we have here.”
Jeff is currently in the process of expanding Wright’s even further by growing its national cake delivery service and extending the shop a few thousand square feet. In the coming year, customers will get an inside glimpse of the massive, well-oiled machine that is Wright’s Gourmet House right when they enter.
With three kids (his oldest is about to graduate from college) Jeff says the future is now. So who will carry on the family name when he’s gone? Well his youngest daughter has her future narrowed down to two paths: Being a model or owning Wright’s.
He might not know a whole lot about striking poses, but Jeff may have a few tips for her if she decides to take on the family business.
Wright’s Cream Cheese Brownies
6 ounces chocolate chips
¾ stick butter
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ stick butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease 13 x 9-inch baking pan. In saucepan, melt chocolate chips and butter over medium heat, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool.
While mixture cools, make topping: Cream butter and cream cheese together then add sugar, eggs and flour. Beat until fluffy and set aside.
When chocolate mixture has cooled to the touch – wait about 10 to 15 minutes – finish brownie base. Beat eggs, add sugar and mix. Then, mix in flour, baking powder and vanilla. Add chocolate mixture and stir, but do not overheat. Pour batter into prepared pan. Pour cream cheese mixture over batter. Swirl with knife edge to make marbled effect. Sprinkle pecans over top. Bake 45 to 50 minutes. When cool, cut into squares and serve. Makes 24.
Preparation Time: 30 minutes Cooking Time: 45 to 50 minutes
Treasure Tip: For moist brownies, always let melted chocolate cool before adding to other ingredients. If the chocolate is still hot, it will partially cook the eggs. Always use a heavy pan to melt chocolate. Since chocolate scorches easily, kept the heat low and stir constantly while melting.