In 1995, Jim opened his first restaurant in Pensacola, Madison's Diner (named after his daughter Madison), the Screaming Coyote in 1997, and The Fish House in 1998. Following these successes, he launched Seaside’s Great Southern Café in 2006, The Meltdown on 30A, The Bay, 45 Central Wine & Sushi, Baytowne Provisions, Farm & Fire, and North Beach Social.
His style of cooking is one that he calls Modern Southern Cuisine. As the son of a Navy pilot who was stationed all around the world, Jim learned to enjoy a variety of foods from many cultures. But he always goes back to his roots — his grandmothers’ traditional Southern cooking. His expertise is combining different flavors in ways unlike anyone else.
For years, Shirley wrote a weekly column, “Good Grits!” for the Pensacola News Journal, and contributed on a regular basis to the newspaper’s columns “Chef’s Corner” and “Wine Time.” His cookbook, “Good Grits! Southern Boy Cooks,” is a compilation of the best recipes and entertaining stories from the “Good Grits!” newspaper column.
Jim is chair of the state board of directors of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and a past president of the association’s Northwest Florida Chapter, founder and president of the Society of Great Southern Chefs, and a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance. He is also one of the five distinguished Celebrity Chefs of Pensacola and has cooked at the James Beard House numerous times.
As an active community leader, Jim dedicates time to many charities. Besides being a past board member of the Autism Society of the Panhandle, he has served on the board of directors of the Children’s Home Society of Florida Western Division since 1999. The Western Division includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. By supporting the society’s mission — Embracing Children, Inspiring Lives — its dedicated staff, board members and donor friends provide services to over 4,000 individuals annually.
Jim created and continues to organize “A Sunday of Soundside Splendor,” an annual wine and food fundraiser for the Children's Home Society of Florida. According to the society’s Charitable Giving Director Gay Deese, “Jim is one of the primary reasons this event continues to be one of the most popular and successful events in our community.”
Jim continues to participate in the Children’s Home Society’s annual Holiday Drive fundraiser. He has a huge heart for the society and for the children and families the organization serves. He gives freely of his time, treasure and fundraising talents to help ensure that more children living in our community are safe, healthy and prepared for life.
Shirley’s signature dish, Grits à Ya Ya, is celebrated around the nation. The dish was named “The best Southern dish in the state of Florida” by “Florida Travel and Life” magazine. It was also chosen by U.S. Congressman Jeff Miller (then a Florida state representative) to take to Washington, D.C., for “A Taste of the South,” an event held on Capitol Hill for over 1000 dignitaries.
In 2020, Chef Jim’s growth in stature continues to flourish beyond his legendary culinary expertise. For his contributions, he was recipient of the prestigious Van Ness Butler Jr. Hospitality 17th Annual Award, which recognizes Walton County’s hospitality excellence, as well as being recognized in Arkansas with the “2020 Shining Example Award — Epicurean Partner” from the Southeast Tourism Society.
In 2022, Chef Jim was awarded the Torch Award from the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show for his outstanding knowledge and leadership; philanthropic and community efforts; extraordinary talent and creativity; innovation and inspiration.
Jim currently spends his time split between Santa Rosa Beach, Florida and Serenbe, Georgia.