Chef Jim Shirley had quite an exciting year and it’s just getting started. The celebrity chef, who’s the mastermind behind The Great Southern Café and 45 Central, received a major honors when he became the 16th recipient of the Van Ness Butler Jr. Hospitality Award.
The award honors and recognizes excellence in the hospitality, service, travel/tourism, advertising and promotion industries, as well as contributions to the local community.
“It’s an incredible honor to get the Van Ness Butler Jr. Award,” Shirley says. "I’ve seen all the great work done by the people that have received this before and it’s amazing when you achieve something like this.”
Shirley opened his first restaurant, The Great Southern Café, in 2006. His impressive portfolio now includes 45 Central Wine & Sushi Bar, The Meltdown on 30A, The Bay and Farm & Fire Southern Pizzeria.
Shirley has a history of giving back to the South Walton community and often works with local charities and volunteers with professional groups.
Shirley was especially philanthropic in the weeks following Hurricane Michael. He worked with other local chefs to feed people, especially those who lived in the areas east of Walton County that were hit hardest. “Everybody took turns, really,” he says of the efforts to feed people impacted by the storm. “The whole area just stepped up.”
He estimates that he and his team were able to serve between 30,000 and 40,000 meals. "It just shows what a great community South Walton is,” he explains. “It’s really just an amazing group.”
He’s also given back during Covid-19. As the 2021 FRLA Chairman of the Board, he’s been working to “provide hotels and restaurants with the tools they need to keep their doors open.” He’s been advocating at the state and national levels to make sure these businesses both survive and thrive.
Despite the multiple accolades the chef has received, he remains humble and giving. “When I think about what’s happening around me, I just like to think about whether or not people are comfortable. Everything that’s in me is about hospitality,” he says.