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NOLA to SoWal: New Orleanians swap St. Charles for 30A

Margaret Abrams

Posted on Jun 07, 2022 in New Orleans , SoWal

The Seaside Times has been sharing stories about where the town’s residents come from. We’ve featured folks who have moved from New York and California, and now we’re focusing on people who moved from New Orleans, or split their time in both places.

NOLA to SoWal: New Orleanians swap St. Charles for 30A

Amy Reimer-Sileo and Jack Sileo

Amy and Jack met in 2013 and got married in 2014, visiting Seaside separately before they met and then together as a couple. Amy is the liaison to the Mayor’s Hospitality Committee and on the executive committee of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation. Jack is an experienced personal injury lawyer with his own firm.

“When we met and got married, we started coming here, and now it’s our life and I still can’t believe it,” Amy says. “In Seaside, you really have that sense of community and the quaintness of it. I started coming here in my late twenties and always had a fascination and always said, ‘I will live in Seaside before I die.’”

“We both lived in the city of New Orleans, where we were keeping up the pace of a law practice and a hotel,” Jack adds. Once COVID hit, Jack was able to run his practice remotely, and Amy helped launch the new boutique hotel, The Court.

Their stunning, recently redone Seaside apartment is their primary residence, but they’re back in New Orleans every few weeks. From their open, light-filled living room, the couple talk about their journey to the beach.

“We had previously looked at a few places and talked to Jacky Barker of Seaside Community Realty. We were sitting on the beach a year later at the beginning of COVID in June of 2020, right when Florida opened,” Jack remembers. They were looking for a place with Gulf views, with Amy telling Jacky, “If we can’t see, hear, and smell the Gulf we don’t want it.” Now, they have Gulf views from their master bedroom.

And while they don’t see many similarities between the Southern city and our small town, Amy says that in both places the “people are very welcoming and friendly.” She’s also reminded of their Bayou St. John neighborhood because of the walkability. Amy appreciates how “we’ve gotten to know our bartenders and our waitresses, the owners of the restaurants, just by going in. If we strike up a conversation it’s always reciprocated.

Amy adds, “In New Orleans, you get a lot of visitors whether it’s for Jazz Fest, the Super Bowl or Mardi Gras. But here we’ve had even more than our share of visitors. More people want to go to the beach than go to New Orleans right now. We’re seeing people that we haven’t seen in a long time as a result of just being here.”

Mindy Norris

Mindy Norris is a hairstylist, aesthetician and yoga teacher who splits her time between Mid-City and the 30A area.

She grew up in Tennessee and vacationed in Panama City Beach. One day, she was looking for jobs online and stumbled upon an opening in Rosemary Beach, Fla. Everything fell into place for Mindy to work there.

“I lived at the beach for 13 or 14 years and moved to New Orleans in February of 2019,” She explains. Mindy split her time between the two places and then officially moved to New Orleans in March 2020, “before the world shut down.”

“I was working at Solis while they were still building the streets in Rosemary. That’s where I found the best community of friends, support, and love,” she says. “The beach is my home. Those are my people. I’m very supported and loved there. I would come back to New Orleans every so often to repack my suitcase and then come back to the beach.”

NOLA to SoWal: New Orleanians swap St. Charles for 30A

Brannon Janca and Stefani Pall

Chef Brannon Janca recently opened the New Orleans-influenced seafood restaurant Down Island on Highway 98 with his wife, Stefani Pall, who has NOLA ties of her own. She’s a registered dietitian who did part of her community and food service rotations at Tulane University, and he worked with some of the city’s finest chefs before moving beachside.

Chef Janca grew up on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi before moving to New Orleans for culinary school. He was enrolled at Mississippi State when he realized he wanted to cook instead. “I quit engineering school and went to cooking school. I worked at Gautreau’s — a small, quaint, French restaurant uptown. It’s one of the coolest little restaurants in the city. I worked with chefs my age that had worked at Commanders Palace.”

When some of the people he worked with decided to open a restaurant in Destin, he decided to make a move. “I moved here for the beautiful, crystal blue water and to open a restaurant,” he adds. “I got to 30A because I knew those cats in New Orleans.”

Now, Brannon aims to create unique Southern fare at Down Island, with his own unique twist. “There are so many people who do po-boys, gumbo, and beignets in this area. We’re trying to do something a little different that doesn’t taste like everybody else’s.” He adds, “The restaurant itself is about the Gulf South.”

Brannon says it’s impossible not to miss New Orleans. “I tell people all the time that one of the hardest things to explain to my wife is the feeling of missing New Orleans because no one really understands that. But it’s just a special place if you like food, music, culture, architecture and art, which I love.”

NOLA to SoWal: New Orleanians swap St. Charles for 30A

Victoria Lee Pugh

Victoria Lee Pugh grew up in New Orleans and came to the Ft. Walton and Destin area regularly on vacation. After graduating from high school, she went to college in Switzerland, moved to Beverly Hills, and then returned to NOLA.

It was after she returned that she discovered Seaside. “Growing up in south Louisiana, I’ve always been drawn to the water but I had never seen anything pristine like the Emerald Coast. Even traveling throughout Europe and Hawaii, nothing compared. When my then-boyfriend, now husband, and I had time to get away we would come to Destin. One fateful vacation, there wasn’t any availability in Destin, so a rental agency recommended Grayton Beach,” she says. “Back then, there was nothing but darkness and what seemed like miles and miles of sand dunes between Destin and 30A. Our rental was actually located in Old Seagrove. We stumbled upon Seaside in the summer of 1988.”

It all came full circle later, in the summer of 1995. “I went into a kiosk, Davis Properties, which was located in Central Square. I thought it was the real estate office for Seaside but was introduced to a new development which was ‘to be named.’ If I recall correctly, it was going to be called ‘Ventana’ but was eventually named ‘Rosemary Beach’ after the natural rosemary vegetation growing on the property.”

While she misses certain rituals, like Friday lunch at Galatoire's and Mardi Gras, she loves having a place for friends and family to visit and vacation.

Since then, she says many New Orleanians have bought homes in Rosemary and Seaside. “We saw these friends more often when on 30A than when we were in New Orleans.” And while they don’t go back to New Orleans anymore, she says the family has “lots of New Orle