Seaside entrepreneurial couples excel at making business personal By Wendy O. Dixon
Many of Seaside’s galleries, restaurants, markets and shops are run by married couples who share their talents, strengths, burdens, long hours and business know-how. Some came together, some met in Seaside and later got married. Using a delicate balance of personal and business, these couples demonstrate that working in harmony is a vital part of what makes Seaside a special town.
Thanks to the vision of Seaside co-founders Robert and Daryl Rose Davis, the town has been recognized as “the most astonishing design achievement of its era, and one might hope, the most influential,” by Time Magazine.
Working with the Davises were town planners and husband-and-wife team Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, architects who conceived the movement in land planning known as New Urbanism, with Seaside as the birthplace of that movement.
As additional couples moved to Seaside, the town began to thrive, and the Davises’ vision flourished. Charlie and Sarah Modica opened Modica Market, Bill and Heavenly Dawson opened Dawson’s Yogurt and Pickle’s Burgers & Shakes, and later three more eateries.
Along with their better half, these couples add to the character of Seaside.
Charles and Sarah Modica
As Sarah and Charles Modica, who were in the grocery business in Bessemer, Ala., were looking for a place to build a second home, the town of Seaside consisted of one lone cottage. “When we first came through here, there was nothing. And I remember this little red house sitting there,” she says, referring to the real estate sales office. “There was Robert sitting there with his two dogs, who told us of his plans for Seaside,” she remembers. “And when we were done we both said, ‘That man’s crazy.’” But the couple thought about it and quickly came to like the idea of the blooming New Urban town. Robert Davis and Charles Modica put their heads together, she adds, and with Deborah Burke designing the store, the specialty and gourmet market was built. The original design remains today, and Modica Market recently celebrated 30 years in Seaside.
Before he passed away in 2010, Charles Sr., who was considered one of the town’s founding fathers, was a recognizable face among community members, known for his bushy white beard and kind, inviting smile.
When Charles and Sarah told their grown children about their move to Seaside, the kids were excited for them. Today, Charles Jr. and Carmel run Modica Market while the Modicas’ other daughter, Mary Jo, continues living in Alabama. Sarah still loves to stop by the market to meet new visitors and see longtime friends. “I just try not to get in the way,” she laughs.
Visit Modica Market online
Heavenly and Bill Dawson
Seaside is a special place for Bill and Heavenly Dawson. Bill, a native of Florence, S.C., met town founder Robert Davis in 1983 while on a trip here with a friend to check out the area, when only a few houses were built. He appreciated Davis’ vision for the town and bought a lot right away. Later, he bought another lot and built Savannah Sands cottage in 1986. Soon after, he opened one of Seaside’s first businesses, Dawson’s Yogurt, in 1988.
Bill introduced the love of his life, Heavenly, to his little piece of paradise. “He proposed to me at Seaside,” Heavenly says. “We opened Pickle’s in April 1993 and got married at the Tupelo Street Beach Pavilion in May of that year.”
Prior to getting married in Seaside, Heavenly had achieved business success as a top sales executive for a plush toy company, while Bill had built several successful businesses of his own. After marrying Bill, Heavenly wanted to be more involved in the Seaside businesses and leave corporate America, as spending more time together was important to the couple.
Bill recalls that he told Heavenly, “If that’s what you want to do, we both are not going to share the final decision making. So you will be president and CEO and I will assist you as needed. When she replied asking why we both could not equally share the responsibility, I replied, ‘Because I love you and don’t want to have arguments over the process of operating and growing the business. So consider me a worker bee and adviser to you to help when asked.’”
Today, the Dawsons are owners of five Seaside establishments — Pickle’s Burger & Shake, Dawson’s Yogurt & Fudge Works, It’s Heavenly, Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs and The Shrimp Shack. Their success is the result of their love of Seaside, and the long hours put into each business. “You have to work long hours to be successful,” Bill adds.
While most couples in business together experience ups and downs, Bill says it’s been only up for them. “Dawson Group has expanded and prospered as Heavenly met and exceeded in her role,” he says. “I often refer to the company as the Dawson Five Plus One. We all know who is No. 1.”
Partners in Life and Business Stories continued