Cowgirl Kitchen rides again in Blue Mountain Beach. How — and why — was it physically moved?

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

BLUE MOUNTAIN BEACH — Cowgirl Kitchen rides again!

Displaced by a residential construction project in nearby Seagrove Beach, the popular breakfast and lunch eatery has been physically moved a few miles west to Blue Mountain Beach, next door to the Blue Mabel restaurant and bar.

The first of two sections of the transported restaurant arrived at its new location on Walton County Road 30A last week. The second section of the 1950s tourist cabin that houses Cowgirl Kitchen was being wrestled into place on Wednesday.

The two sections of the Cowgirl Kitchen restaurant, which was cut apart to be transported from its former location in Seagrove Beach to its new location a few miles west at Blue Mountain Beach on Walton County Road 30A, were reunited Monday on that new site. When the work of getting the restaurant together is completed, plans call for a large porch to be added to the structure.

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For Cowgirl Kitchen owner Nikki Nickerson, who also owns Blue Mabel, preserving the building was as important as preserving the business.

"Pretty soon, nothing like that is going to be down here," Nickerson said Monday as the setting sun cast a glow on the first section of the relocated restaurant. "This building has so much history ... ."

As well-wishers gathered on the porch at Blue Mabel to congratulate and thank her for keeping the Cowgirl Kitchen going in a new location, Nickerson added that she and the Cowgirl Kitchen staff "feel this building has a lot of soul."

Nickerson credited Paige Sumblin Schnell, who heads up local interior design firm Tracery Interiors, with planting the seed that led to the decision to move Cowgirl Kitchen to Blue Mountain Beach.

Fortuitously, as things turned out, Nickerson had previously purchased the tract next to Bleu Mabel. She made the purchase, though, with the idea that she would one day need it for parking for Blue Mabel, and with no thought of it as a potential alternate location for Cowgirl Kitchen.

The Cowgirl Kitchen, which had been a popular Seagrove Beach restaurant, is set to become a popular Blue Mountain Beach restaurant. The building was moved in two sections from Seagrove Beach, where it had occupied property set to be redeveloped as a residential area.

"And Paige was like, 'Hey, Nikki, maybe we should move the building,' " Nickerson recounted to the laughter of the crowd as she offered a toast to the relocating restaurant.

"And I said, 'Oh, my God, you're so smart!' Nickerson continued. "So that's what started this whole process and got us to where we are today."

Nickerson said she expects the two restaurants to complement each other. "It's going to be the perfect marriage, we think."  

Cowgirl Kitchen sits on its new site next door to the Blue Mabel restaurant in Blue Mountain Beach. Both businesses are owned by Nikki Nickerson, who had originally purchased the property next door to Blue Mabel in anticipation of needing more parking.

The Cowgirl Kitchen that had until Wednesday been in Seagrove Beach — one of two, with the other securely located in Rosemary Beach to the east — was one of a number of coastal cabin-style buildings on a 2-acre tract on 30A in Seagrove Beach that had been marked for demolition by Wylie Hutchison of Coastal Custom Home Building.

Hutchison plans to replace the cabins on the property between Headland Avenue and Gardenia Street on the north side of Walton County Road 30A — which had housed a handful of small businesses including Cowgirl Kitchen — with six two-story houses and one three-story house. Five of the houses will range from 4,000 to 5,000 square feet, with two houses set to contain even more square footage.

The structures are of a scale to become so-called "monster houses" used as vacation rental accommodations. But if that does become the case, Hutchison won't have a hand in it, having said he plans simply to sell the houses outright for whatever use the purchasers might plan.

The project galvanized community sentiment against Hutchison, but it also created an opportunity to save the Cowgirl Kitchen building, which Nickerson knew in March was in danger of demolition. Nickerson went to Hutchison with a request that rather than watch Cowgirl Kitchen fall, she be allowed to move the building to the new site, and he agreed.

"He wanted to show some good will to the people," Nickerson said Monday.

She noted that Hutchison has been particularly gracious in extending deadlines for the Cowgirl Kitchen to be moved, as the structural movers she hired for the job dealt with worker and supply challenges like other businesses in the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's been a process," Nickerson said moments before she smiled and raised a glass among the crowd on the Blue Mabel porch with "a toast to the Cowgirl Kitchen West!"

"This has been quite the adventure to get that little 1950s Seagrove cottage on that piece of land," she told the crowd. "It's taken like an act of Congress, but we are very excited that we were able to preserve it ... ."

Nickerson couldn't say Monday exactly when the new Cowgirl Kitchen might reopen. But when it does, it will be different in a couple of respects from the restaurant that left Seagrove Beach.

For one, it will be augmented with a large patio, possibly the largest along 30A.

In coming days, Cowgirl Kitchen, which was moved from Seagrove Beach west to its new home, will be reassembled. It's not clear yet when the restaurant will reopen, but plans call for adding dinner offerings to its menu.

"The building may be small," she told the crowd, "but the patio is going to be large." And, in a reference to one of the issues that Cowgirl Kitchen had faced in Seagrove Beach, she added, "there's going to be plenty of parking."

Nickerson also said the new Cowgirl Kitchen will offer dinner in addition to breakfast and lunch, with food in line with the breakfast and lunch sandwiches, tacos, burritos, barbecue and other offerings on the current menu.

"It'll be classic Cowgirl Kitchen," she said.