In 1995, Jim opened his first restaurant in Pensacola, Madison's Diner (named after his daughter Madison, who is now in college), the Screaming Coyote in 1997, and The Fish House in 1998. Following these successes, he launched Seaside’s Great Southern Café and The Meltdown on 30A. (He has two more restaurants in the works.)
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 now writes on a regular basis for 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 a member of the state board of directors of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and a recent 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 who were invited to New York City to cook at the James Beard House for the past three years.
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. Jim and other extraordinary board members initiated this classy wine-tasting event at Portofino Island Resort on Pensacola Beach, and on 6 April 2014, they will celebrate their ninth year at Portofino. 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.
Jim lives in Santa Rosa Beach with his partner and fiancée, Kelli, and their two children, Elodie and James.
Chef Jim Shirley