Since her days working in an antique store on Park Avenue in Orlando, Elizabeth Bentley has had a dream to own a store. The southern raised mother of two, who moved to Sarasota 19 years ago after marrying her husband, Morgan, opened the store of her dreams, called Asparagus, in January 2013 in Towles Court.
This gem of a store, located downtown in the Historic Artists Colony on Links Avenue, is charming from the instant one walks up the porch steps of the building. This charm continues though the shop, which offers personalized gifts and décor. With the undeniable southern hospitality and warmth the store exudes, Black Tie wanted to go beyond the business. BT sat down with Bentley to get to know more about her — her family, her interests and her exceptional knack for gift-giving.
I named the store Asparagus after my maternal grandmother. She had a love for Limognes Asparagus French porcelain boxes. She had the most incredible taste and was a very social person, always hosting parties, and I felt like this was a tribute to her. I wanted to incorporate my family as much as possible — my dad did the logo.
How do you choose what to sell in your store?
First of all, I try to find things that not everyone in town has, something really unique, and then I really gear my choices towards entertaining, things I would use, things that I love. I love to cook, so when I buy things, I look for pure ingredients and gifts with great packaging and an artisan feel.
What is your favorite gourmet food item?
Right now I’m obsessed with pickled ramps. Ramps come from the wild leek family and are only available for a short period of time during early spring. I was first introduced to these delicacies by my good friend Jan Bullard, when she brought me some pickled ramps back from her visit to Blackberry Farm, and I’ve been in love ever since. In fact, I visited Blackberry Farm (wonderful culinary vacation destination) in June and in turn picked up some to share with some of my foodie friends. I love to share a good obsession.
What are your tips on gifting?
I really get a kick out of gift giving. I think it’s a wonderful way to let someone know that you were thinking of them. I don’t think gifts have to be extravagant, but I think they should make the person receiving the gift feel special. I always try to think of what the person is interested in and then search for something unique.
What is your go-to gift?
Right now, some of my favorite go-to-gift items are the Turkish T Beach Candy wraps, Michael Aram candles and Bella Cucina Artichoke Pesto in a ceramic baking dish.
What is your new favorite accessory trend?
The monograms — the bracelets, the necklaces, the key chains, I have them all. When I was growing up everyone had things monogrammed and I love that it’s coming back.
How would you describe your fashion style? What about your interior decorating style?
I would say I tend to be attracted to a more tailored, classic look. I’ve always been crazy about shirtdresses and think they have so much versatility. You can easily go from day to evening in a shirtdress. For interiors, I definitely lean towards a neutral palette with pops of rich colors with either accessories, pillow or artwork.
Everyone has a favorite thing they like to buy, what is yours?
Butter shoes — I just ordered another pair last week. I was initially attracted to the name, Butter, being one who loves butter, so I just had to check this shoe line out and I happily discovered that they were just my style. I love their flirty, feminine designs.
How would you describe your fashion style? What about your interior design style?
I would say I tend to be attracted to a more tailored, classic look. I’ve always been crazy about shirtdresses and think they have so much versatility. You can easily go from day to evening in a shirtdress. Adding the right jewelry and heels can create more of an evening look or you could dress it down with ballet flats and a grosgrain ribbon belt. For interiors, I definitely lean towards a neutral palette with pops of rich colors with either accessories, pillow or artwork.
What do you do in your spare time?
I love doing anything creative. I love to try different recipes; I enjoy exploring different sites and reading magazines — I love my magazines. I get Garden and Gun, Traditional Home, Bon Apetit, Food & Wine, Southern Living, to name a few. I love to just sit with a glass of wine and go through them — that’s where I get a lot of my ideas.
What are your favorite blogs?
The Well-Appointed House, Monograms and Manicures
What are your favorite things to do with your kids?
We love to cook together. I have had them in the kitchen experimenting with recipes since they were both around 3 years old. I have always enjoyed cooking, so I naturally tried to incorporate my time in the kitchen with family time. As a result, my son’s favorite things to make are homemade pesto with walnuts and homemade pizza. My daughter is more into the artistic aspects of cooking, and as a result, she likes to bake and decorate.
Are you doing anything exciting before school starts?
Every year in August we go down to Island Miranda for our annual lobstering trip. We lobster everyday. There’s lots of fun in between, but it’s work, too. They are sneaky little things to catch. We also incorporate snorkeling and swimming with the dolphins during the vacation. There’s just so much to do there and it's a part of Florida that is so unique.
You can’t start your morning without …
Oh my gosh, a latte — a grande latte, non-fat with two raw sugars — that and sunglasses.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Hors d’oeuvres — I love anything that involves gourmet cheeses, chutneys and a smooth pate. This is my favorite time of the day because, I’m not much a morning person and by the time cocktails and hors d’oeuvre hour arrives, it’s the perfect time to socialize with family and friends.
What is your favorite quote?
I love inspirational quotes and certainly any quote from Lilly Pulitzer is a favorite in my book. However, one of my all-time favorites that always stays with me is from one of my favorite movies, staring Rosalind Russell, Auntie Mame, “Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”
What was the last thing you Googled?
I was searching for Cavalier King Charles puppies. My daughter’s birthday is in September and my husband has promised her a puppy to keep our almost three-year-old Cavalier, Nigel, company.