tampabay.com

Shop owner saw need for truffles in Tampa

She launched Wright's Gourmet House in the 1960s, when caviar and truffles were tough to find here.

By MARTY CLEAR
Published December 9, 2005


MARJORIE WRIGHT, 1913-2005

GOLFVIEW - When Marjorie Wright opened a tiny specialty food shop on Dale Mabry Highway, everybody told her she was crazy. It was 1963, and shopping malls were the wave of the future. People said the place to start a new business was the new WestShore Plaza.

By the time she sold the business 18 years later, Wright's Gourmet House had become a Tampa institution. The current owner credits its success largely to Mrs. Wright's optimism, determination and intuitive business sense.

"She looks like a genius for opening it here now," said her grandson Jeffrey Mount, who has owned and operated Wright's since 1981. "But at the time, the low rent was the reason she came here."

Mrs. Wright died Nov. 27 of natural causes. She was 91.

Wright's Gourmet House succeeded in its early years because of his grandmother's simple business philosophy, Mount said.

"Grandmother loved to say yes to the customers," he said. "She said that yes is what makes the cash register ring."

She loved to cook and entertain, and she opened Wright's largely because there was no place in Tampa to buy such things as caviar and truffles.

"In 1961, Tampa was not a caviar-and-truffles kind of town," Mount said. "It probably still isn't today."

But once she opened the store, in a 500-square-foot space adjacent to the current business, Mrs. Wright listened to her customers and let them help shape the business. Customers started asking for sandwiches, so she started serving specialty sandwiches. That started the shop's evolution into a restaurant and catering business.

Mrs. Wright was born in Tampa, but then her family moved to South Carolina. The family returned a few years later, and she spent most of her life here.

Her first husband, Joe Mount Sr., died in the 1930s, leaving her with two young children. She took a job as a cook at the Colonnade restaurant, and she would pedal her bike from her home in Seminole Heights to South Tampa for work every day.

She was in her 40s when she met H.E. "Pete" Wright on a blind date. They soon married and lived in the South Westshore area.

She worked a variety of jobs and in the 1950s became admissions director for Tampa General Hospital. She was so successful that the New York Times profiled her and the programs she had instituted.

But in 1963 a new hospital administrator opted to bring in his own people, and Mrs. Wright was fired. Soon after, she and her husband opened the caviar-and-truffles shop.

Her husband had his own career, and in the early years of the gourmet house, his income supported the couple. He worked at Wright's in his off hours, and it was often his role to temper Mrs. Wright's enthusiasm with some business practicality. Wright's probably never would have succeeded without the work of both of its founders, Mount said.

She sold the restaurant to Mount in 1981 but continued to work there.

"She would work maybe 25 to 30 hours a week, doing what she loved to do, which was cook," he said. "She continued to create recipes for the restaurant. She would read recipe books the way you and I would read a novel."

In the 1990s, Mount unveiled a new sign for Wright's, featuring a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Wright. His grandmother, he said, was thrilled with the tribute.

Her husband died in 1988, and five years ago, Mrs. Wright moved to Vermont to be closer to her son, Joe Mount. But she never stopped missing Tampa.

"She couldn't stand Yankee cooking," her grandson said. "It was abhorrent to her because of the lack of spices."

Mrs. Wright is survived by a son; three stepchildren, Sandy Stine, Pete Wright and Joe Wright; seven grandchildren; seven stepgrandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.