John Thomas has always known he was a chef.
"I started cooking before high school. I went to the culinary institute in St. Augustine, interned at the Holiday Inn at the airport, and then worked there for a year afterward. I worked at various restaurants throughout the town," Thomas said.
When his mother became ill, John needed he needed a job with more regular hours. He found an entry-level position at one of the area's prominent healthcare providers
He said, "I started out in medical records. I went back to college, and now I'm the director of their executive health program. I make appointments for people from all over the world ... I'm pretty busy!"
But even if John had a 9-to-5 job, and some holidays off ... he never stopped cooking professionally.
"People always wanted my food, no matter what I cooked. And I was young, so I worked lots of weekends in kitchens. People would tell me, 'man, you oughta open up a restaurant.'"
John's wife Carol also works in healthcare, at a different company. John and Carol Thomas went often to seminars about starting their own business.
"Carol really pushed me to start a business. I told her, 'first of all, we have to be all in it. And whatever it is, it's got to be something I really like to do.'"
There wasn't any doubt that it was going to involve cooking. And John knew exactly what kind of food.
"Down home comfort food! I went through my mother's and my grandmother's recipe books. I told my mother that if I ever did something commercially that used her recipes, she would have to approve of it. My mother has always been my biggest taste tester."
John and Carol Thomas started a bakery called Me, Myself and Pies a year ago. And although he cooks his family's recipes, he's also trained to handle changing dietary demands.
"We still do comfort food — a lot of butter and sugar. But I also have recipes for diabetic and gluten-free diets. You have to use Splenda and other sweeteners, and go all-natural. Your taste buds have to be right on point. I'm so grateful to culinary school for teaching me that. It's a challenge, but it's fun."
Me, Myself and Pies is run from a commercial kitchen in Five Points, although they sell most of what John cooks at the farmer's market in Fernandina Beach. Both John and his wife still have their jobs in healthcare, but they're on track with their own business plan.
"We have a 2½-year plan. It's all about crunching numbers."
Some elements of success, though, have nothing to do with crunched numbers.
"The thing that I've learned is ... I'm really a chef, deep down! I'm a perfectionist and an organized person. But I can live with that, and so can Carol."