The late author and essayist Anaïs Nin once wrote: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by meeting that a new world is born.”
For Fort Lauderdale–based entrepreneurs Michelle Flanigan and Kim Zaffere, a world in which the currency is support and empowerment opened up when they became friends 15 years ago. They’ve since worked together on both hospitality and philanthropy projects, always making it a priority to share their strong belief in the power of female friendship and innovation.
To salute their ever-growing circle of friends, Flanigan and Zaffere recently hosted a women’s dinner party in Fort Lauderdale aboard the 110-foot Bella Vita luxury vessel owned by their pal Frank Gatto, founder of Design Engineering Group.
“We wanted to throw a party because we like to applaud women supporting women,” says Zaffere, whose former husband, Frank Zaffere, works with Flanigan’s husband, Paul, on various culinary ventures under their company, Old School Hospitality, including Good Spirits Fifth & Fed and the Quarterdeck restaurants. “All of the women we invited are entrepreneurial and smart.”
Flanigan adds that the group tries to meet once a month to catch up and exchange ideas, but this event was their fanciest to date. They felt that the Bella Vita setting would be the perfect way to pay homage to the area’s reputation as the yachting capital of the world.
“We love having a party on the water because nothing illustrates Fort Lauderdale better,” says Flanigan.
The pair of energetic mothers—Zaffere has two daughters and a step-daughter, and Flanigan has a modern family of five boys and girls, affectionally known as “The Brady Bunch”—are managing partners of Good Spirits Fifth & Fed in Fort Lauderdale.
Since taking over operations, they’ve made an effort to establish a haven for female patrons, developing a cozy yet elegant vibe they believe appeals to this demographic. They now estimate that about 60 percent of the restaurant’s customers are women.
“We offer a warm, welcoming atmosphere, and both Michelle and I know the names of people when they walk through the door,” says Zaffere. “We have gotten a lot of support from the community.”
Zaffere—who grew up in Fort Lauderdale and was a 1988 debutante, a Miss Florida USA contestant, and the 1982 Junior Orange Bowl Princess—loves her community as if it were a family member. She has an extensive background in legal marketing (she studied pre-law at Gonzaga University before working for Fort Lauderdale law firms) as well as in hospitality and philanthropy.
“I love working with the community and meeting new people,” says Zaffere. “We do many events at Good Spirits and help lots of causes. Together, Michelle and I know everyone in Fort Lauderdale.”
Both Zaffere and Flanigan are dedicated to fundraising for local charities and schools. Zaffere has also raised money for political campaigns and the pro bono aspects of the Broward Human Rights Initiative. In 2013, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County named her one of the “100 Outstanding Women of Broward County.” Some of her current charity work benefits St. Thomas Aquinas High School and Handy Inc., which provides educational and life-skills resources to local children.
Flanigan, who was raised in Chicago, is also heavily involved in philanthropy with St. Anthony Catholic School, Pink Angels of Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, and Legal Aid Service of Broward County, an organization Zaffere supports too. Flanigan, who formerly worked as a nurse, is the owner of Comfort Nurse Care in Fort Lauderdale.
When it comes to her partnership with Zaffere, Flanigan excels in strategic, scalable approaches to restaurant management. In addition to her knowledge of financial administration and regulatory compliance, she’s a motivational diplomat who can train staff to handle customer needs.
“I am a details person who also learned a lot from my husband’s restaurant business,” she says. Beyond his own culinary ventures, Paul Flanigan is the nephew of the late Joseph “Big Daddy” Flanigan, whose large restaurant chain, Flanigan’s, began in South Florida in 1959. “Kim and I are upfront about everything, and we address issues when they arise. There is no competition between us. We get along beautifully.”
Hospitality, it seems, is an art Zaffere and Flanigan studied while growing up. They were raised in homes where their family members took joy in entertaining, so they often compare notes when organizing restaurant events or private parties. Zaffere praises her grandmother’s prowess as a hostess, and also credits her father with teaching her valuable social skills.
“My dad was charismatic and encouraged me to treat people specially,” says Zaffere. “Still, since I am a perfectionist, I always feel scared and stressed before a party begins. But I think that tension gets me started.”
Flanigan remembers her family holiday parties and the great pains her mother took to add the right elements, ensuring her gatherings would result in long-lasting memories. “I retained what I learned as a young girl and bring it to the table,” says Flanigan. “With our different backgrounds, Kim and I greatly balance each other as hosts.”
Zaffere and Flanigan were able to channel their experiences—both professional and personal—into their Asian-Indian-fusion dinner party celebrating wanderlust. The evening, which began with a sunset viewing from the bow of the boat, was a glorious marriage of worldly influences tinged with the hosts’ disarming joie de vivre.
“These two women are amazing hosts, role models, mothers, and entrepreneurs,” says guest Malena Mendez-Dorn, director of corporate partnerships for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. “They are beautiful both inside and out and know how to create balance. Most importantly, they really know how to have fun.”
The culinary portion kicked off with a signature cocktail, a Saketini, made with rice wine and cucumber. Grateful Palate Catering & Events prepared an eclectic variety of passed hors d’oeuvres including deviled dragon eggs and summer rolls with pickled vegetables and spicy mayonnaise.
While sampling the bites, guests listened to live music courtesy of saxophonist Jon Saxx and applauded the talents of the hosts.
“I met Kim when she was at Legal Aid, and she continues to be the most elegant and charming hostess who knows how to connect people, make us feel good, and fit into any environment,” says Juliette Lippman, partner at the law firm Birnbaum, Lippman, & Gregoire.
Laura Lang, a realtor with Compass, praised Flanigan’s ability to work with Zaffere, run a nursing business, and help her husband with his busy restaurants. “Michelle has transitioned into an amazing businesswoman with many projects, and I am so glad to be here to support her and the other girls,” she says.
For the decor, Laurie DaSilva of Jolie Events Miami mixed and matched an array of colorful throw pillows, lanterns, turquoise and orange bottles, vases, and white pillar candles with garlands of fuchsia orchids.
Channeling the wanderlust theme, DaSilva dressed the dining table in shades of pink, yellow, green, and blue to give the space a dramatic sweep of far-flung excitement. The place settings included rattan starters, gold-rimmed china from Germany, indigo glass goblets, and matching napkins from DaSilva’s personal collection.
“Kim and Michelle didn’t want nautical decor; they wanted fascination and drama to reflect their guests,” says DaSilva. “I had fun bringing in bright colors and a centerpiece of fresh roses, tulips, and orchids with pincushions and yellow Billy Balls with lots of surrounding candles. I also used a fuchsia tablecloth and turquoise runner because I like different textures and materials.”
James Cawley, culinary director of Grateful Palate, also kept with the theme, describing his menu as “clean, crisp, and refreshing, yet exotic with flavors of Asia.” The meal started with tuna tartare served in a coconut shell with wonton chips and cucumbers. Guests then dined on five-spice pork belly and grilled melon in a honey-spiced glaze, followed by Chilean sea bass with baby bok choy, ginger jasmine rice, and a sweet-and-sour sauce. For dessert, they indulged in a showstopping Baked Alaska with diced mango, red dragon fruit, and baked meringue chips.
“Kim and Michelle have a flair for the dramatic, and this party is a shining example of their talents,” says Peggy Marker, president of Marker Construction, the company that built Good Spirits.
Later, as guests raved about the food and prepared to return home to their families, they talked more about the importance of women supporting each other and sharing in their successes. They agreed that it is rare to have a group of eight female friends who truly admire each other and don’t look for one another’s flaws.
“Peg and I were late tonight because we both needed to work overtime,” says Stephanie Toothaker, a lawyer who formerly served as special counsel to U.S. Senator Bob Graham and is now self-employed. “Everyone was cool because we all juggle careers and life. The party was filled with dramatic beauty, but there is no drama among any of us. We all have kids and busy lives, and we support each other fully.”