Growing up outside Bogota, Colombia, Zelma Segura was the least likely of all her siblings and cousins to be found in her mother's kitchen, duplicating the family recipes that had defined generations.
But today, decades later, Segura is the only one who owns a restaurant in Key West. And most evenings, she's the only one in the kitchen.
Segura opened Bliss at 411 Petronia St. on April 12, eight months after losing her lease at her former restaurant, Colombian Grace, which had been located just two blocks down Petronia Street.
"We were doing great," Segura said of her first-ever restaurant venture. "We didn't close because we went out of business. Our landlord sold our building, and we had two weeks to get out, and at the time there weren't any other locations available in this neighborhood that I love."
Segura closed Colombian Grace in July 2013, four years after its inception. She spent the next eight months traveling, and made an extended visit to her home Colombia and the coffee plantation that has been in her family for four generations.
"Then in January, someone texted me and told me this place was available," said Segura, with more than a trace of a Latin lilt in her welcoming voice. "I love Petronia Street. It's been so good to me, and I'm so glad to be back here and open again."
But don't look for the Colombian Grace sign anywhere in the neighborhood.
Segura's new restaurant is called Bliss, and it's located in the building that most recently housed Salsa Loca, and before that was the first home of Better Than Sex dessert restaurant.
"The whole idea of changing the name was to be able to offer different foods," Segura said. "I didn't want to be limited to making just Colombian food. Now I have the flexibility, once season begins, to do a Turkish night, or a Mexican night, and to invite some guest chefs into the kitchen. Now I can diversify."
But until then, many of the old cliches apply: Old habits die hard, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The menu at Bliss features the same favorites that kept people coming back to Colombian Grace:
Snapper with buerre blanc and capers; shrimp in white wine, butter, lime juice and garlic, sauteed shrimp and calamari appetizer; Colombian empanadas and chicken with mushrooms and white wine sauce, are among the favorites.
"And also the sangria," Segura said. "People love our homemade red and white sangria. Many people just come in and sit at the bar to order sangria and some appetizers."
The red sangria at Bliss is made with a base of burgundy wine, sweetened with passion fruit, peaches, pineapple, lemons and oranges. The white sangria starts as Chablis and becomes sangria with the addition of mango, passion fruit and peach.
"And we're running a summer special of a free glass of sangria with every breakfast or dinner entree," Segura said. "Yes, we do breakfast on the weekends, and we make eggs like no one else makes eggs -- with beans, rice, corn cakes and chorizo. People love it."
People also love the coffee from Colombian Grace and now Bliss.
"It comes from my family's plantation in Colombia," Segura said. "I actually go there every September and pick coffee. We also use our own coffee in the coffee caramel cheesecake for dessert."
Segura's emphasis is on fresh, local ingredients, which is another reason she did not want to be limited to cooking her mother's and grandmother's Colombian recipes.
"I use fresh, local snapper, grouper and mahi, and adapt the dishes for Key West, while keeping the Colombian favorites," Segura said, still surprised by her own enjoyment of the kitchen.
When she opened Colombian Grace in 2009, her only restaurant experience had been as a server at Blue Heaven for five years.
"That was it," she said, laughing. "Then my mom and grandmother came here for three months in 2009 and taught me their recipes for Colombian Grace, and we were really doing well."
It was so sad, she said.
So many restaurants come and go in Key West, and for once, this one didn't close because it wasn't popular or good. It simply lost its home, Segura said.
"That's what I've been so happy to be back here in this location. Now I just need people to know this is me, and their favorite dishes are still on the menu."
Bliss is open for a summer schedule until October, serving breakfast from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and dinner from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The restaurant is closed Monday and Tuesday until October. Reservations are recommended on weekends.
For information, go to blissrestaurantkw.com, or call 305-240-1281.