By Martie Thompson

Brittany Cooney grew up in NW St. Johns County, and after some “hopping around” has found herself back here to raise her own children with husband Mike Cooney. Brittany moved at a young age with her family, the Sorensons of Firehouse Subs fame, to Julington Creek. She attended Julington Creek Elementary, Fruit Cove Middle and Bartram Trail High School, where she was on the basketball, track, and dance teams. She graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies — in her case, statistics and psychology. After stints living overseas and in New York City, she returned to St. Johns. She and Mike are owners of Ember & Iron, a live fire restaurant on County Road 210. Their second restaurant, Gemma Fish + Oyster in San Marco, opened in December. Brittany and Mike are parents to six children, including a six-week-old daughter and one child from a previous relationship of Mike’s.

Q: How did you decide on your Interdisciplinary Studies major at UCF?
A: Initially I was an education major and I lived in Spain, teaching English, for four months while I was in college. I loved the nurturing nature of the school system there, but when I returned home I found the schools are so different here. I switched degrees at that point. I would say the end goal is a doctorate in psychology … but that won’t be anytime soon.

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Q: Where did you live after college?
A: I hopped around a lot. I went to Paris for a while as I had a love for fashion and went there to take some classes. Then I moved to New York City to pursue a career in fashion. I had a really cool job where I helped style people in penthouses who had nothing but Gucci in their closets.

Q: How did you get into the restaurant business? And did you ever work at a Firehouse Subs?

A: Despite it being my family’s business, I only worked for about a week at a Firehouse Subs location. Then I was a server and a bartender in college. But it wasn’t until I worked in New York City and lived over a bakery that I worked in a kitchen and came full circle in the restaurant business.

Q: How did you find your way back to St. Johns County?
A: Before I went to New York City, I worked as a bartender at Julington Creek Fish Camp. This is where I met Mike, who was the executive chef there. We started dating about a month before I was due to move to New York City. I lived there for about a year, but I missed him, so I moved back. Nine months later we had our first child and a year after that, in 2018, we were married.

Q: What was the idea behind opening Ember & Iron and then Gemma Fish + Oyster?
A: First we thought we wanted to open an ice cream shop. We did all the research … and then someone said to us, “You have a Five Star chef [my husband Mike], why don’t you open a restaurant?” So we came up with the idea of a live fire restaurant since Mike has always loved fire cooking. We wanted to open nearby our house because we want to feed our neighbors. I love our location; it feels like home every time I step inside. 

Ember & Iron had been open about nine months when a leasing agent for a new shopping center in San Marco came in for dinner. He told us our concept would be great at his shopping center, but we had an idea for a new concept instead: “worldly seafood.” We now have an Australian chef and a sous chef from Guam at Gemma. 

Q: Do you have any free time?
A: Not really! I am 50/50 partners with Chef Mike in both restaurants. I oversee the front of house and the operation of the business. I spend as much time as possible with my children during the day and then I’m at the restaurant at night. I’m very busy, but I love it.

Photo courtesy Brittany Cooney
Brittany and Mike Cooney

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