From bomb squad to bakery: Detective launches a new venture

by Tallahassee Table
Chris Smith, his wife, son and daughter-in-law have opened Ground Ops Roastery + Bakehouse in Midtown

Ground Ops Roastery & Bakehouse is up and running!

We’ve been eagerly awaiting this new venture ever since we heard about the shop and its owner, Chris Smith, who recently retired as a Leon County Sheriff’s detective and former member of the department’s bomb squad.

He has yet another skill: Chris can bake!

Ground Ops’ cinnamon roll (clockwise), savory sausage, egg and cheese roll and a triple chocolate

Hello Cake. Photo / Tallahassee Table

Let me tell you right away that the place, which opened on Nov. 11, is now one of our favorites. The food is all homemade, made from scratch daily by Chris. We loved everything we tried, which included a homey savory roll with sausage, egg and cheese, a luscious cinnamon roll (my husband said it was the best he’s ever had) with just the right amount of icing, and a decadent triple chocolate “Hello Cake.”

While you won’t always find all these at the same time, Chris’ repertoire includes s’mores and lemon blueberry rolls, meatball marinara, muffuletta rolls and slow-roasted pork with homemade barbecue sauce. He also creates “Hello Cakes,” a version of a butter cake and “the best banana pudding I’ve ever had,”  said his son, Conner, who is the roaster at the cafe. 

“In law enforcement, you have your duties to take care of. Here we bake a lot, we roast a lot of coffee and have happy people,” said Chris, while greeting customers at Ground Ops. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Chris Smith, far right, with son Conner, from left, Conner’s wife, Amber, and Chris’ wife, Shannon. Grandson Zai looks like he’s ready to sample any of these treats. Photo / Tallahassee Table

Chris launched the restaurant, with his wife, Shannon (who is management director at Moore Agency), son Conner and his wife, Amber (their baby, Zai, contributes inspiration and joy). The cafe name is a nod to ground coffee and Chris’ law enforcement and military background.

Chris served in the U.S. Navy, was a bank vice president, had a position in legislative and internal affairs in the State Attorney General’s Office and became a longtime volunteer firefighter and trainer. He studied urban regional planning (with an emphasis on aviation) for his master’s degree at Florida State University, earned his pilot’s license and for more than a dozen years, he was a Leon County Sheriff’s detective who was also on the department’s bomb squad.

But Chris has decided to switch from the bomb squad to baking. His new hat is a chef’s toque.

“Chris is a renaissance person,” said his wife, Shannon, a fitness instructor and former newspaper reporter as well as a public relations professional. “He wants to do it all.”

Savoring a savory and sweet lunch at Ground Ops. Photo / Tallahassee Table

The restaurant decor is modern, light and breezy. There’s WiFi so customers are encouraged to work or be cozy. The place can seat about 50 people, with indoor and outdoor dining (with air-conditioning in the patio) and ice cream for dogs.

Chris Smith and his son Conner. Photo / Ground Ops.

Chris is the baker and his son Conner is the coffee roaster at Ground Ops.

“When my dad was thinking about retirement from the sheriff’s department, he was wondering what he would do,” said Conner. “I told him ‘dad, you’ve been making cinnamon rolls my whole life. Why don’t you sell those?’ ”

Chris had to agree.

“I really enjoy baking and watching people’s expressions when they’ve eaten what I’ve cooked,” said Chris, who was an apprentice at the French bakery, Au Peche Mignon, when he was a college student.

His former colleagues are some of his biggest supporters.

“I’m excited for Chris and this next chapter in his life,” said Angie Green, a former TV anchor who’s a fan of Chris’ baking. “I was shocked to know he bakes, and these rolls are so unique and such a great alternative to the normal breakfast biscuit!

Chris’ savory breakfast rolls are hearty and flavorful, with either sausage or bacon, eggs and cheese. Photo / Tallahassee Table

“I got to sample the bacon, egg and cheese roll, which was literally all of those ingredients wrapped into the folds of a giant roll,” Angie said. “If you love a good, old hearty breakfast, this is it. And the cinnamon roll had the perfect amount of icing that was rich and not overly sweet. It balances the bread perfectly!” 

As for the coffee, the beans will include a selection from friends who have farms in Mexico and Costa Rica among other countries. They went to Minnesota to study the intricacies of roasting. Their coffee lineup will include a variety of popular choices, decaf, cold brew and Nitrogen cold brew, which Conner said is a “really creamy coffee.”

Shannon and Chris at an event before opening their bakery/coffee shop. Photo / Ground Ops

Chris is launching a new career and a new marriage. He and Shannon Colavecchio wed on Oct. 12, 2022. 

“I was a single mom with two adopted sons,” Shannon said. She asked a friend if she knew someone in law enforcement who could talk to her youngest son about making better choices in life and on Dec. 10, 2021, Chris Smith came by.

“He was in uniform and armed, but he walked inside carrying a plate full of homemade cakes covered in foil,” Shannon recalled on her wedding website. On that visit, Chris and her son planted a tree. “On Sunday, he was making banana pudding for the bomb squad.”

The roots of the relationship between Chris, who has two sons, and Shannon, who has two sons, grew as well. She’s also a big part of the Ground Ops team with Chris, Conner and Amber.

“His food is so good,” said Shannon. “Full of love and full of decadence.”

“We just want Ground Ops to be a home away from home,” she added. “A place where you feel comfortable.”

I think they’ve done just that, and I’m betting you’ll feel the same way.

Ground Ops is located at 810 Thomasville Rd. (where Thomasville Road and Monroe meet); 850-339-3590. Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

Here are a couple more pictures:

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1 comment

Vera Cleaners December 14, 2022 - 9:52 pm

A man of many talents indeed. Now I’ve gotta try those Hello Cakes. Any update on the opening date?


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