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Nominated for a James Beard!


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We are so proud of this incredibly talented friend! 

Read some wonderfully delicious news about her with this article by Annabelle Tometich, published on


Melissa Donahue never saw it coming.

The chef-owner of Sweet Melissa’s Cafe on Sanibel was prepping for Wednesday’s dinner service when a friend tagged her in a Facebook post from the James Beard Foundation.

“I looked at it and was like: Oh my gosh,” said Donahue, formerly known as Melissa Talmage.

“I was floored. I had no clue.”

Donahue’s name appears with 19 others from Alabama to Puerto Rico as a semifinalist for Best Chef: South in the foundation’s 2019 Restaurant and Chef Awards.

If movies have the Oscars, then restaurants have the James Beard Awards, one of the most respected and highly regarded honors in the industry. Donahue is among six chefs recognized from Florida. She is believed to be the first-ever Lee County chef to earn the accolade.

The honor came at an apt time. Sweet Melissa’s celebrated its 10th anniversary on Feb. 14. Donahue said she owes its decade of success, and this current recognition, to her team.

“I’m just proud of us for doing it,” she said.

“It obviously takes the entire staff to get something like this. It’s one of those things, like: This is why we’re breaking our backs everyday.

“The guys working in the kitchen, they were just as excited. This is huge for all of us. It’s not just me, not hardly, it’s such a cumulative effort. And now all that hard work is paying off. It’s such a huge honor.”

The James Beard Foundation will announce the five finalists for Best Chef: South and other award categories on March 27. The 2019 James Beard Awards Gala will take place on May 6 in Chicago. Find more at


Sweet Melissa’s is open Monday to Friday for lunch, and Monday to Saturday for dinner at 1625 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel. It is closed Sundays. Call 239-472-1956 or visit for more information.



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