The Chews Letter
Story by Lisa Anderson • Photos by Joshua Jacobs
Living a Life of Service
Susan Damien lives a life of service: From nurse practitioner to co-owner of the Off Duty Tavern, she loves to serve.
Originally from Maryland, Susan grew up in the restaurant world, watching her mother fill several roles, including manager. “I was the kid who hung around the restaurant booths,” she says with a smile.
She worked as a cocktail waitress to put herself through EMT training. It was there she met her now husband, Craig Damien. “Ever since our very first conversation, we talked about the potential of owning a restaurant. We love being able to serve people. That’s why we chose our careers. We wanted something that was fun—something we could do together,” Susan clarifies about their choice to open Off Duty Tavern.
Building the Dream
The couple moved to Ocala in 2001. Craig, who is a Division Chief with Marion County Fire Rescue, and Susan started the research for their dream restaurant in 2019. After forming their LLC and moving through all the necessary steps, the couple opened the tavern just a year ago, in February 2021. “There was still a lot of COVID going on and there was a lot of uncertainty. It was a very scary time for us, but we had already committed our funds and resources. Our hearts were already in it. We weren’t going to give up. We weren’t going to let COVID derail us.”
The research during 2020, while fun, was also concerning. Susan and Craig were looking at COVID through a healthcare perspective, but their dream outweighed the fear and uncertainties. “We love seeing people and hearing their stories. Having a service that we can provide what they want is just so exciting, and being able to see their faces when they get their plate of food…,” Susan trails off, her eyes sparking as she thinks about the happy customers.
Life of Service
Susan began her career as an EMT, but quickly realized she wanted to know what happened to the patients after she dropped them off at the hospital. She spent about 10 years as an ER nurse, before building her own small telehealth practice, which is now on pause, as she helps to grow Off Duty Tavern.
In addition to serving in her day jobs, Susan is also a Guardian ad Litem, something she is extremely passionate about. “Even though it’s another project, I love doing it. I can’t think of another way to spend my time.”
Craig is an assistant coach with Scott Carrigan Baseball, and Susan serves as Team Mom/Team Mom Coordinator. They are also both board members. Throw in three children (two of whom are now adults) and two Golden Retrievers, and you have a bustling, happy life, filled to the brim with serving others.
Craig continues to serve with the Marion County Fire Rescue, but he goes into the restaurant to relieve staff on his days off. Eventually, they hope the place will be self-sustaining—giving them the opportunity to move to cooler weather in a few years.
Until then, “We view our patrons as guests, rather than customers, and it is our goal to provide our guests a great experience every visit.”