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From Stockbroker to Sea Cook

Ann Costlow is the founder and owner of Sofi’s Crepes. In 2001, after working in the finance industry for 16 years, Ann took a leave of absence from her job as a stockbroker to work for a season cooking on Pride of Baltimore II, changing her life forever. She would leave the corporate world to open Sofi’s Crepes in 2003 and has never looked back. She is pictured above in a joyful moment on deck, soaking up the sun between meals in 2001. Read the full story below.

I had a career as a stockbroker for about 16 years for Merrill Lynch. I worked in downtown Baltimore overlooking the Inner Harbor. One weekend when all the tall ships were coming in, I remember looking out the window. I had some binoculars, and I was looking out, and I just thought, oh, I would so much rather be working on one of those ships than in this office. And so, the weekend passed, and it was a Monday morning, and Pride II was still there.

So, on my lunch hour, I went down, crossed the street, went over, and they had the little sign that said, “Crew Only”. I popped over it, walked up the gang plank, and asked to see the captain. At that point there were two captains, Jan Miles, and Dan Parrot. This was in 2001. I said, “You see that building over there?” I pointed to it and said, “Well, I’m working in there and I would much rather be working on this ship here. So, I don’t know if you have any positions, I could be a deckhand or I could be a cook.”

The first question they asked me was, “Well, do you have any experience sailing?” And I said, “Well, not really.” Then they asked, “Do you have any experience cooking?” And I’m like, “Well, not really.” And they were like, “Oh, okay.” So, they jotted my name and number down on a piece of paper, and a week later I got a call and they said, “Our cook just quit. We’re up in New Hampshire and we need somebody for the rest of the season. Can you come up and be our cook?”

So, I scrambled, and I went into my boss’s office and I took those binoculars with me. There were still ships out there, and I had my boss look out and I said, “See those ships out there?” And he said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, I have the opportunity to go be a cook on a ship for the next three months. I was hoping to take a leave of absence and transfer my accounts to other people in the office.” I didn’t know this guy very well. He just looked at me and said, “I worked on the Alaskan pipeline. I think people should do more stuff like that. Yeah, go ahead.”

So that was it. Then I had to come home and tell the boyfriend. He wasn’t as thrilled. I think that was a Thursday, and by Monday I was packed up. I remember asking, “Well, what should I bring?” And they said, “As much as you can carry, and that’s it.” So, I headed up to New Hampshire.

I met with the cook who was leaving. She had two days left. And she said, “Well, I’ll train you.” So, the first thing we did was we went to the grocery store, and she filled up five shopping carts. We were each carrying two and pushing one with the other one. We get back to the boat and we do the whole passing all the groceries down into the galley. And that was the beginning.

I had to learn where everything was. Stuff is hidden in all the nooks and crannies on the boat. And then she showed me how to work the stoves, the sink, and the oven, and showed me where things were. And then the next day she headed out and that was it. We were at sea for the next 12 days, so there was no going to the grocery store.

I had never baked bread in my whole life. And we were out of bread within the first three days, so I had to bake bread. But it was amazing. And I just felt like I was transcended to a different age, a different era, and there were no phones at the time, and it just could have as easily been 1800 as it could have been 2000. It was timeless.

And so, I learned by being thrown into the frying pan, and it was incredible. It was the hardest I’ve ever worked in my whole life, but it was the most fulfilling. What I realized was that on a ship, especially having come from a finance world, it’s like money has absolutely no value. What’s important are dry socks and fresh fruit. I mean, that’s really important. 

And so, all my values were just totally changed while I was there. When I was cooking and making desserts or whatever, I just watched the crew when they would come down. They would get a smile on their faces. The captains told me at the beginning, “The cook is in charge of morale because the next meal is really the only thing that the crew has to look forward to.” I saw how happy food made people, and it just changed things for me.

So, we traveled for three months. We went to Nova Scotia and then up the St. Lawrence to Montreal, and then down through the Seaway and all the locks. And when I finally returned, it took me maybe a month to know that there was absolutely no way I could stay and work under those fluorescent lights. I just had to do something different. So that’s when I quit my job and started a path toward opening my own restaurant. That was over 20 years ago, and we are coming up on our 20th year at this restaurant. It was absolutely my experience on Pride II that changed everything for me.

Ann Costlow
Owner, Sofi’s Crepes
October 2023