Long before Steve and Holly Mead met, each had a first love: the small Caribbean island of St. John.
"I started vacationing there as a kid, with my parents, and just fell in love with the place," Steve Mead said. "It is the gem of the Virgin Islands."
"I went there in my mid-20s to visit a friend," Holly Mead said of her first visit to St. John. "Went down there for a week's vacation and ended up staying for a couple months. I canceled my plane ticket home, I was so in love with it."
A Cincinnati native living in Traverse City, Mich., and eager to escape harsh Midwestern weather, she began working in St. John each winter. "It was always my dream to get back there" for an extended stay.
Ten years after their 2001 wedding, the Midwestern couple returned to the island. They found jobs in the field each had chosen before they met: the hospitality industry.
"It was just a dream we decided to follow," Holly Mead said. "We just decided it's now or never. We don't want to go down there when we're 70 and can't do the hiking we want to do, the snorkeling."
"So we just sold everything we own, packed up the dogs, put them in crates, flew them down there," Steve Mead said. "I assure you, it was no easy chore to walk away from what had become a pretty good career" in Michigan, where he worked in casino operations.
"I had sleepless nights, anxiety, but you only go through this life once," he said. "We don't have children; we knew we could support ourselves."
They did so by working at the Westin St. John Resort & Villas. She was a server in the hotel's high-end steakhouse; he worked security.
"We had lot of fun working at the Westin; met great people," Holly Mead said.
On the 20-acre island with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants, where about 60 percent of the land is preserved as Virgin Islands National Park, "People aren't in a rush to get anywhere," Steve said.
After two years in paradise, the Meads decided to return to the States and start a new venture.
"Once we were in the Virgin Islands for a couple years, we really didn't want to go back to Michigan." So the couple opted for Florida, said Holly Mead, whose parents live in Naples.
Setting on the Tampa area, the couple recently opened Hillsborough County's first Papa Murphy's, a pioneer in the take-and-bake pizza business.
The Meads, both 46 years old, hope to open two more Papa Murphy's franchises, including one in South Tampa.
But they have not forsaken their first loves — their beloved island. The couple bought land on St. John and plan to retire there.