By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
In the long lineup of former-athletes turned restaurateurs, there are only a few who have scored in the healthy-food field as John Offerdahl has.
His standout performance as proprietor of Offerdahl’s Café Grill, now called Offerdahl’s Off the Grill, evokes his on-field success as a Miami Dolphins star linebacker. An All-American at West Michigan University, Offerdahl paid immediate dividends as the Dolphins first pick in the 1986 draft, making it to the Pro Bowl in his first season as the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, and after eight seasons into the team’s Ring of Honor.
Still in a Dolphins uniform, Offerdahl opened Offerdahl’s Bagel Gourmet in Weston in 1990, the first of 10 locations. He transitioned 10 years later from the bagel business into the fast-casual, health-conscious cafe grill chain now with six South Florida locations.
Offerdahl, 54, still lives in Fort Lauderdale with his wife, Lynn, and their ties to the community have expanded beyond restaurant walls to the annual Walgreens Gridiron Grill-Off Food, Wine & Music Festival, Nov. 9-11. The culinary experience will team 22 high-end restaurants with 22 Dolphin legends who will tend the grills in the “competition for a cause,” with all proceeds funding Broward College Foundation grants and scholarships. The event also features the inaugural Gridiron Grill-Off BBQ Competition, as well as cornhole tournaments and a concert series headlined by country legend Vince Gill, offbeat rockers BareNaked Ladies and others at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
For more info and tickets, please visit Gridirongrilloff.com.
Amid preparations for the big shindig, Offerdahl put down his tongs, untied his apron and served up his answers to our standard menu of Quote Unquote questions.
Aside from the weather, what do you enjoy most about life in South Florida?
I enjoy the people. South Florida is the golden door for Caribbean, Latin and South American nations. Nowhere is there a more diverse and energized group of people seeking self-determination, freedom and the American dream.
Aside from the weather, what do you dislike most about life in South Florida?
The traffic and the flatness of terrain. The only view is from a bridge or high-rise.
Are you a beach person or a pool person?
Pool person. I like floating on fresh water, listening to music through outdoor speakers and knowing my outdoor grill and fridge are just steps away.
When in your life are you or have you been the happiest?
When I am with my wife and family together at home or at our Michigan cottage living life ‘off the grill.’
What do you do when you’re stuck in a traffic jam on I-95?
Pray or dream of being Mr. Incredible and flying above it all!
What music are you listening to now?
I’m a Coldplay junkie. My Alexa makes fun of me. I also love Needtobreathe.
Are you a fan, and if so, of what?
Miami Dolphins football (of course!) and backyard/tailgate grilling.
Do you do social media?
I dread social media. I make efforts to like and relate to my friends, my followers and my fans. But I am an awkward self-promoter. Facebook @johnofferdahl56, Twitter @gridirongriller, Instagram johnofferdahl.
Who is your real-life hero or heroine?
Coach [Don] Shula and Dan Marino! For eight years I was the defensive captain alongside the best coach and best quarterback in the world. Every flip of the coin I pinched myself.
If you had to choose: Rocky or Raging Bull?
Rocky. I came from nowhere and had seven sequel years to my breakout rookie season — just like Rocky.
What car are you driving now?
What do you like most about yourself?
My hard head! It was the gift that paved my way into the NFL. Skull bone-density is off the charts!
What places in South Florida do you recommend to guests visiting from out-of-town?
I am a fan of walking the Wynwood Walls and Arts District with a stopover at South Beach favorite Joe’s Stone Crab. From Fort Lauderdale, get a great view of the Intracoastal and sunset from Pelican Landing at Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina. Chef Greg McGowan is a four-time Gridiron Grill-Off champion.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
The ability to dress without stress. I have no sense of style.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Greatest moment: stopping Bo Jackson twice on goal-line stands in the 1986 Senior Bowl. Greatest achievement: My teammate for life, Lynn, and I raised three great kids we love to be with and who now live on their own. Can’t wait for grandkids!