- 2014 - January - 15th -

‘Temper tantrum’ led chef Chriss Brown to open Downtown events venue

By Carole Hawkins, Contributing Writer

One of the first things Chriss Brown will say about 927 Events is don't come here looking for hotel chain fare.

"You are not getting stuffed chicken breasts with gravy, no," said Brown, the owner of the Downtown Jacksonville catering and events venue. "You're coming here because you want something different. Basically, you're paying for my quirkiness."

It's a quirkiness that has created such recipes as candied bacon shooters topped with whipped cream, or s'mores with five custom-flavored marshmallows: banana, cherry, peanut butter, caramel and cayenne pepper.

The building where she delivers that quirkiness is equally unusual — a restored warehouse at 927 W. Forsyth St. that contains an eclectic mix of local art, antique building fixtures and amusements such as video arcade games, a pool table and a baby grand piano.

"I told my partner when we renovated, I could get people to come to events here, but the place needs to be us," she said. "It needs to have brick walls, it needs to be Downtown Jacksonville, it needs to have art and loud music and it needs to be fun."

Brown has used the 5,000-square-foot building since 2009 for corporate retreats and wedding celebrations.

It's a different kind of bride that comes to 927 Events.

For one reception, Brown converted the space into a mini Riverside Arts Market, with tents, tables, fake price signs and made-to-order taco and quesadilla stations.

For another, she designed a milk-and-cookies bar, serving white, chocolate and strawberry milk in frozen mini-glass milk jars with a choice of amaretto, Baileys or Kahlua shots.

Brown didn't start out so creatively.

For 15 years she worked for Applebee's doing food prep and while there, she toed the corporate line. That changed after she returned home to Jacksonville and bought a local diner, Café Express, near Southside and Atlantic boulevards.

"Once I was able to do my own food — when I was allowed to make my own mistakes — that's when I started having fun with it," she said.

The restaurant's signature dish was a fried bologna sandwich — a slice of bologna as thick as a hamburger, fried on a grill until crispy and served with mustard, American cheese and grilled bread.

"I had people that would get them for breakfast and get them again for lunch," Brown said. "It got to the point where we had to put it on the breakfast menu and add an egg to it."

The restaurant's location was close to several large businesses, which hired Brown to cater their corporate events. She eventually built a large enough following to sell the restaurant, open a commercial kitchen and cater full time.

But it was when Brown lost a chance to cater an upscale wedding that she decided she needed her own events venue. That's when she convinced her business partner to remodel 927 Forsyth St.

"I was frustrated because I had missed out on the opportunity to get my catering in front of some of the top companies in Jacksonville," Brown said. "It was kind of a temper tantrum. But I was extremely lucky and grateful with the result."

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