Cheikh Mboup wants to give it a go at a Downtown Jacksonville location where a lot of restaurants have come and gone.
In a 100-year-old building at Forsyth and Ocean streets, the supermarket executive by trade and investor by hobby wants to open the Azucena Corner Deli.
Azucena is a lily that blossoms beautifully during its brief life span. It also is the name of the mother of Mboup’s mentor.
“The location is outstanding,” he said. “We’re going to give it a shot.”
The location at 100 E. Forsyth St. is on the western corner of the block that features the Florida Theatre on the eastern corner. The restaurant is next to Casa Dora Italian Café on the east and a music hall and cigar lounge to the south.
“It will complement the corner,” Mboup said.
He is talking with chefs about offering a daytime deli, with a “touch of the healthy side,” and an evening dinner service that offers adults food, beer and wine. There could be both counter and table service. Breakfast is a possibility.
Mboup is considering operating six or seven days a week and perhaps remaining open later at night, especially considering the crowds patronizing the theater. He expects to offer live entertainment.
Mboup said seating could accommodate 50 indoors and another 12 outside.
He has hired Brittany Tanner, most recently with Panera Bread, to manage the location. Pending renovations, he wants to open in August.
Some work had begun previously inside, and the city ordered it stopped until permitted. Mboup resolved the issue and the city issued the building permit Thursday.
The permit covers a $6,000 project to enlarge restrooms for ADA compliance and for electrical and plumbing work. The work includes framing, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and construction of a rated wall. Combined Industries LLC is the contractor.
Mboup said his group was making changes in the building to return it to its original structure. He said a wall was removed that was considered a second layer of a firewall. The group also wanted to widen the restrooms, necessitating the need for ADA compliance.
“As a result, the construction was delayed and as you know, such delay is a financial burden on our shoulders,” Mboup said.
He said the Building Inspection Division was helpful and “understands that supporting private businesses will eventually financially boost the economy within the Downtown cluster.
“Business owners shall be asked to abide by the rules but also guided when deemed necessary to understand the multiple layers of rules,” he said, thanking the division.
Mboup wants to return to brick walls, tongue-and-groove wood ceilings and rich tones. The location at one time was a Krystal.
“The goal in business is to make money, but the experience has to be the first touch,” he said. Mboup, 29, said customers could comprise a young crowd, “and we demand an experience.”
Mboup is district director for Bi-Lo Holdings Inc. for Jacksonville and Georgia. On the side, he invests in businesses, a practice he began in New York.
Born in Senegal, West Africa, his family moved to New York City when he was young. He attended school in New York and college at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He worked for a small grocery chain in New York and was recruited by Winn-Dixie Stores to manage the remodeled Downtown Jacksonville store. Winn-Dixie merged with Bi-Lo.
He earned an MBA from Jacksonville University in 2012 and is pursuing a doctorate in Business Administration, with a major in economics, at Argosy University in Tampa.
In his sixth year in Jacksonville, Mboup has invested in several local companies. State corporate records show that he is a partner in Three Layers Café in Springfield with Chevron Green, who manages the restaurant, and also has ownership interests in Angel Locs Inc. in Arlington, Three Kings Holdings Inc., Second Half Holding LLC and, for Acuzena, Sidy Sant Holding LLC.
He said all businesses experience a lifespan and he must consider when he wants to buy in and when he wants to sell out.
Mboup, a Downtown resident, said he was asked by a business broker to consider the restaurant and it took a month for him to take a look. He reviewed the books, “and within three days, pulled the trigger.”
The building most recently had housed Jax City Subs, Jax City Café, Brazilian Corner Café and The Corner Diner.
“We don’t expect it to be the easiest transition,” he said, but he wants to take the chance Downtown.
“I think it definitely is the heart of Jacksonville,” he said.
“If success is not felt there, we would all have a hard time saying Jacksonville is booming.”