Owners of the 80-year-old business and 95-year-old property say it’s time to retire.
By Dan Macdonald, Contributing Writer
Beach Road Chicken Dinners, a landmark Jacksonville restaurant for 80 years in the St. Nicholas area, is for sale.
The buyer will get the building, the parking lot, the wooded area behind the restaurant and most importantly – the recipes.
Owners Kenneth and Tena Ferger have decided it’s time to retire. They also know they own valuable property at 4132 Atlantic Blvd.
The restaurant is just part of the almost 4-acre parcel. More than half of it is undeveloped woods. The property is a mix of commercial and medium density residential zoning.
The Fergers bought the property in 1998 from Tena Ferger’s brother, Vincent DeSalvo, who purchased the property in 1980 from the original owner, Earl Majors.
The property has been for sale for about three years, Kenneth Ferger said. Only recently have they placed a sign in the parking lot, prompted by rumors of a sale.
Each day, Ferger announces that the restaurant is open by flipping a switch to turn on the front lights. When that switch finally wore out and the lights didn’t come on, regulars worried that the restaurant had closed for good.
“There have been some nibbles. But everything has been a definite maybe,” he said.
Open Tuesday through Sunday, the restaurant demands Ferger’s daily attention. The restaurant will remain open until it is sold.
Its menu can be contained on the front of a single sheet of paper.
Customers line up for fried chicken, french fries, mashed potatoes, gravy, coleslaw, biscuits and the much-requested creamed peas.
Some former Jacksonville residents returning for a visit make a pilgrimage to Beach Road Chicken Dinners.
Newcomers find it in different ways. A couple in town for a comic book convention stopped in for directions to Five Points. Ferger asked why they stopped there.
“They said they had their windows down, smelled the chicken and turned around,” he said.
Ferger recalled a catering job where a customer wanted everything except the peas. He offered baked beans instead.
A few hours after the order was placed, the customer called again. When her co-workers found out that Beach Road Chicken Dinners was catering, they demanded the creamed peas.
“Over the years I’ve had many people ask for the creamed peas recipe,” he said. “I always ask them if their insurance is paid up. Because if I gave them the recipe, I’d have to kill them.”
The simplicity is Beach Road Chicken Dinners’ popularity, but Ferger believes changes are needed.
If the property remains as a restaurant, he advises the buyer to seek a beer and wine license and to expand the menu. Today’s customers want choices.
The days of knowing what one is going to order before getting out of the car are dwindling, he said.
While simple, the menu has confused a customer or two.
“Someone called once and asked how many pieces of chicken are in the four-piece chicken dinner,” he said.
Ferger toyed with expanding the menu, but the small kitchen poses limitations.
Even getting into the chicken wing business would cause problems because of the variety of styles and sauces people expect, he said.
The building that houses the restaurant is 95 years old, property records show. Ferger said it has good bones but could stand some new paint and minor repairs.
The exterior wears a battle scar of the night a driver veered off the road, spun 180 degrees, careened through the two signposts and came to rest against the front of the building, leaving the slightest scrape.
Even with so many years in the business, Ferger isn’t sentimental about the property’s future.
Ideally, the next owner would continue it as Beach Road Chicken Dinners but if a new owner wants to turn it into a different restaurant or demolish the building and redevelop the property for a different use, it is fine with Ferger.
There are no plans to buy an RV or travel the world. Ferger is a native of the Bayside neighborhood in Queens, New York.
The couple will make more trips to New York City to visit their two daughters. Other than that, there are no big plans.
“It’s time to retire. I just want to put my feet up and read a book,” he said.
Gateway Business Advisors, whose sign is on the property, said it was retained to explore options to sell the site.
“The owners have been approached by investors many times over the years and decided this is a good time to gauge interest in the property,” said Gary Hallett, the listing broker.
Completion of the Overland Bridge project at Interstate 95 spurred growth in the San Marco and Southbank corridor and into St Nicholas, he said.
“Beach Road Chicken Dinners is the oldest restaurant in Northeast Florida, providing 80 years of memories for families in the Jacksonville area,” he said.
“While the owners have no plans to close the business, they are very interested in seeing the tradition continue with the right buyer,” he said.