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Photo by Karen Brune Mathis - Plans filed with the City show the proposed Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails restaurant at the Markets at Town Center near St. Johns Town Center.
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Feb. 12, 201312:00 PM EST

Chef Gray files plans for Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails at Town Center


Chef Tom Gray's proposed Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails at the Markets at Town Center is shown on construction plans as a two-story, 7,066-square-foot building with indoor and outdoor seating and an expo area for food preparation.

Auld & White Constructors LLC is the contractor for the $2.19 million restaurant at 4972 Big Island Drive, not far from the Brio Tuscan Grille and near the proposed Nordstrom Rack retail store. A full-line upscale Nordstrom also is planned nearby.

The Markets of Town Center is next to the St. Johns Town Center, in South Jacksonville at Butler Boulevard and Gate Parkway.

The restaurant designer is the ai3 Inc. firm of Atlanta.

Plans show the first floor of 5,080 square feet of space will include dining, private dining, two patio seating areas, a kitchen and expo area, restrooms and an office.

The second floor of 1,986 square feet features a bar, dining area, terrace seating and restrooms.

As the Daily Record reported in December, Rocca Restaurant LLC, a company led by Gray, paid $1.7 million for property in the Markets at Town Center.

State records show Rocca Restaurant LLC's managing member is TGRG LLC, whose managing member is Thomas R. Gray. Gray, as president of Rocca Restaurant LLC, signed the documents.

Regions Bank made a $2.8 million mortgage dated Dec. 20 to Rocca Restaurant Inc.

The Daily Record reported in November that Gray, a founding partner and executive chef of Bistro AIX since it opened in 1991, was moving on to open a new venture. Gray told The Florida Times-Union's Gary Mills he plans to build and open a new restaurant this year at the St. Johns Town Center.

The Markets at Town Center is under development by Pinehill Markets Operating LLC. Pinehill sold the property to Rocca Restaurant. Mills reported Gray wanted construction to wrap up in early October.

Mills reported recently that Gray, as a child growing up in in the 1970s in Orange Park, looked forward to deliveries of Moxie soda from family members visiting from Maine. Moxie is the official soft drink of Maine.

Moxie, created about 1876 by Augustin Thompson, was one of the first mass-produced soft drinks in the United States, Mills reported.

Mills wrote about two weeks ago the 44-year-old Gray anticipates an early April groundbreaking for the 250-seat restaurant. It will be the seventh restaurant Gray has opened, but the "first at this level."

Gray's experience includes California restaurants in San Diego, Los Angeles and Napa Valley as well as Bistro AIX, where Gray was a founding partner and the executive chef from its opening in 1999 until November, when he left to focus on Moxie, a concept he'd been working on since 2009, according to Mills.

Mills wrote that Moxie represents the first independent, locally owned restaurant built from the ground up at the Town Center.

"We looked at a lot of different locations (around town)," Gray told Mills. But "we realized the Town Center had taken on a life of its own — becoming its own neighborhood.

"What it didn't have was a local, family-owned restaurant," he said, noting a couple of exceptions, including Ovinte, a recent addition to the Town Center in a former pancake house that was renovated.

Other factors include Nordstrom's plans and the addition of multifamily residential units.

Gray is working on the project with his wife and business partner, Sarah Marie Johnston, Mills reported.

Mills said an artist's rendering shows a "striking, two-level restaurant, whose contemporary architecture features glass, brick and steel."

Floor-to-ceiling windows, especially on the upper level, will allow Moxie to "glow" in the evenings, Johnston said.

"It was important to us to have a unique look from Butler Boulevard and Big Island Drive," Gray said.

Inside, look for an "interesting mix of warm and comfortable" design touches, plus "a little bit of edge," Johnston said.

Gray told Mills that among the materials he plans to use is reclaimed wood from the bottom of a Maine river once used by a family logging business.

Gray and Johnston said the "Contemporary American" menu will include dishes that reflect Gray's passion for "freshness, quality and sourcing."

Gray plans to continue his relationship with Twinn Bridges, Black Hog Farm and other local farmers.

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