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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Oct. 8, 202003:50 PM EST

Chef Kenny Gilbert to open his first fast-casual restaurant

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He won’t disclose the name or menu, but said dishes will range from $6 to $18.
by: Katie Garwood Staff Writer

Chef Kenny Gilbert is embarking on a new fast-casual restaurant concept in his own Springfield neighborhood.

While he is waiting on approvals from the state for the restaurant, Gilbert said he won’t disclose the restaurant’s name and menu. He did say Oct. 7 that “it’s going to offer things that are missing in Springfield.”

“For sure it’s going to be counter service, slightly elevated from what normal counter service would be,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun concept that I think a lot of people are going to enjoy.”

He and his wife, Anna Gilbert, registered the name Kenny’s Chicken and Biscuits LLC with the Florida Division of Corporations on Aug. 31. The address listed is at 1602 Walnut St.

Gilbert said dishes would range from $6 to $18. 

He said the idea for the restaurant evolved from him serving food out of his house and to health care workers during the pandemic. When he saw that the former Bleu Chocolat Cafe space on Walnut Street was available, his wife suggested they open a restaurant there.

Chef Kenny Gilbert plans to open a restaurant in the former Bleu Chocolat Cafe space at 1602 Walnut St. (Google)

He hopes to have the restaurant open in the next several weeks, and before the holiday season.

Gilbert said the restaurant also will house his catering business and serve some of the same dishes. 

He’s never had a fast-casual restaurant of his own, but Gilbert said it’s something he’s wanted to do.

And with the pandemic, he said the restaurants that he’s seen performing better than others are the ones that allow customers to take their food to-go quickly and easily. He said that those restaurants are doing better because people see them as a safer alternative to dining in.

“I think as people sit back and review and learn more about COVID and the reality of how things can spread, it’s simple things of dining out that put you in harm’s way at times,” he said.

Even if there wasn’t a pandemic, Gilbert said he would still want to open a fast-casual restaurant. His previous Jacksonville restaurants, Gilbert’s Social and Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen, were more traditional, sit-down restaurants.

Those two restaurants’ closures were planned around lease expiration, he said last year when Gilbert’s Underground shut its doors in December. He said then that he was leaving Jacksonville to open Cut & Gather Kitchen and Bar in Raleigh, North Carolina. He still plans to open that restaurant.

“(Fast-casual) is a great business model for a small space where you don’t have to do a lot,” he said. “Focus on a few key ingredients, make them delicious and you can have some options and it can spread from there.”

A fast-casual concept also would be more scalable than a sit-down restaurant, which could allow him to add locations in the future.

First, Gilbert said he is looking forward to opening a restaurant in his own neighborhood.

“For me, I’m very passionate about cooking and serving my community,” he said. “That’s why I got into it.”

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