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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 1, 202105:10 AM EST

Couple expanding Fresh-Mex & Co. to St. Johns Town Center

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After battling cancer and pandemic delays, the restaurant plans to open in the fall next door to M Shack.

Fresh-Mex & Co. Urban Grill & Cantina, a startup that opened its first location in August 2017 at Butler Boulevard and Interstate 95, is expanding to St. Johns Town Center.

Amanda Andruzzi-Toussaint, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Michael, said the new location should open several months after build-out begins.

It is a big step for several reasons, including her completion in January of six months of chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It’s been a rough year but we are still on board to open in the fall,” said Andruzzi-Toussaint, a health and nutrition expert.

“We have been wanting to expand for a long time and had plans to go to other locations but when COVID hit it kind of changed our plans,” she said.

“Then I was diagnosed with cancer and had been going through a very harsh chemo regimen which recently ended,” she said.

“These two factors really pushed our expansion plans back.”

The city is reviewing a building-permit application for an estimated $350,000 build-out for Fresh-Mex & Co. in 3,000 square feet at 10281 Midtown Parkway, No. 107.

Prism Design & Construction Inc. is the contractor.

They estimate a total investment in build-out of at least $650,000 “to get the doors open,” Toussaint said.

Fresh-Mex & Co. Urban Grill & Cantina is taking a spot at St. Johns Town Center next to M Shack.

Sleep Number and T-Mobile previously leased the space, which is next to M Shack.

Andruzzi-Toussaint said the space was presented, “and we really thought St. Johns Town Center would be a very good fit for Fresh-Mex.” 

She said the lease with landlord Simon is 10 years. Watson Realty Corp. Commercial Realtor John Mohr represented them in the negotiations.

The first location, at 7111 Bentley (formerly Bonneval) Road, has eight employees and operates 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday. It comprises about 4,300 square feet of interior space and 900 square feet on the patio and seats 172.

The Toussaints will hire at least 15-20 employees for the new location, which will be open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week, and possibly later Friday-Saturday. It will seat 175, including a patio of 35-40 seats.

Both have a bar.

Andruzzi-Toussaint said the menu will be same with some new selections that Fresh-Mex introduced at the current location, including a seared tuna taco, a fried chicken taco and carnitas, to name a few.

The current menu includes fajitas, quesadillas, burritos, tacos, salads and bowls.

The Toussaints and their children moved to St. Augustine in 2015 from New York.

Toussaint retired from the New York City Fire Department in 2013 as a lieutenant after 22 years.

He was off-duty 9/11. His company lost everyone at the World Trade Center. 

Those who were not on duty were called in and deployed to the site for search-and-rescue.

This September is 20 years since that day. Toussaint prefers not to discuss it.

“It was a tragic event and a difficult time for NYC,” he said previously.

Andruzzi-Toussaint, who had not met her future husband yet, also worked in New York City and was riding her bike to work as a media and marketing professional when the planes struck and the World Trade Center fell.

“I can remember being a few blocks from the site riding my bike around and looking up and seeing no sky,” she said.

“Everything was covered in brown soot. It felt like it was raining heavy dust. It was surreal.”

Upon moving to St. Augustine because of the landscape, the Toussaints designed Fresh-Mex.

Michael Toussaint previously worked with partners on restaurants in California and New York, and had the idea of creating a concept.

They describe Fresh-Mex as  fast-casual dining with a chef-driven menu that focuses on “good food, served fast.”

The freshmexjax.com site says the concept is inspired by the New York restaurant scene.

“Our ingredients are high quality, often local, usually healthy and minus the additives, preservatives and chemicals,” it says.

“Our long-term goals are not simply profit driven; we focus on community development and an investment in suppliers and vendors who create sustainable, whole foods.”

They designed the first restaurant, a closed Corner Bakery Cafe, with booths, butcher block community tables, white-washed reclaimed wood walls, and a garage door that opens into the full-service bar from the terrace.

Toussaint designed the new location, which they describe as more high-end with clean lines, tile floors, a concrete bar top, an open kitchen, black pincushion seats and a garage door that can open the 25-foot bar to the patio. 

Toussaint said the Town Center restaurant would be the prototype for expansion.

Toussaint, 54, and Andruzzi-Toussaint, 43, continue to live in St. Augustine with their daughter, 17, and their two sons, 9 and 6.

“We will be expanding to even more locations in the future,” Andruzzi-Toussaint said.

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