The Brooksville-based Southern comfort food concept launched its first area location at Beach and San Pablo.
Florida Cracker Kitchen plans to open a second Jacksonville restaurant and taproom, bringing the likes of country fried steak and eggs, smoked mullet dip, Okeechobee gumbo and oyster po’boys to San Marco.
The city is reviewing a permit for River City Construction Group LLC to renovate a 6,000-square-foot building at 1842 Kings Ave. at a cost of $230,000. The former “Wimpee Fuel Oil” structure was built in 1937.
Restaurant owner Blair Hensley said Wednesday he has the sign and intends to post it to remind San Marco residents of the past.
“It brings good memories for them. It makes them feel at home,” he said.
Hensley, who partners with his brother, Ethan, in the business, said he hopes to open in San Marco by early 2020. That would be two years after they started their first Jacksonville location at northwest Beach Boulevard and San Pablo Road.
Florida Cracker Kitchen is open 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday serving breakfast and lunch, focusing on Southern comfort food.
The new site made sense, Hensley said.
“It’s San Marco. It’s a unique part of Jacksonville. We think our concept will do very well there,” Hensley said.
It’s near big employers Downtown and to the historic neighborhood, where apartments and other developments are taking shape. “That whole area is starting to thrive,” he said.
Duval County records show CLDG Kings Commercial LLC, led by owners of Corner Lot Development Group, as the property owner. It bought the site in June for $1 million.
“I think it will add a ton of value to the residents of San Marco and the 1,000 resident apartments Chance Partners is currently building,” said Corner Lot CEO Andy Allen, referring to the San Marco Crossing and San Marco Promenade complexes in development near the site.
Allen said Corner Lot will lease the building to Florida Cracker.
“When we purchased this property a little over a year ago, we thought, what will be an amenity for San Marco?” Allen said.
That, he said, is a restaurant with parking. Hensley said there are 80 spaces.
Allen said the building is in good shape from a previous tenant.
The permit identifies the business owner as Works of Florida Cracker Unit Three LLC. That LLC is led by Robert Tilka, a Jacksonville investor in Florida Cracker Kitchen.
The adaptive reuse of the structure mirrors what Florida Cracker Kitchen did at its first Jacksonville location in Pablo Station at 14329 Beach Blvd. Florida Cracker converted a former tire store into a 4,000-square-foot restaurant.
Florida Cracker Kitchen, led by the Hensleys, is based in Brooksville.
They are partners with ServStar Management Group of Jacksonville Beach in the Jacksonville-area restaurants. Tilka is the contact for ServStar, which lists the Beach Boulevard and Keystone Heights Florida Kitchens as its investments.
Hensley said the San Marco location will employ 30-40 people and seat 90-100 customers. The Beach Boulevard restaurant has a similar number of employees and seats about 110-120, he said.
The San Marco building will comprise a kitchen and dining area, taproom, patio seating, and space for the sale of Florida Cracker Trading Co. merchandise.
“Much like the Beach Boulevard location, there is a merchandise area, taproom and dining,” Allen said.
Hensley said it also will have the Bloody Mary bar on Sundays at the front patio.
Florida Cracker has locations in Keystone Heights, Brooksville and Jacksonville.
A Florida Cracker, the menu explains, is a state pioneer, mainly a farmer or cattle rancher, who searched the swamps to round up cows with the aid of cattle dogs and with whips that cracked.
Allen said the San Marco neighborhood will enjoy the restaurant.
“We always welcome a good place to go eat,” Allen said.
Hensley said it will have the same vibe as the Beach Boulevard location, “that same feel, that Southern hospitality. We make you feel like you are in Grandma’s kitchen.”