The co-founders of Maple Street Biscuit Co. share how a couple of guys with no restaurant experience launched a chain poised to open its 11th location
It’s the maple in the biscuits that give Maple Street Biscuit Co.’s menu staple its panache.
Co-founder Gus Evans was experimenting and decided to use maple syrup instead of sugar.
That winning recipe came together by determining the best ingredients and assembling them skillfully.
So did the company, although there was a chance it could have fallen flat.
“OK, two guys, no restaurant experience, no culinary background, both without jobs. Oh, yeah, let’s go open a restaurant,” founder Scott Moore recalled.
“This,” he said, “is a recipe for failure.”
It came about because Moore and Evans attended the same church. Evans lost his construction job, and Moore had worked for Winn-Dixie, which was merging with Bi-Lo LLC.
Moore’s role as a church elder included the human resources insights of working with those who were laid off.
At a meeting at Starbucks, Evans also asked Moore his plans in light of the corporate acquisition. Moore shared five ideas for businesses, but didn’t want to leave town to start any of them.
Evans, with two young sons, had a job offer out of town, but he didn’t want to move, either.
One of Moore’s ideas was a restaurant focused on comfort food with a modern twist built around big, fresh biscuits.
“It was just an idea. There was nothing underneath it,” Moore said.
A few days later, Evans came back. “Hey, I want to do that restaurant idea with you,” he told Moore.
Evans was sent home to consult with his wife. “You guys talk about it and pray about it for a week. Then come back and if you want to do it, we’ll do it,” Moore said.
Evans’ wife, Krysten, gave her blessing.
“She was gracious enough to go along with it. We figured, what do we have to lose?” Evans said.
They, too, could stay in Jacksonville.
It’s been “some sweet years since we’ve made that decision,” Evans said.
“It was a good move.”
Moore and Evans opened their first Maple Street Biscuit Co. in November 2012 in San Marco.
Since then, they’ve added locations around Jacksonville and in Gainesville, Tallahassee and Chattanooga, Tenn.
Their 11th is scheduled to open this summer in the Baymeadows area.
Maple Street Biscuit Co. restaurants open at 7 a.m. Monday-Saturday and close at 2 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 3 p.m. Friday-Saturday. They are closed on Sunday.
To complement Maple Street’s focus and hours, Moore and Evans launched B Street Eats, a Latin- and South American-inspired restaurant with locations in the Murray Hill neighborhood and in St. Augustine, both near Maple Streets.
Those are open 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday-Saturday.
There likely are more of both on tap.
Moore, married with three grown children, and Evans, now with four boys ages 11, 8, 3 and a newborn, created a mission.
Help people, serve others and be a part of the community.
“Biscuits just seemed like the epitome of a great comfort food item that we could take and we could do lots of unique things with it,” Moore said.
An example is The Squawking Goat biscuit with fried chicken breast, a fried goat cheese medallion and pepper jelly. It made The Food Network.
Another favorite is The Five and Dime, also a fried chicken breast but with bacon, cheddar cheese and an egg topped with sausage gravy.
The menu includes entrees “with a twist,” like a waffle with baked-in asiago cheese, and maybe topped with fried chicken.
There also are salads and sides, including oatmeal and macaroni and cheese.
Just as the pair had “throw-downs” at Moore’s house with friends and family taste-testing food for the menu, they also sampled names. Maple Street Biscuit Co. was the overwhelming winner.
Other suggestions were Maple Way and White Wood Biscuits.
Evans’ “tweak” of adding maple syrup to the signature biscuit was concurrent with the name selection.
“If we’re going to be ‘Maple Street’ why not put something maple-y in it like maple syrup?” he wondered.
And just as the community helped Moore and Evans choose recipes and the name, the pair wanted to serve neighborhoods and build relationships.
They choose restaurant sites based on the three L’s – leadership, location and lease.
For leadership, they choose “community leaders” to run their locations.
“I’ve been in retail for 35 years and one thing I said is I don’t want store directors,” Moore said.
“We want community leaders, people who are there to serve in their community, to know their team. … We’re looking for people who really want to take a lead and serve,” he said,
For location, they seek sites with a customer population that is 80 percent residential within a three- to five-mile radius and 20 percent commercial. “We want to be a part of people’s lives. We don’t want them to have to come there — we want to be there,” Moore said.
They refer to the stores by community — San Marco, Murray Hill, Julington Creek, Fleming Island, Jacksonville Beach, St. Augustine, and soon Baymeadows.
To cultivate their role in the community, they open at 6 a.m. for groups to meet and drink coffee. Food service starts at 7 a.m.
Customer orders aren’t filled by calling out a name or number. Instead, there’s a question of the month, such as what is the name of your high school mascot or what’s your favorite band.
Evans said one customer’s first concert was The Beatles, which sparked a conversation with a table of high-school students when the man, likely in his 70s, picked up his order.
“Because of a simple question, they were able to talk about it,” Evans said.
“We’re creating community,” Moore said.
The lease is a business decision. “We negotiate the right terms of a lease agreement,” Moore said.
Vision and leadership
Moore, at 55, and Evans, 37, now run a company with 200 employees and have set up headquarters Downtown in the Level Office suites at 25 N. Market St.
Their division of duties plays to their strengths. Evans helps to lay the path with staff toward reaching Moore’s big vision.
“My leadership style is get in it with them. Lead them, see where they are in life, help people, help them make it through life,” Evans said.
He said he wants the team to learn from his mistakes and keep them from making the same ones.
Moore said his vision about leadership is that “great people want to do a great job.”
“If you teach them what great looks like and get out of their way, they’ll go do great things,” he said.
Moore said that he provides freedom, latitude and a dose of ambiguity.
“I’m going to give you the big vision and I’m going to ask you to be relentless to go do something great here,” he said.
Moore calls for “an unreasonable standard of excellence. I will hold us all to that. I never think we have arrived.”
The two say their business vision evolves based on performance.
“Every year we’ve been able to look at it and say, ‘you know, there are more people we can go help,’” Moore said.
Moore’s adult children have played roles. His oldest son interned with the company, including frying eggs. His second son has been creating training videos and social media. His daughter is “the biscuit princess.”
“It’s all part of the family,” he said.
It’s the same for Evans, who is introducing the business to his oldest son, who is 11.
He brings the pre-teen to the stores on Saturdays to show how to communicate and how to eliminate obstacles for staff and customers.
“Look at them in the eyes and talk,” Evans said.
He intends to bring the younger boys in over time, too.
“I’m going to use it as a tool to teach them how to be men,” he said.
They refer to their faith in talking about the company’s growth.
“God has allowed more than we ever could have imagined,” Moore said.
He said that during opening week, 13 friends worked in the store to help.
A month into business, he called their CPA, needing immediate reports to figure out the next steps because the business “was like drinking water out of firehose.”
“It was at that moment, I didn’t know what it was going to be, but did know there was more here than we originally thought,” Moore said.
TITLE: Founder, Maple Street Biscuit Co.; founder, Agincourt Industries LLC, the holding company for the Maple Street stores. The name is based on the Battle of Agincourt won by Henry V, being greatly outnumbered.
HOMETOWN: I have lived in 32 places, but know Jacksonville is home- one of the reasons we started Maple Street.
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science, Southwest University, Kansas
CAREER PATH: I spent 30 years rising in the ranks in the retail grocery business. I did not have a planned path. I just tried to take the next step as it was available. I was moved through operations, human resources and training.
HOBBIES/AVOCATIONS: Reading, teaching leadership, helping my daughter with her foster kids
FAMILY: Married to Robyn for 35 years. Three children: Blake, Brock and Bethany
COMMUNITY: Former elder at Community Bible Church of Orange Park
BEST ADVICE RECEIVED: That everyone is given freedom in degrees by the initiative and responsibility they take or don’t take.
BIGGEST CAREER SURPRISE: That the experiences I wanted out of the most while going through them have been the most profitable training process to prepare for the future.
SPARK OF WISDOM: You don’t have to know every step toward your vision; you only need to take the next step.
ONE DECISION YOU WOULD TAKE BACK: I don’t have a lot of time for regret and candidly the most difficult have been the most profitable to teach me what I needed to know. But the one item that caused us to struggle was allowing a shareholder to join my company who didn’t share our values.
ONE DECISION YOU WISH YOU WOULD HAVE MADE: I moved too slowly in adding the key leaders who are critical to living out our mission.
S. Gus Evans
TITLE: Co-founder, Maple Street Biscuit Co.
EDUCATION: University of North Florida, 2002, bachelor’s degree in building construction management
CAREER PATH: Elkins Constructors for 10 years before co-founding Maple Street in 2012
HOBBIES/AVOCATIONS: Mountain and road biking, fishing woodworking, reading
FAMILY: Wife, Krysten; sons Ethan, 11, Tucker, 8, Luke, 3, and Tate, newborn
BEST ADVICE RECEIVED: That we make our plans, but God is always going to guide our steps.
BIGGEST CAREER SURPRISE: Getting let go from my previous employer was a shock.
SPARK OF WISDOM: Define your role in life. Filter all that you do through your life’s mission.
ONE DECISION YOU WOULD TAKE BACK: Never stop playing music, the piano specifically
ONE DECISION YOU WISH YOU WOULD HAVE MADE: Two examples:
Letting one particular team member go sooner. It was clear they didn’t want to be helped and didn’t agree with the direction of the company.
Pepper jelly. Always having it. Early on at Maple Street, we ran out of pepper jelly and I didn’t make it a priority to have it for my staff and our guests. It wasn’t very gracious of me. I learned a lot about how even small decisions can affect so much and so many.
First Coast Success: Scott Moore and Gus Evans
The Daily Record interviewed Scott Moore and Gus Evans for “First Coast Success,” a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross. The interview is scheduled for broadcast at 9 a.m. Wednesday and will replay at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or at wjct.org/ondemand.