by Douglas Fair
James Batteh was already doing well as owner of the Atrium Cafe inside Independent Square. But, when the chance to expand his downtown restaurant presence became available, the opportunity was too good to pass up.
In December, Batteh bought the Laura Street Cafe in the Bank of America building and will re-open this week as Tower Cafe. Batteh has spent the last few weeks remodeling his new restaurant and plans to also make a few changes on the menu, but not many. Tower Cafe will continue to serve a few of the Laura Street Cafe menu items, including the popular walnut chicken salad and sandwich and the vegetable plates.
“We’ll offer good quality food and friendly service,” said Batteh, adding the same staff from the old cafe will be working at Tower Cafe. “We look forward to serving our guests.”
The cafe has been remodeled with a new tile floor, counter tops, a fresh coat of paint and decorations and a revamped menu that features both deli and specialty sandwiches.
Batteh approached the former owners, Randy and Donna Brechler, when he heard a rumor the cafe was for sale. He made the Brechlers an offer and was able to come to an agreement. He said the Brechlers operated the cafe for four years and were ready to sell.
Batteh will concentrate on his two restaurants for now, but won’t rule out other locations.
“I like to keep my options open,” said Batteh, of his interest in expanding his business.
Batteh said the new location is ideal due to its proximity to the Atrium Cafe, making it easier to manage both and ensure quality service to customers at both restaurants. Batteh intends to spend a majority of the first few months at Tower Cafe overseeing the opening and getting to know some of the regulars from Laura Street. The Brechlers will be on hand the first few weeks to acquaint Batteh with their former patrons and catering clientele in order to ensure a smooth ownership transition.
He said the location of the two cafes couldn’t be better because they give patrons two options to choose from and allow him to bounce back and forth, several times a day if necessary.
Batteh said running a cafe has been in his family for decades. His father, Jimmy Batteh, owns Bay Street Cafe in the Blackstone Building and has run numerous cafes in his 30-plus years in the food service industry. Over the years, James Batteh has worked in many of those eateries that included a grocery store.
Batteh, a Jacksonville native, said he chose downtown for his cafes because of the potential for growth. He said residential growth downtown, as well as all over Jacksonville, will produce even more people and businesses moving to the area, or just coming downtown.
“Jacksonville is on the move with lots of growth. I just want to be part of it,” said Batteh, adding he jumped at the opportunity when space became available in Independent Square, calling it a signature building in downtown Jacksonville and a great location for his first cafe.
He said the Atrium Cafe has experienced increased growth since it opened three and-a-half years ago and enjoys a steady regular crowd as well as new customers. Batteh hopes to have the same type of growth with Tower Cafe.