Chef change at Cafe Nola, Polletts moving to Riverside

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by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Bruce and Pam Pollett will serve their last lunch at Cafe Nola inside the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville today.

The couple plans to take some time off to create their latest culinary enterprise, “Rosemary and Chives Urban Market and Restaurant,” a few miles away at the new EverBank Building on Riverside Avenue.

The couple took over Cafe Nola three years ago at the request of Jane Craven, who was the museum’s director at the time. The original food-service operation at the museum was based around a snack-bar menu and one employee who took orders and prepared the food.

The Polletts were operating a successful restaurant in San Marco when they were approached to improve the menu and service at the museum.

“We were determined to turn it into an upscale lunch venue,” said Pam, adding it took a while for people to get used to the improvements. “At first, we would have 15 people a day come in at most, but pretty soon we had a line out the door and the business has gotten bigger each year.”

Their move into the new high-rise riverfront office building has several advantages, including being able to design a restaurant with more seating capacity and having a separate kitchen for catering, which wasn’t possible at Cafe Nola.

“We were maxed-out in terms of space both in the kitchen and the seating area, and we couldn’t open for dinner because we would have had to provide security for the museum,” said Pam.

The new restaurant will have twice as much seating indoors and outside on a patio, as well as a market where the couple plans to sell their signature salad dressings and other gourmet items.

“With more space available for our patrons, we’ll be able to serve lunch and dinner as well as brunch on Saturday,” said Bruce. “We’re also hoping to develop a business breakfast crowd since there will be so many people working in the building.

“We’re taking our menu and recipes with us, of course. Our intention has always been to be different and introduce different flavors to Jacksonville that we have discovered in our travels. People can recognize our food with their tongues.”

The museum has hired some of the former kitchen and service staff who worked for the Polletts at Cafe Nola, and the decor will not change when the restaurant becomes part of the museum operation.

“You’ll see lots of familiar faces,” said George Kinghorn, director of MOCA. “Some new equipment has been ordered and will be installed in the cooking area, and we’re getting some new tables that will accommodate parties larger than four people.”

Cafe Nola will close Feb. 1 in order to install the new equipment, but it will reopen in time for Valentine’s Day.

Kinghorn said the menu will change to some degree and to expect “a new twist on some of the dishes” next month. Plans are also in the works to eventually be open for Sunday brunch and for dinner during First Wednesday Art Walk each month.

Kinghorn said he is grateful to the Polletts for what they have done in the past three years to develop the reputation of the restaurant.

“They have done a wonderful job establishing the level of quality,” said Kinghorn. “We see the changes as a positive thing for the museum in terms of special events and making it even more of a destination.”

The Polletts said they’re just as excited about their new opportunities. They are expecting to open the new restaurant in April.

“Rosemary and Chives is what we wanted to open originally,” said Bruce. “The new restaurant location will allow us to do things we’ve always wanted to do.”