Norman Abraham consulting on FSCJ restaurant Downtown

Norman Abraham
Norman Abraham
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Norman Abraham is back in the restaurant business, this time Downtown.

The veteran restaurant operator, whose last venture was Two Doors Down in Brooklyn, has signed on as a consultant with Florida State College at Jacksonville to help set up its Downtown cafe.

The college is developing Downtown housing for students at a leased six-story building known as the Lerner Building at 20 W. Adams St., off Main Street in the urban core.

The cafe, on the first floor, would serve the public as well as college residents and would engage the school’s industry-recognized Culinary Arts & Hospitality program.

FSCJ spokeswoman Jill Johnson said the college anticipates the cafe will start serving the first week in January.

“My focus is to get the restaurant open,” Abraham said Wednesday.

The college will own and operate the facility.

Johnson said FSCJ hired Abraham on a $20,000 contract to consult for six weeks toward the development of the Downtown cafe project.

He will provide market research data and recommend a culinary cafe, theme, concept, menu offerings, hours of operations and other factors.

The program has been recognized by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation Accrediting Commission as an exemplary program. FSR Magazine, which serves the full-service restaurant industry, named the program in 2014 as one of the country’s top 20 culinary schools.

Abraham’s consulting goal is to determine what type of business plan would work best Downtown and how to set up the cafe to support the college’s academic programming requirements, including cycling program interns through the restaurant.

He would recommend a staffing plan and the amount of seating. His research includes completing a report about competitors within walking distance.

Johnson said the café will be 4,800 square feet, much larger than Two Doors Down.

Abraham said conversations so far indicate a potential need for a sit-down breakfast service.

For lunch, he wants to determine what isn’t being offered Downtown and that might be a version of what he did at Two Doors Down — an ample selection of meat-and-two-sides, daily specials and vegetables along with sandwiches, soups and salads.

“That’s my bread and butter,” Abraham said.

He’s still reviewing the area and has made no decisions on what to recommend.

“The flair and the theme may be very close to what we had, but I can’t make a decision until I survey the market,” he said.

Johnson said dinner options might include catering, private dinners or other events that provide training for the culinary and hospitality students.

Weekend hours haven’t been decided, but the college is keeping student residents in mind.

Abraham’s involvement after the report is completed will be determined. He said operating the café would be handled under a separate contract.

The college intends to create housing for 58 students on the second through sixth floors. Johnson said FSCJ intends to convert 24 rooms by the fall and all by the end of the next school year.

Private capital investment is anticipated at $6.2 million, according to the Downtown Investment Authority.

Through the DIA, the developer was approved for $600,000 from the Downtown Historic Preservation and Revitalization Trust Fund to restore the exterior of the building and some elements inside.

City Council approved the trust fund grant agreement. DIA Executive Director Aundra Wallace said Wednesday the funds will be drawn down during construction, but no funds have been disbursed yet.

Johnson said some interior cleanup has begun in preparation for interior demolition and renovations.

Wallace said two $300,000 lines of credit with consecutive five-year terms also were extended to the school through the DIA.

Those notes, through the Northbank Tax Increment Finance Trust Fund, apply to the student housing portion of the building on the second floor and above.

They allow FSCJ to draw down, as needed, up to $60,000 a year to cover any shortfall between the college’s revenue from student rentals and its financial obligations to the developer.

The building opened in 1911 as the headquarters for the Southern Drug Co. and was later occupied by the Lerner Shop, but has been vacant since the late 1980s.

After four decades in the industry, Abraham closed Two Doors Down in November after leasing at Park and Forest streets for six years.

Gate Petroleum Co. plans to buy the site to develop a gas station and convenience store.

Abraham, 74, considered other sites to continue Two Doors Down but couldn’t find one that provided the location, space and parking he needed with a minimum of down time. His employees moved to other jobs or ventures.

He said upon closing that he would consult, travel and have a knee replacement.

Abraham said Wednesday he and his wife, Carol, haven’t traveled extensively but are open for brief trips.

As for that medical procedure, he found his knees improved after not being on his feet most of every weekday on the hard floors at Two Doors Down.

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