The owners of Eleven South and 3 Palms Grille at the Beaches are expanding inland to open City Grille & Raw Bar at the site of the former Wine Cellar restaurant on the Downtown Southbank.
Karen Belloit Thomas and John Nagy are planning a fall opening at 1314 Prudential Drive, where the Wine Cellar operated for 47 years before closing in October 2021.
“The Wine Cellar lasted 47 years. There is support in that particular area based on the residential growth. We believe there is a demand for high-quality seafood and steaks,” Nagy said April 5.
City Grille will be open for lunch and dinner six days a week with Saturday and Sunday brunch a possibility depending on demand, he said.
The menu will include fresh seafood, steaks and other seasonal specialties, as well as an extensive wine list from wine regions around the world, he said.
Belloit Thomas and Nagy are leasing the space from Ronald Rettner, who paid $1.04 million for the property in October 2021.
Matt Demir, managing broker of Jacksonville-based XERA Realty Inc., represented the landlord and the tenant in the deal.
They began discussing a lease in November and struck a deal in December, Nagy said. They registered City Grille LLC with the state in January 2022.
Belloit Thomas and Nagy, who are married, bring more than 50 years of restaurant experience to the project.
Belloit Thomas operated The Filling Station Cafe near San Marco from 1987 until selling it in 1994.
Nagy is confident that City Grille will add a big city feel to Jacksonville’s Downtown.
“We would like to create an environment that is more city-oriented,” Nagy said.
“It will be trendy but have an old-school feel,” he said.
He estimates an investment topping $1 million.
Former Wine Cellar owners said upon closing that business was good but the coronavirus pandemic had reduced the employee count from 20 to 12, especially among the kitchen staff.
At the end, only half the restaurant was booked because of the staff shortage.
Principal owner Vicki Dugan said she had previous offers to sell, but last year the price and the timing were right.
Little of the Wine Cellar interior will remain, Nagy said.
The Wine Cellar’s wine inventory was not part of the deal. Nagy did say they will keep the distinctive wall-long wine rack.
Belloit Thomas is designing the interior that will be partitioned into several distinct dining areas.
Fasanelli Construction is the contractor.
Eleven South is at 216 11th Ave. S. in Jacksonville Beach and 3 Palms Grille is at 254 Alta Mar Drive in Ponte Vedra Beach.
The City Grille menu will be priced similar, if not higher, than items offered at Eleven South, he said.
There, appetizers range from $13 to $16 and entrees from $29 to $49.
“We won’t be the most expensive restaurant in town,” Nagy said
While the new location is a grill, it will not feature the same mesquite-grilled steaks as Eleven South. Seafood will be an emphasis.
Oysters from the U.S. East and West Coasts will be offered as well as a selection of ceviches, tartares and crudos. The plan is for the menu to include dry-aged steaks and tomahawk rib-eyes. The menu will be seasonal.
The restaurant will employ a staff of about 60, he said. It will seat 155.
A regional general manager, regional chef and regional administrator will be hired to oversee the three restaurants.
The three positions will be filled by current employees from Eleven South and 3 Palms Grille.
Nagy said the positions are not yet filled.
Opening a Downtown location makes sense, Nagy said. Not only does Belloit Thomas have a history in this area, the two live in Avondale.
“The Filling Station was less than a block from where City Grille is. She first started in the San Marco area and we have wanted to get back in that area,” Nagy said.
Once City Grille & Raw bar is established, Nagy said there is a “strong possibility” that they would be opening a riverfront, outdoor raw bar along the Southbank. No property has been purchased or leased.
“Once we do one, the other one should be easier,” Nagy said.