Naked Kitchen, a restaurant with plant-based and protein options and the motto “Cooking with Conscience,” is the first tenant to sign in the Future of Cities’ Phoenix Arts & Innovation District Liberty Building.
The restaurant ownership group comprises spouses Brian Nelson, a chef, and Alexandra Bowles, managing partner, and their business partner, chef Matt Johnson.
Nelson said Nov. 16 they hope to open for breakfast and lunch in August and add dinner service in October.
The address is 2336 N. Liberty St., one of several buildings being revitalized in the Phoenix Arts & Innovation District north of Historic Springfield and east of Main Street.
Nelson doesn’t want to label the cuisine because Naked Kitchen will serve diverse foods from vegan eggs and plant-based proteins to house-cured pastrami sandwiches and kimchi grilled cheeses.
“We want to have that balance in our restaurant,” Nelson said.
Primary to the concept are using healthy ingredients and preparation, such as air-frying.
“It’s still good food and makes you feel good,” Nelson said. “Food is medicine.”
Nelson, Bowles and their three children live in Springfield.
“We are going into a food desert,” he said. “It is important for us to bring a fun, new concept to that area. We want to not be pigeonholed, but we have vegan and vegetarian options and protein options.”
Nelson, who has been a chef with several area restaurant groups, said he likes to try new concepts.
“One thing we are really trying to achieve is not using any processed ingredients,” he said.
He said Naked Kitchen will lease about 2,700 square feet of space with a patio for outdoor dining in an area shared between the Liberty and Market buildings.
Its five-year lease, with options to extend, is with the Future of Cities, which owns the district.
Naked Kitchen’s broker was Cantrell & Morgan sales associate Kayla Deguzman. Future of Cities works with Colliers Senior Vice President Matthew Clark and associates Sam Middlekauff and Olivia Steinemann.
Nelson anticipates a $400,000 to $500,000 investment to complete the project.
He said it will seat at least 80 and possibly 100. It will serve beer and wine.
He anticipates 20 to 30 staff members to start.
Nelson said breakfast and lunch will be served at first and dinner will be added as the rest of the building is ready for use.
“We won’t rush into anything,” he said.
With the area a food desert, Nelson said the team wants to serve what the neighbors want, such as complete breakfasts and lunches and grab-and-go items if there is a need.
Offerings will include sandwiches, salads and ancient grain and protein bowls, for example.
He envisions starting with operating hours of 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and closing at 9 p.m. when dinner is added.
“We will see where the business takes us,” he said.
“We want to be there for Springfield and have a wonderful place to take your family and have a wholesome weeknight dinner and create a date night atmosphere on the weekend,” he said.
Naked Kitchen now offers catering and operates pop-ups at area and Springfield events. Its website is nakedkitchenjax.com.
Nelson’s experience includes being executive chef with Ida Claire, bb’s and Hoptinger 5 Points and a sous-chef with PF Chang’s.
He most recently worked with chef Tom Gray at Prati Italia and now focuses solely on Naked Kitchen.
Nelson said Bowles has more than two decades of experience in the restaurant industry ranging from quick service to catering to fine dining.
She worked with Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, PF Chang’s and most recently Crane Ramen.
Bowles has created and implemented training programs for front-of-house staff and also has managed her family’s company, Ace Handyman Services.
Johnson worked with Nelson at PF Chang’s.
He said he was in the restaurant business for 15 years before pursuing an entrepreneurial lifestyle.
Johnson said he and Nelson “ended up converging back onto a path of opening up our own restaurant.”
“We understand the importance of catering to diverse dietary needs, and are committed to listening and executing seasonal menus that embrace various lifestyles, be it vegan, gluten-free or protein-based,” Johnson said.
The city is reviewing a permit for Avant Construction Group of Jacksonville to build-out the shell of the 17,533-square-foot Liberty Building at an estimated $625,000. The project includes roofing, glazing and renovation work.
Nelson expects the shell of the restaurant space within the building will be ready in April for Naked Kitchen to build-out. A contractor and architect are being chosen.
The restaurant site is in the middle of the Phoenix Arts & Innovation District, Nelson said.
The Phoenix Arts & Innovation District
The Phoenix Arts & Innovation District, or PHX JAX, is near the historic Springfield and Eastside areas.
The district comprises 8 acres in the New Springfield area filled with old warehouses, empty lots and the colorful murals of its recent identity as the Phoenix Arts District.
Since 2020, Miami-based Future of Cities has been buying the property to regenerate the neighborhood into affordable housing, innovation, markets, food trucks, events, green space and more.
Companies owned by Future of Cities in Miami have been investing in about two dozen parcels east of Main Street to Liberty Street, south of East 15th Street and generally north of the rail line.
“Cities thrive when we enrich historic neighborhoods,” said Tony Cho, founder and CEO of Future of Cities, in a previously emailed statement.
“Springfield and the Eastside have a rich cultural heritage that Future of Cities will celebrate and support as we co-create the Phoenix Arts + Innovation District with local residents, artists, non-profits, and business owners to be a catalyst for equity and growth,” he said.
The city enacted legislation in August 2023 to rezone the 8.09-acre site for commercial, multifamily residential, light industrial and indoor/outdoor recreation uses as The Phoenix Arts + Innovation District PUD.
Colliers and the district list the first four buildings as:
• The Liberty Building, 2336 Liberty St., with spaces of 600 to 3,000 square feet. It was built about 1926.
• The Hub, now called Emerald Station, 2320 Liberty St. It was built about 1930. The adaptive reuse building will house a 10,000-square-foot event space and 7,500 square feet of creative office spaces "in an elevated, modern industrial environment." It is targeted for opening in the fourth quarter of 2024.
• The Phoenix, 2303 N. Market St., with spaces from 10,000 to 37,981 square feet. It was built about 1922.
• The Bunker, 2402 N. Market St., with spaces from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet. It was built about 1928.
In October, the city issued a permit for Avant to renovate the 18,471-square-foot building at 2320 N. Liberty St. at a cost of almost $2.4 million.
That building includes office build-out, which includes coworking space and event space.
The event space is shown as wedding seating, a ceremony pulpit, reception space, a dance floor, lounge seating, a changing room, a warming kitchen and other uses.
The Emerald Station name comes from the location.
The Phoenix Arts & Innovation District appears to incorporate the Emerald Trail on the southern edge for biking and will include multiple pedestrian corridors.
Groundwork Jacksonville is creating the 30-mile Emerald Trail that when completed, anticipated by 2029, will link at least 14 neighborhoods to Downtown, Hogans Creek, McCoys Creek and the St. Johns River with a bicycle and pedestrian trail and linear park system.