A changing market changed Ben Groshell's restaurant career

The Marker 32 owner creates dining concepts throughout the area that reflect his interests.

  • By Dan Macdonald
  • | 12:00 a.m. October 24, 2023
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
Marker 32 owners Ben and Liza Groshell started with Marker 32 and have grown to include four Fish Camps, Dockside Seafood, Valley Smoke and two other concepts yet to open.
Marker 32 owners Ben and Liza Groshell started with Marker 32 and have grown to include four Fish Camps, Dockside Seafood, Valley Smoke and two other concepts yet to open.
Photo by Dan Macdonald
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Ben Groshell thanks the 2008 recession for that career turn from owning one restaurant to several.

Groshell, 56, opened his first restaurant, Marker 32 at 14549 Beach Blvd., in 1992. 

On the bank of the Intracoastal Waterway, the building features large windows providing river views. It had opened as a white tablecloth fine-dining restaurant. 

Groshell, who had developed the upscale menu at Vicar’s Landing in the Ponte Vedra Beach retirement community, put his Culinary Institute of America training on display.

Come 2008, the fine-dining market was dwindling. He already owned property at 299 N. Roscoe Blvd., next to the former Lulu’s Waterfront Grille. 

He thought it would be a place to start a fish camp-inspired restaurant more as a hobby when he retired.

Fish-camp fare with upscale touches made the Palm Valley Fish Camp an instant hit when it opened in 2009, Groshell said. 

Since then Groshell and his wife, Liza, have opened Fish Camp branded restaurants in Neptune Beach, Julington Creek and St. Augustine. 

They also own Dockside Seafood in Jacksonville Beach, Valley Smoke in Palm Valley and a venture he helped his children start, AB Kitchen in Atlantic Beach. 

More projects are in the works.

Groshell opened Marker 32 on what he called a shoestring budget of $120,000 that he borrowed from his parents. The restaurant has been remodeled four times, including a new kitchen.

“The building has its challenges, but, man, it is just comfortable to be here,” he said.

Marker 32 was a hit from the start. It generated annual sales of  $1.5 million during those early years. They now are about $5 million, he said.

There have been some dips. When Beach Boulevard was being widened, Marker 32’s entrance was a construction zone. Then came the recession.

Groshell grew up in the Grove Park neighborhood. Long a fan of fish camp cuisine, he thought the Palm Valley location would be perfect to recreate Southern fish and seafood dishes.

“The ’08 recession pushed into that mood of where people were still spending money but not necessarily on the high end,” he said.

“When it was being built it was a little nerve-wracking, but it opened up and it just really spoke to everybody.”

When a spot at Atlantic and Ocean boulevards became available, he opened the North Beach Fish Camp. 

The building is bigger than the Palm Valley location, but it fit in with the other restaurants at Beaches Town Center where Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach meet.

“It’s been really fortunate with having great locations. I mean, it’s part of what we enjoy when we go out to dinner or when we travel. We’ve been fortunate to continue in that pattern,” Liza Groshell said.

Liza and Ben Groshell inside at Marker 32 at 14539 Beach Blvd. Ben Groshell opened the restaurant in 1992 and has remodeled it four times.

The Groshells are a business team. As the number of restaurants has grown, Liza Groshell has been in charge of the interior design.

“You know a fish camp can easily be overdone with too many (decorations),” Ben Groshell said.

“She has a wonderful eye with art, you know, sourcing everything – the design, the color palettes. She gets a lot of recognition. People like the way she puts things together.”

With the success of the Fish Camps, Groshell decided to make changes in the menu and atmosphere at Marker 32. Waitstaff no longer wear formal uniforms and tablecloths have been removed.

“I would say it’s kind of a combination of upscale bistro. We did fine dining for a while and we were taking the nod from the fish camp to make it a little more casual and approachable” he said.

With each restaurant, beginning with his parents and Marker 32, Groshell takes on a couple of silent partners to help finance the new venture. 

The partners receive 15% to 20% of the earnings. They are usually friends or longtime customers.

Valley Smoke, at 11 S. Roscoe Blvd. in Palm Valley, is Groshell’s take on upscale barbecue. He set out to learn as much as he could about professional techniques and flavoring combinations.

Valley Smoke has developed a reputation for its library of bourbon. Beside the bar there are plush chairs and bottles of bourbon encased in what look like bookshelves.

“That is all about my passion for bourbon,” he said.

“So the whole thing was that they kind of went hand in hand. This was my journey of just studying the bourbons and becoming aware of what was happening with the bourbons and of the barbecue.”

It was no surprise to his wife. 

“I know how creative he is and he never stops learning. That’s one of the things I love about him. He never settles. He keeps pushing himself and everyone around him to bring it to the next level,” she said.

The Groshells have two more restaurant concepts.

 Billy Jacks at the former Barz Bar & Package at 9560 Heckscher Drive will be a fast-casual restaurant specializing in Southern cuisine. It is expected to open by early 2024.

The other project is near the Trout Creek Bridge in St. Johns County. It will be Southern-inspired with venue space for weddings and private parties. 

Tapping into his interest in hunting, Groshell would like for it to have a woodsy feel and feature venison and quail.

Groshell is in permitting and expects construction will take 12 to 18 months.

When a new restaurant opens, he is in the kitchen to make sure staff members understand recipes and his hospitality principles.

“Openings are all hands on deck and at an opening I’ll be back there. I’m working and showing by example. It might be six months, could be eight months, could be more until things get settled in,” he said.

“Once they settle in, when everybody knows what to expect and we’re all on the same page, I’m going to allow them to do their thing.”



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