Restaurateurs have a school of businesses on the hook

Nathan Stuart and Margo Klar, founders of the Fish House & Oyster Co., are opening multiple restaurants in rapid succession.

Spouses Margo Klar and Nathan Stuart with their children, Cleo and Daxton. The couple founded the Fish House chain of restaurants in 2018 and have multiple projects in the works.
Spouses Margo Klar and Nathan Stuart with their children, Cleo and Daxton. The couple founded the Fish House chain of restaurants in 2018 and have multiple projects in the works.
Photo by Dan Macdonald
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To say restaurateurs Nathan Stuart and Margo Klar have a full plate is an understatement. 

The spouses have several restaurants. More are on the way.

They own the Fish House & Oyster Co. restaurants in Orange Park, New Berlin in Jacksonville, Julington Creek and St. Augustine. They have the Tally Fish House & Oyster Bar in Tallahassee.

On May 6 they opened The Boathouse at 240 Florida A1A in Ponte Vedra Beach. A second Boathouse will open this summer at Cat’s Paw Marina, 220 Nix Boat Yard Road in St. Augustine.

Stuart recently bought a restaurant in Crescent Beach. And the couple has completed permitting for another new concept in Vilano Beach.

Add a 4-month-old daughter, Cleo, and 5-year-old son, Daxton, and there is plenty to keep them busy.

They are preparing to reopen a landmark riverfront restaurant, Outback Crab Shack, pending final county inspections. The restaurant has been torn down and rebuilt at 8155 County Road 13 N. along the banks of Sixmile Creek in St. Augustine.

Stuart is part of a restaurant family. His father, Russell, owns the Seafood Kitchen in Atlantic Beach. 

Stuart worked with his father until 2018 when the newly married couple decided to strike out on their own.

The Orange Park Fish House and Oyster Bar at 636 Kingsley Ave. opened in 2018 and started a string of restaurants owned by Nathan Stuart and Margo Klar.
Photo by Dan Macdonald

Stuart and Klar found a 1930s house on Kingsley Avenue in Orange Park and converted it into the Orange Park Fish House & Oyster Bar.

“We had a little bit of money – $25,000– that we saved up and four credit cards,” Stuart said.

“We maxed out those four credit cards and did most of the work of ourselves to open that first restaurant.”

They called on friends to ask for discounts on construction items like the HVAC unit. They bought all of the equipment and furnishings secondhand. They opened the restaurant for less than $100,000, Stuart said.

Stuart also used Facebook to chronicle the restaurant’s progress. 

Friends and family decided to call in those favors on opening day.

“It was just immediately full because we had this huge following on social media that we had no idea about. They were watching all the progress and the construction and all this paint and all this stuff. It was crazy,” he said.

After the birth of their son in 2019, Klar quit her teaching job and joined the new family venture.

The couple bought Beach Road Chicken Dinners in 2019 and renamed it Beach Road Fish House and Chicken Dinners.

Stuart and Klar intended to continue the brand known for a simple menu of fried chicken, creamed peas and mashed potatoes and a few other sides. They also added seafood items from the Orange Park restaurant.

However, developers wanted the property as part of an apartment project. Stuart didn’t accept the first offer.

“My first reaction was no. But they offered us so much money that we couldn’t say no,” he said. 

“We looked at it, like, we can give up one restaurant and open five more with the proceeds.”

They sold the property to Corner Lot Development Group in February 2023 for $1.9 million.

The Boathouse restaurant at 240 A1A in Ponte Vedra Beach in the Merchants Plaza shopping center opened in May.
Photo by Dan Macdonald

The Boathouse

The Boathouse serves upscale sushi as well as a menu of seafood, poultry and meat including venison backstrap.

There are 10 sushi rolls, three crispy wonton tacos, poke bowls and a selection of nigiri and sashimi.

The Boathouse buys its fish from Japan. The bluefin tuna and Alaskan salmon are delivered in whole fillets that will be broken down in-house.

There are tasting options from parts of the tuna and salmon fillets.

“The bluefin tuna on the menu that’s cooked, is coming off that same fish that we’re using for the sushi,” Stuart said.

The restaurant seats 157 and will employ 20. It has a full-service liquor bar.

“It’s going to be a casual restaurant with a designer vibe to it,” Stuart said.

“We want it to be nice but where you can walk in there with your flip-flops and a T-shirt and eat dinner. We want to appeal to the masses. It’s not white tablecloth.”

Stuart estimated it cost $700,000 to open.

To start, Stuart said the hours will be 4-10 p.m. Monday-Friday and 1-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. As it settles in, lunch and brunch will be added, featuring fish baskets and sandwiches. Lunch will be fast-casual.

At Outback Crab Shack on Sixmile Creek in St. Augustine, customers may arrive by car, truck or boat. The restaurant is at 8155 County Road 13 N.
Photo by Dan Macdonald

Outback Crab Shack

The Outback Crab Shack project faced setbacks, Stuart said.

The restaurant closed because of flood damage during hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

The couple has put about $2 million into its restoration. The main expense was building a new foundation. The restaurant and dock have been rebuilt.

Inspections red tape set back the planned June 5 opening. Stuart had hoped to be open by June 7, an annual boaters’ holiday is scheduled on Sixmile Creek. 

Boaters Skip Day, when pleasure boaters play hooky from work, will bring hundreds of boaters right past Outback Crab Shack. Stuart hoped his 1,500-foot long dock would  be packed.

When the restaurant does open it will start with a pared-down menu. Stuart doesn’t want to overwhelm the kitchen and waitstaff. 

He expects to hire 70 to fully staff the restaurant. He has had interest from former staff and others in the growing area of St. Johns County.

“It’s the tips. They know they will make plenty of money here,” he said.

While it is a familiar setting to boaters, it will not be the same restaurant, Stuart said.

Its past incarnation could turn rather loud. Stuart wants to change that image.

“I don’t want to associate with the old restaurant. I don’t know what they did. I don’t care what they did,” he said.

“This is a brand new building that’s clean. It’s nice. It’s not a party spot. It’s a family-oriented restaurant. We’re going to focus on quality fresh seafood, large portions and make it a place for families to come in on their boat and feel safe.”

The new Outback Crab Shack will reflect the neighborhood that has grown to be home for young professionals and their families.

“In St. Johns County we need more waterfront places to eat,” he said.

The hours will be 2-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 2 p.m. to midnight Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Cleo’s Crescent Beach

Stuart and Klar bought the Safe Harbor Seafood Restaurant at 6896 Florida A1A S. in the Crescent Beach area of St. Augustine on April 16 for $1.525 million.

The plan is to take advantage of the proximity of beach access and parking and cater to that clientele.

Cleo’s will be a full-service, casual setting with a new covered patio.

“It will be a place where locals and tourists can dine after a beach day and they don’t feel like they need to go home and get dressed,” he said.

Since Safe Harbor had only been closed for about six months, the restaurant’s infrastructure was in place. 

The covered patio and interior furnishings and decorations are the only real expenses, Stuart said.

Stuart and Klar want to open the restaurant in about six months.

Snappers in Vilano Beach

The project will be built from the ground up with a $3 million budget. It is on a strip of land past Florida A1A near the Publix and Holiday Inn Express.

The Breakwater Villas are being built beside it.

Stuart and Klar recently completed St. Johns County permitting.

The restaurant is in design stages. It will be a large restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining.

“They’re almost making like a little San Marco. It’s like a walking district. So, we grabbed the property two years ago to position ourselves,” he said.

Stuart said they bought the property for $950,000.



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