Despite some success, dinner in Downtown remains challenging

Despite some success, dinner in Downtown remains challenging

Although some restaurants have found success in the urban core, attracting a big dinner crowd is still a struggle for local establishments.
That lack of demand is clear in both restaurants with a long lifespan in the area, like Burrito Gallery, and the newcomers, like Super Food and Brew, a food truck that became a brick-and-mortar earlier this year.

“It’s definitely a lower number than I thought it was going to be – and I was conservative on what I thought it was going to be,” Super Food founder Dale Stoudt said.
Although the restaurant was initially open for dinner on Mondays and had late night hours on most weekdays, Stoudt has since had to adjust the schedule. Now, Super Food closes at 4 p.m. on Mondays and is open until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

“We tried to stay open until 2 — it just wasn’t worth it,” Stoudt said.

Burrito Gallery, which has a decade-long track record in Downtown, also finds dinner to be a challenge.

“Dinner is always a challenge in Downtown, but it’s good. It’s still heavy lunch in Downtown for sure,” Gallery Restaurant Group partner John Valentino said.
Valentino said lack of residential spaces continues to be a problem. Due to the lack of a robust residential community, the dinner crowd is dependent on events.

“The night business is driven by events, especially at venues like the Florida Theatre,” he said.

Restaurants are trying to find ways to get around the nighttime lull, starting with providing more services and partnerships.
Super Food is offering people who work in Downtown with a free craft beer or glass of house wine with the purchase of an entree – and, soon, the restaurant, which recently signed a deal with GrubHub, will be rolling out a delivery service to customers in the five-mile radius with a $3 charge for the driver.

“That’s a huge thing when you have so few people living Downtown,” Stoudt said.

Stoudt sees the delivery side of the business, along with partnerships with gyms and yoga studios, to be an area of growth for his restaurant.

“The big question for us is going to be the delivery service to Riverside and Avondale, San Marco,” Stoudt said. “We’re health-focused and we’re still really, really cheap.”
Even if delivery is not as robust as it could be, the area has made progress since the days when Chew, the restaurant founded by Black Sheep and Orsay’s Jon Insetta, was one of the only restaurants in the market.

Cari Sánchez-Potter, who runs The Legends Series and has been active in the culinary scene since moving to the area, said she’s beginning to see the change.

“I went for dinner in Downtown at Chew and Phil, my husband, and I joked that Downtown Jacksonville is like Judgement Night. It was totally deserted,” Sánchez-Potter said. “Chew seemed like a lone wolf at the time.”

She said the vibe is beginning to change, with new restaurants like Candy Apple, which has started a successful brunch service in addition to dinner.

As restaurants like Black Sheep’s new location, a return to Downtown for Insetta, and Cowford Chophouse, Forking Amazing Restaurants’ entrant to the scene, restauranteurs are hoping there may be a change on the horizon.

“Jacksonville realizes that in order to get residents Downtown, we need to have a nightlife,” Stoudt said. “We need to have a solid redevelopment presence in Downtown.”


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