The Bread and Board
After years working in the Portland, Oregon food community, Dwayne Beliakoff and Jonathan Cobbs were ready for a change of scenery. They landed in Jacksonville, an area they saw as providing a lot of inspiration and opportunity, to launch their latest venture, The Bread and Board. A cross between a restaurant and sandwich shop, the menu features housemade products such as breads, smoked meats and condiments. Below, Beliakoff and Cobbs share their philosophy on fast casual dining and why they are excited about their first eatery in Northeast Florida.
What is your background and how did you land in Jacksonville? What is it that draws you to the food business?
Dwayne: I grew up in Florida and Jacksonville — (though my family was originally from Southern California), and I made my way through college at FSU working in restaurants. I spent nearly eight years with Ruby Tuesday before deciding to leave what I call “bag-n-box” cooking for culinary school and hopefully a job as a chef— you know, "someday.” Thought my Oregon experience would be short lived but in fact, it was an incredible experience that led me to working with some inspiring folks— owners and chefs, mixologists and dreamers. Eventually, I decided it was home and I somehow managed to open four of my own restaurants, and lived and breathed the life, the food movements and competition that is still very much Portland. They were intense, beautiful times marked with the highest of highs and craziest lows (as any restauranteur would tell you of the early 2000s). Somehow, we settled on a really fun but manageable catering business that we continue to run there with the help of an incredibly dedicated staff.
When we started to look around at opportunities and our careers, or better, a little change, we decided to make our list of potential new homes feeling it would give us a sense of “newness” that I think is essential for creative types. The restaurants did that somewhat, but we’d been in Portland for nearly 19 years and we were ready for a little adventure and change of scenery. We looked at cities more similar to PDX at first — Asheville, Boulder, some Californian wine country towns. We looked at food “meccas” like NOLA, Charleston and Austin. But at the end of the day, we were being drawn back (more and more) to family and by friends and folks who really believed in where JAX is heading. We evaluated the kind of company we wanted to run, the kind of life we wanted (we are both fairly recluse in our private time choosing gardening over rubbing elbows) and ultimately JAX provided us a fantastic landing pad and lots of potential growth on many levels.
I have a number of passions that I could have easily been happy spending my life pursuing (or spinning my wheels): architecture, especially landscape, cultural studies and travel writing. But cooking came naturally to me and has been a great way to bring people together. I remain drawn to the restaurant industry because it’s always evolving (beyond the simple nuts and bolts and operational responsibilities) and forces us to be on our toes— to stay creative— and to think of bigger and better ways to put smiles on faces each day. We tell our staff everyday “we’re just throwing a big party folks… enjoy it and be there for your guests."
Jonathan: I was born and partially raised in east Texas, but spent the greater part of 18 years in Kenya, East Africa with my family as missionaries educating about, and literally living off, the land. It was there that I initially fell for cooking, farming and especially bread baking. When I returned to the States and post college years, I worked in management for major food and market retailers in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Dwayne and I met and decided to pursue a couple projects in Portland— one higher end sports pub concept and one catering company that we continue to operate.
Cooking and entertaining have always been passions of mine, so collectively we’ve worked well together. I enjoy the daily challenges of operations, and focus on both the culinary side of the restaurant and the “nuts and bolts” that make us tick. As much as folks believe that restaurants are only about the food— they are intricate and very involved puzzles and I love figuring things out. There isn’t anything more satisfactory to me then producing a solid, delicious bread or special and watching the guest enjoy it. I also strive to create a comfortable and professional environment within which the staff and guest can interact. God is in the details— so I try to keep the crew looking at the big picture and focusing on the smallest things we can do to improve our experience.
I’m just short of a sun worshipper— given my many years in warmer climates. Jacksonville was a natural choice for me (and we had many conversations about the ideal spot) to enjoy work, weather and family. And regionally, it offered us personally more cities to explore and look for inspiration.
Tell us about the concept of the Bread and Board and how it will differentiate you from other fast casual eateries in Jacksonville.
We see it already that folks aren’t sure if they should call us a sandwich shop or a restaurant, and that’s great. We truly are both because our guests have the option of popping in during their lunch break to grab a delicious sandwich and go, or stopping in for dinner and enjoying one of our sixteen “boards” and relaxing with a glass of wine or craft beer. We have huge salads, entree specials and gorgeous desserts, but there is no denying the idea started with the sandwiches, fresh bread and made-from-scratch aspect of our meats, pickles, jams and other condiments. The only real concept behind us was “let’s get back to making as much of this as we can.” It’s physically easier, more convenient, sometimes more cost effective (and certainly provides more days off) to purchase pre-made products and piece a menu together. But that’s not the food we crave, and not the food we want to serve at “our party.” We labor over the smoking, braising and baking because we believe our guests can tell the difference in foods that come from our ovens.
There are some really great restaurants in JAX and we have some early favorites, and many of them do much of what we do in the kitchen. But few deliver it in a counter service, casual environment— where the sandwich is built out of 95% made in house ingredients and the only fussy thing about us is in the prep work.
As relative newcomers to the area's food scene, why did you choose Jacksonville rather than expanding your business in Portland?
We will always love Portland, but it isn’t the ideal place to debut a “new” idea. We often joke that you need to have your investor, your location and your attorney in place before you even write your menu. It’s a small and competitive market— and given where we hope to take The Bread & Board, some of our favorites (Bunk, Olympia Provisions, Lardo, Meat-Cheese-Bread) have already blazed the trail. We see in JAX a lot of inspiration, demand and opportunity.
Do you make or purchase the bread you serve at the restaurant?
We bake 100% of our bread in-house. We make a ciabatta, French “sub” rolls, malted rye, focaccia and our dinner rolls. Occasionally we bake olive loaves and are working on a number of other specialty (small batch) breads. It’s an incredible production that happens overnight due to space constraints, but pays off in the fresh category. We have no preservatives or fillers, nearly zero added sugars, and we can’t sell yesterday’s bread. So throughout the week, we’re making in upwards of 3000 pieces and often run out. So it’s a work in progress— but we haven’t had to rely on outside sources as of yet, though there are some great bread bakers and up-and-comers in this town.
What are some of the hurdles to restaurants "buying local" on a consistent basis? What could be done to help bridge this gap?
It all starts with demand from the guest, not just the restaurants. If farm specific, area specific, regionally specific goods are to be consistently available, then guests will first get excited about the products and then be willing to pay a little extra to have it on their plates.
There are a number of small farms and cheese makers we have found, but very few of them sell direct or have the capacity beyond the small farmer’s markets. Keeping up with a high volume restaurant (or many), is difficult for small operations and self-distribution takes the farmer or artisan away from their craft. So restaurants like ours rely on the “broad liners” (food distributors) to help us source as many of them that can keep up with demand.
It really does catch us up constantly in trying to provide the best, most healthy and most sustainable products but that isn’t always going to come from our immediate state or area. It becomes a matrix of deciding the best locally, then regionally and so on. Ultimately we, and most restaurants in JAX that focus on it, demand the best quality and integrity in production first. Then we pick our battles between Florida, Georgia or California produce, south Florida sustainable shrimp or Louisiana. We are always asking the questions: where was it grown, how was it treated and why can’t we get it!
Where do you get your culinary inspirations?
We’re tied to the restaurant more than we want sometimes, because it keeps us away from travel which we love. Our greatest inspirations have always come from travel to other U.S. culinary regions, vacations and travel abroad— foods done right, at the source. But we read a ton and have so many close friends in the industry doing amazing things. We “follow” them, we dine with them and we get wrapped up in not-so-heady conversations about food. It’s a career but it’s always been our hobby too. We’re never afraid to play with someone else's idea (whether something we have eaten or read about) and make it our own— and we certainly hope and would be flattered if anything we do at The Bread & Board inspired others.
Ready to sample The Bread and Board's menu? Stop by the restaurant. Details online at www.thebreadandboard.com.