Town Hall: A Community Gathering Spot
With the success of Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails under their belts, Chef Tom Gray and Sarah Marie Johnston are well-versed in the challenges and successes of creating an all-sensory experience for their guests. Opening Town Hall in Jacksonville's San Marco neighborhood gave them an opportunity to completely re-design an existing space, transforming it into a community gathering place to share good food and good drink in good company. We sat down with them in between shifts to learn more about how their approach to a second location differed based on what they learned developing Moxie.
Tell us about the experience of designing a new eatery in an established space, and how it was different from building Moxie Kitchen and Cocktails.
The experience in designing Town Hall was significantly different than Moxie in many ways. For Moxie, we purchased the land and built the building and was very large in scope and scale. At over 7,500 square feet, Moxie was several years in the making between designing and building out the space. For Town Hall, we worked with the same design team, ai3, out of Atlanta for the renovation of an existing space, and had a much smaller footprint to work with (2,000 feet). Despite the smaller scale, the restaurant required a complete redesign and infrastructure improvements that made it a bit challenging, but overall exciting to see a transformation of the restaurant into a modern, fresh space.
Why is the design of the space so important to the experience you provide your customers?
Design is important to any restaurant that we conceive as it sets the tone for what is to come in the form of the menu, service, ambiance and overall "vibe." We try to design spaces that give our guests an all-sensory experience. That is achieved through lighting (both natural light and decorative), sound (music selections), decorative elements that you can touch (such as fabrics, plates, silverware, door handles, tabletops, etc.) and of course, the smells of the kitchen and even the bar spaces.
With a second restaurant, and more buying power, does this give you greater opportunity to work with local farmers and food artisans to help define what is grown or produced?
We are pleased to be able to extend our relationships that we have made at Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails to Town Hall. We have worked with many farmers and producers from our region over the years, from local herbs, vegetables, farm eggs, our own pork, all-Florida beef and products such as locally-baked breads, cheeses and artisan charcuterie. The ability to continue and expand these relationships is very important to us and it is exciting to share that with our guests in a meaningful way.
What role did the character of the surrounding neighborhood play in the creation of Town Hall?
The historic neighborhood of San Marco definitely played a part in how we approached the design at Town Hall. As a long "shotgun" style space, we wanted to be able to incorporate several different sections to welcome our guests while maximizing the number of seats and kitchen and bar space from which to serve them. We also needed to create a visually interesting space that stood out from the other storefronts, while complementing the overall aesthetic of the neighborhood and historic character. We achieved this with a linear re-design of the service spaces front-to-back (lounge, bar and retail and dining room) and a new wood facade and overhang that gives a modern fluidity to the wood treatment. The name Town Hall was selected as historically, Town Halls served as a community's meeting place for all important business and celebrations to be conducted. We see Town Hall filling that same role...as a community gathering place to share good food, and good drink in good company.
Describe the menu at Town Hall and how it varies from Moxie.
Town Hall's menu is very seasonally-driven with the same level of dedication to local sourcing and working with artisan producers as we have at Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails. The kitchen is very small, and thus, the menu is small as well, with a diverse but focused offering of appetizers, entrees, sides and desserts. We have a focus on west coast-style flavor pairings and plating techniques, which are modern, fresh and flavorful.
What lessons did you learn at Moxie that led you to different decisions at Town Hall?
There were many lessons to be learned at a project as large as Moxie, taking into consideration the intricacies and number of "moving parts" it has. Working with the design team at ai3 again made the process of designing Town Hall a smooth process as much of our communication points and team approach was able to be carried over from Moxie. Each space is unique, however, and Town Hall, small as it is, still required a full-scale, thorough, plan to be implemented. Also, the construction team at River City Contractors was integral in helping to problem-solve on-site and help make the build-out process as smooth as possible.
As a chef-driven business, how do you plan on juggling between the two restaurants to ensure the same level of quality and consistency is always present?
Managing any business such as a restaurant is a juggling act. We have an experienced, dedicated team at both restaurants to help ensure that the addition of Town Hall to our daily operations goes as smoothly as possible. Many of our managers in both the kitchens and dining rooms have been with us 10+ years and we have a great team dynamic working every day. Teamwork makes the dream work!
Ready to gather with friends and family at Town Hall? Stop by the restaurant. Details online at www.townhalljax.com.