by Ron Whittington
In 2014, I was very excited when Florida Times-Union Newspaper Editor Joe DeSalvo called and asked (since I lived in Jacksonville Beach) if I would like to be a regular contributor to the Shorelines section – a special section that appeared each Saturday for beaches subscribers.
For me, it also meant an opportunity to return to my roots as a reporter – my initial profession out of college when I worked for CNN Radio in Atlanta and the Dallas Business Journal in Texas – so it was an immediate “yes.”
But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.
Over the last 12 years, the opportunity to be a freelancer gave me the chance to work with many great editors at the Florida Times-Union including Joe (who also offered me assignments to write for the ‘Drive’ section of the newspaper periodically) and my most recent, Anne Hammock.
With Shorelines, I also had the privilege to meet many interesting people who make the beaches special and also capture the history of the beaches’ growth and development in real time.
All that said, here were some of my favorite articles that made it through the editors!
July 2015: Player’s Café (This one gave me the chance to finally talk to John Gaughan at Channel 4 (though his interview didn’t make it), who were among many local celebrities depicted on the walls of this lost diner in Ponte Vedra – and I sorely miss their crinkle-cut French Fries and Patty Melt!)
Literally thousands of caricatures of Beaches residents, famous athletes and other professionals adorn the walls inside the Players Cafe in Ponte Vedra - capturing nearly a quarter-century of all of the owners' friends and locals who have eaten breakfast and lunch at the diner.
New owners Michael and Kimberlee Furgal, the fifth owners of the Players Cafe, are continuing tradition as the diner readies for its 25th anniversary next year.
The couple says they've made some changes at the cafe, located at the strip shopping center on the corner of Solano Road and A1A, but plan to continue offering the hometown atmosphere and traditions that have made it such a popular local dining spot.
Read more at: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/2015/07/09/25-years-friendly-faces-new-owners-proud-carry-tradition-ponte/15670637007/
September 2015: The end of an era at Pablo Plaza (This article was an especially tough one to write, since I personally knew most of the men and women who worked at Ellen’s Kitchen, Concept Cutters and Monkey’s Uncle Tavern since our home is a few blocks away. Most of the stores and businesses found new locations on the north end of the beaches, but it was hard to see them go. The price of progress, I guess.)
The remaining original tenants at the Pablo Plaza Shopping Center - Monkey's Uncle Tavern, Concept Cutters hair salon and Rahaim's Walls and Floors - will be moving over the next five months as center owner Equity One Inc. makes plans for an $18 million renovation.
All received eviction notices or were put on verbal notice a few weeks ago, after each made the shopping center home for 30 years.
Ellen's Kitchen, a popular local breakfast and lunch diner, has also been notified that it has to be out by early 2016, while Bagel World, sandwiched next to Panera Bread and a convenience store, has already closed its doors.
Owners and managers of the stores voiced sadness at having to leave after so many years, irritation that the property owners are forcing the moves during the most profitable time of year for retailers and lamented that their small businesses are given short shrift compared to the big box stores set to take their places at the center.
And most are now scrambling to find new properties where they can reopen nearby.
Ken Rahaim Juro, owner of Rahaim's Walls & Floors, plans to be out by the end of October, but he won't be at the Beaches. Juro is moving his store to 3216 Clermont Road near Emerson Street, a family home where he once lived in the early '60s.
Read more at: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/2015/09/17/merchants-being-evicted-pablo-plaza-shopping-center/15680182007/
March 2016: The demise of Billy’s Boathouse and Billy Cissel’s Comeback at RP’s (With the loss of the old Lighthouse Restaurant across Beach Boulevard a few years before, it was sad to write this advance on the loss of Billy’s Boathouse at Beach Marine…)
New townhomes, restaurants and a hotel are some of the major changes being reviewed now by the city of Jacksonville Beach as the owner of Beach Marine is advancing new renovation plans for the property.
According to owner Kendall Taylor, the company plans to begin construction on the first phase of the project this summer pending city approval.
"We are excited to unveil the Phase I plans in late spring for the community to get a better understanding of what the project will look like and how it will serve those who live at the Beaches as well as those who travel to the Beaches area," Taylor said. "The additional phases will follow systematically, and we expect this will be a five-year build out."
It's been more than 10 years since Taylor proposed major changes at Beach Marine, located on northeast side of the Intracoastal Waterway at Beach Boulevard. The last attempt in 2004 was denied by the city council - and eventually led to the creation of nonprofit group Beaches Watch and the subsequent 35-foot height referendum approved by voters later the same year.
Bill Cissel, owner of Billy's Boathouse Grill at the marina since 1999, isn't sure now how Beach Marine's plans will affect him. His current lease runs out in September.
When asked specifically about Billy's Boathouse, Taylor would only say that "our team is currently finalizing plans for an exciting announcement."
Read more at: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/2016/03/30/condos-offices-hotel-among-changes-currently-under-review/15705562007/
June 2016: Parson’s Restaurant (When me and my wife were visiting from Atlanta in 2002 and searching for a home in Jacksonville Beach, we were looking for a local place to have seafood. The front desk manager at the old Holiday Inn suggested Gene’s Seafood on Penman Road. We loved it…and continued ordering the same dishes from Parson’s on Ninth Street until it finally closed up shop in August 2016…only a few months after this story appeared.)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Gene Parson's entrance into the Jacksonville restaurant scene - a name that's synonymous with local seafood among many longtime residents and visitors alike.
The family-owned business still carries on at Parson's, located on Ninth Street in Jacksonville Beach - along with one lone Gene's Seafood restaurant that still operates independently of the family on University Boulevard just south of downtown.
Parson sold the rights to the name Gene's Seafood when he sold the original restaurant's location on Penman Road in 1995. But his son Michael, who has worked alongside his dad in the restaurant business since he was seven-years-old, carries on the family tradition at the Jacksonville Beach location - still serving up their popular 20-piece shrimp platter, heaping piles of French fries and coleslaw and a host of other seafood entrees his dad created back in the mid-1960s.
Read more at: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/2016/06/25/50-years-seafood-original/15715020007/
January 2017: Gregory’s Jewelers (It’s always a pleasure to write about a family-owned business that has graced the beaches for so long, so it was wonderful to meet the owners Gregory Georgallis and his wife JoAnne, to find out more about the jeweler’s history. Also, in writing this, I discovered that Gregory lost his battle and succumbed to stage-four cancer in March. JoAnne says the jewelry store is open and will continue to operate as a legacy to his husband. The family has also asked well-wishers to honor Gregory’s memory by donating at philanthropy.mayoclinic.org to help more people obtain early cancer detection.)
It’s been nearly 50 years since Gregory Georgallis left his home on a Greek Island in the Aegean Sea to come to America.
Today, the namesake of Gregory’s Jewelers in Jacksonville Beach holds one of the highest ratings given to independent jewelers around the world — and not only draws business from the beaches, but from throughout Jacksonville and even customers from other states.
Gregory, his brothers Thomas and Lewis, and now his own sons, can trace their knowledge of creating hand-crafted jewelry from his father, Giorgios, who was a well-respected jeweler in Greece. As a young boy, Gregory said he was given such tasks as sweeping up the jewelry shop and hunting for cuttlefish bones on the seashore – which would be used in the casting process.
Read more at: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/2017/01/07/third-generation-continues-making-gregory-s-local-jewel/15738119007/
May 2019: Cruiser’s Reopening (When we first moved to Jax Beach, my wife and I were introduced to Cruiser’s…where we noticed a very strong similarity to the food we used to have at Snuffer’s, a restaurant in Dallas, Texas, that we patronized back when we were dating in the early 90s – especially their famous cheddar fries. Through this story, I was able to confirm that connection!)
By 11:05 a.m. last Monday, only five minutes after its official re-opening — and about six months after closing for a major renovation — Cruisers Grill was already half-full of customers, with more flowing through the door.
“We’re really very grateful that all these people allow us to be part of their day,” said owner Bobby Handmaker.
The popular locally-owned beach hangout located on 23rd Avenue South, just off Third Street, shut down last September for a $1.4 million renovation and expansion — and its first since opening in 1995.
Read more at: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/lifestyle/shorelines/2019/05/17/cruising-back-to-business/5136814007/
April 2021: Happy Faces Ice Cream Truck (From my home off Ninth Street, it seemed I had heard the Ghostbusters theme from this ice cream truck for more than a decade, and I was proved right when I met owner Ferando Sola. He was a happy man with a colorful past who shared a wonderful story about the joys of operating an ice cream truck. What a pleasure that one of my last stories gave me the chance to finally meet him.)
Owner Fernando Sola just celebrated his 10th year bringing his treats to ice cream lovers from Mayport to Jacksonville Beach, a near-daily routine he and his customers have become accustomed to as a part of the Beaches’ lifestyle.
Sola wasn’t looking to become an ice cream man when he happened to meet the previous owner of a truck that was operating in the area prior to 2011. According to Sola, he was a “pizza man” for many years, working as the manager of Al’s Pizza on Atlantic Boulevard.
Read more at: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/lifestyle/shorelines/2021/04/30/former-als-pizza-manager-delivers-sweet-treats-and-smiles-beaches/4873593001/