Owners of the Fish House & Oyster Bars around Jacksonville are branching into St. Johns County with the purchase of Creekside Dinery.
They will convert it into the St. Augustine Fish House & Oyster Co. LLC for a targeted January opening.
“We want this to be our flagship store because of how big it is, how many customers it can serve and how beautiful the backdrop is,” said Nathan Stuart, who bought the waterfront property with his wife, Margo Klar.
Stuart said they bought the property, at 160 Nix Boat Yard Road, because the owners are retiring.
It closed Sept. 26.
Stuart called it a “super popular” restaurant.
“It’s waterfront. It has absolutely amazing views,” he said.
The Stuarts bought the property Sept. 30 through Intracoastal Fisheries LLC from Creekside Dinery Inc. for $1.7 million.
The property comprises about 5 acres, with most of that parking, a hot commodity in St. Augustine.
The 4,019-square-foot building and about 4,500-square-foot deck sit at Gonzales Creek and overlook the Intracoastal Waterway.
Stuart expects it will employ about 100 people and he offered jobs to the Creekside Dinery staff. Some are training at other Fish House & Oyster Bar restaurants and some are helping with converting the property.
The couple’s company found a niche in taking over second-generation restaurants and houses and converting them.
Stuart anticipates a $250,000 refresh of the Creekside Dinery. That will include redoing the deck with composite materials; replacing the roof and windows; and landscaping.
He said the restaurant’s theme will be old Florida, with the building’s dark and stained cypress on the walls and the plank-wood walls.
Stuart said the deck’s central fire pit will be used for oyster roasts and for children to roast marshmallows on the weekends.
St. Augustine Fish House & Oyster Co. will seat about 600 people inside and out, including 75 at the indoor-outdoor bar.
Stuart plans live music Wednesday-Sunday.
In addition to the restaurant, the couple wants to continue operating the event space that can be used for weddings, luncheons, parties and other special occasions.
That space comprises two large private dining rooms over the water that also can be used for overflow dining.
“We want to appeal to large group functions,” Stuart said.
In addition to the restaurant’s large kitchen, there is another building on-site with a full kitchen.
The Stuarts will consider adding docking options for boaters after the restaurant opens.
Stuart said Creekside Dinery opened as a restaurant about 1988 and the previous owners bought it around 1990. He said they renovated and expanded it several times, including adding two private dining rooms.
The handicap accessible parking is paved but the rest is hard-packed ground, he said.
The Stuarts operate four Fish Houses: the Orange Park Fish House & Oyster Bar; Beach Road Fish House & Chicken Dinners; New Berlin Fish House & Oyster Bar, which recently opened in North Jacksonville; and a licensed store with partners in Tallahassee, Tally Fish House & Oyster Bar.
Stuart said the New Berlin Road restaurant opened about six weeks ago and “is crushing it.”
“COVID was tough, but we stuck with it with take-out and we managed to stay profitable through most of it,” he said of the seven months since the shutdowns and restrictions resulting from the pandemic.
“Most of our success is due, one, to our staff and two, not cutting corners with the quality of food,” Stuart said.
He said they operate scratch kitchens.
St. Augustine Fish House will feature St. Augustine oysters, fresh-caught fish, local shrimp and fresh scallops.
He said the menu would be most like that at the Orange Park Fish House.
There, signature plates include stuffed grouper, whole fried local snapper, crab cakes and fish tacos; fresh seafood and fish including local jumbo shrimp, Atlantic trigger fish, catfish fillets, swordfish, flounder, snapper and salmon; a raw bar; and steak, a burger and chicken tenders along with starters, soups, salads, sides, brunch and beer, wine, cocktails and soft drinks.
That menu is at opfishhouse.com.
Stuart said there also will be some local popular dishes, a couple of specialty items “and a much larger cocktail list with that huge bar.”
“My goal is to have the biggest happy hour in St. Augustine,” he said.
He called St. Augustine a boaters’ town and said the restaurant site off U.S. 1 is five minutes by water from downtown.
Customers also can expect holiday-themed decorations.
“It still has that ‘house theme,’ but we want to make a big deal for the holidays,” he said.
“My whole company is family-first everything,” said Stuart, who has a 17-month-old son, Daxton.
“It is important to make it a family place. Christmas will have over-the-top decorations.”
Stuart’s grandfather, Louis, owned Intracoastal Fisheries, one of Jacksonville’s first fish markets. In 1985, Russell Stuart, Nathan’s father, bought Seafood Kitchen in Atlantic Beach and still owns it. Nathan Stuart’s group manages it.
“I learned the business working for him,” Stuart said.