By: Dan Macdonald
Entrepreneur Mark Janasik, owner of Southern Grounds & Co. coffee shops, sees himself in the hospitality business.
Janasik is manager of Restaurant & Hospitality Investment Group LLC, created in 2014 to own the Southern Grounds & Co. shops.
It also owns blueberry bakery and new concepts Oaxaca Club and Alder & Oak.
Since 2016, when he took over the former Shelby’s Coffee Shoppe in Neptune Beach, Janasik has expanded that concept to San Marco and Avondale.
“In the next 18 months we will open six new locations, two new concepts and our first airport location,” he said.
Before Thanksgiving, he expects to open Southern Grounds in Concourse A in Jacksonville International Airport.
Janasik also is involved with The HUB Brooklyn at Riverside Avenue and Forest Street.
It will be similar to the Southern Grounds in Neptune Beach, serving a fast-casual menu but with a full bar and courtyard dining that will connect to other businesses.
There also will be a Southern Grounds along with a new concept, Alder & Oak, in St. Augustine near Flagler College at the former Corazon Cinema and Cafe.
Alder & Oak will feature wood-fired cooking coupled with Prohibition-style cocktails.
In Jacksonville Beach, Janasik is partnering with developer Marc Angelo to build Jax Beach Town Center on the site of the former Ruby Beach Brewing Co. and Campeche Bay Cantina.
Their Oaxaca Club there will include a restaurant, rooftop bar, retail and event spaces.
Janasik, 48, lives in the Southside with his wife, Robin, and their two children.
He moved here in 2005 when he was part of the group that brought Five Guys to the St. Johns Town Center area.
Here are edited excerpts of an interview by email about his projects and business philosophy.
Did you feel any pressure taking over the popular Shelby’s Coffee Shoppe?
We were competing for that spot with more than 10 other concepts that wanted to secure that iconic courtyard spot at Neptune Beach. We did feel the pressure to perform and continue to support the other businesses in the courtyard and the local community.
We realized that hospitality has the power to change communities. We believe that hospitality is delivered by valuing our guests and team members on a personal level.
We are always trying to find a way to positively affect our team members, vendors and community every day.
How does Southern Grounds differ from other coffee shops?
We are a chef-driven coffee house offering products that reach beyond the cup. Our brand thrives on providing healthful food offerings while building up our community.
We are not only passionate about bringing whole, nutritious and sustainably sourced food and beverage offerings, we do so while caring for the environment and reducing waste.
Our brand disrupted the industry’s standard supply chain for coffeehouses by reducing plastic product consumption by more than 50%. We have demanded sustainable farming practices of our suppliers, reduced environmental impact of vendors and used green building products in our building and interior design.
In addition, we are actively involved in charitable organizations within our community. We offer strategic equity and ownership incentives to our management.
Jacksonville International Airport has a Starbucks. Why compete with that national brand?
We are proud of our partnership with HMSHost and the Jacksonville Aviation Authority. Although they (HMSHost)operate more than 400 Starbucks in North America, they have decided to provide more flexibility to meet the demands of airport consumers.
Airport leadership is looking for a mix of national, local and regional concepts to provide the airport consumer the flexibility. Our brand gave them the opportunity to create a “sense of place” and showcase a local Jacksonville brand.
How will you expand the Southern Grounds brand to other cities and other states?
The consumer base for specialty coffee drinkers is rapidly growing, with millennials contributing in a big way.
The demand for artisanal coffee in a convenient setting that allows for multiuse such as getting work/study done, unwinding with friends or simply having some personal time has never been higher.
In spite of this, coffee is an extremely competitive and difficult business. Polls show 78% of coffee shops are large chain-owned.
We subscribe to the “buy and hire local” concept that supports both jobs and communities in which we live.
The operating model is what makes our concept more viable in this saturated market space.
When do you intend to franchise?
We plan to launch our franchise program in the first quarter of 2022.
We are working on our franchise program for the Southern Grounds brand outside of Florida. We hope to have it up and running in January 2022. We have several interested large franchise operators.
What is The HUB Brooklyn concept?
The HUB is at the historic crossing of Riverside and Forest in the center of Brooklyn. It occupies the primary corner of the last remaining block on Riverside Avenue with original buildings – the true soul of Brooklyn – now surrounded by urban towers.
The HUB is a mixed-use urban infill project designed with two food vendor buildings with walk-up and inside dining. The space is shared by a covered outdoor seating area and open courtyards along the streets’ edge.
On the upper level, a Design Studio, with roof terraces for special events, overlooks the courtyards as well as views to the Downtown skyline and the river.
Parking in the new elevated structure reduces the asphalt footprint within the block, and dockless mobility zones allow for shared transportation opportunities.
What are your Jax Beach Town Center plans?
We anticipate the opening in July 2022. There will be two concepts – Jekyll Brewing and Oaxaca Club (pronounced: whoa-hawk-ah).
Jekyll Brewing is a craft brewery from Atlanta.
The name Oaxaca Club comes from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, which is considered the food capital of Mexico.
Oaxaca is known for its distinctive cuisine, characterized by flavorful moles, fresh herbs, quesillo and mezcal.
Traditions of the region include a laborious, intricate cooking technique and flavor profiles where “time” is the main ingredient.
We hired Chef Eddy Escriba, a Latin chef who has started multiple restaurant concepts and has worked at several high-profile restaurants in South Florida.
The second floor of Oaxaca Club will serve as an indoor/outdoor entertainment area that is available to reserve for events.
Would you explain the Alder & Oak concept?
We are working to create a wood-fired, small plates concept inspired by local farms, the seasons, and our coastal Florida seafood.
It will be an upscale restaurant serving Prohibition-style cocktails. Liquor was illegal during Prohibition, so some folks got creative with their cocktail mixing, hence the term Prohibition-style.
What is your business background?
I am a graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder with a degree in environmental biology but was always drawn to the hospitality business.
I worked as director of operations in the Five Guys system for a large franchise group. This allowed me to develop a firsthand experience understanding the growth of one of the most successful brands in America.
We grew the Jacksonville franchise successfully and sold it as part of our exit strategy.
You have a partner in the Jax Beach Town Center. Do you have partners in any of the other projects?
We have strategic partners and shareholders in all our concepts. Our partners have shared values and, like us, a deep sense of community. We have close ties to local business leaders who appreciate our approach to hospitality and love the idea of creating multiple concepts.
What is your management style?
We as a leadership team subscribe to the thought process of “Ubuntu” that loosely defined means “humanity” or the way in which all of us are connected.
We give great importance to recognizing, respecting, and rewarding our employees for their great contribution.
We understand every person is different. The diversity of thought and ideas and not race, gender or other differences would make our organization better in our domain.
Where are you going to find restaurant staff?
We feel compelled to offer our team an opportunity to grow with us.
We offer incentives such as health benefits, equity opportunities and profit-sharing in all of our locations for our management ranks. We also offer growth opportunities for our team members who aspire to ascend the corporate ladder.
What motivates you?
Food is culture, community and life. It is hospitality, kindness and warmth. It is what binds us.
Food is one of the reasons we travel to places. Think about your hometown, your city, your community, and you will agree that restaurants are key to its vibrancy, economic development and social infrastructure.