Jacksonville dining landmark Beach Road Chicken Dinners has closed following its sale Monday to a husband-and-wife team of experienced Northeast Florida restaurateurs who plan to reopen the restaurant after renovating the building and refreshing the menu.
Open for 80 years, Beach Road Chicken Dinners was the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Jacksonville.
New owners Nathan Stuart and Margo Klar bought the restaurant and are renaming it Beach Road Fish House & Oyster Bar. They hope to reopen in 60 days or less, Stuart told the Times-Union shortly after closing on the property.
Stuart and Klar are no strangers to the restaurant business. They own and operate OP Fish House & Oyster Bar in Orange Park, and recently opened a sister restaurant in Aiken, S.C. He grew up working in his father’s Atlantic Beach restaurant, Seafood Kitchen, and became its manager. And his grandfather had one of the first fish markets in Jacksonville.
Stuart said the new family-oriented restaurant will feature fresh, locally sourced fish and seafood, as well as pay homage to the Southern fried chicken and traditional fixin’s that made Beach Road Chicken Dinners a favorite with residents and visitors alike for generations.
“We’re going to incorporate a ‘Beach Road Chicken Dinner’ on the menu,” Stuart said. The meal will feature fresh fried chicken, mashed potatoes, creamed peas, gravy and biscuits.
“We’re going to re-work and get the quality of the food back to where it needs to be because all of my restaurants are from-scratch kitchens. We pride ourselves on using fresh domestic seafood and the best ingredients we can,” Stuart said.
Time and the changing tastes of people have taken a toll making it impractical for the restaurant to rely solely on fried chicken, he said.
“People are so health conscious now that I just don’t think the fried chicken-only theme can support running an entire restaurant of that size and that magnitude and do the business that it needs to do,” Stuart said.
Previous owners Kenneth and Tena Ferger operated the restaurant at 4132 Atlantic Blvd. for decades. The couple announced their planned retirement earlier this year and set about to find a successor to take over the restaurant.
The Fergers couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. However, in a letter to the editor published Monday, Tena Ferger thanked customers and employees and reminisced about the restaurant’s history.
“Over the restaurant’s 80 year history, customers have seen it all; order pick-up under the big tree in our parking lot, sit down service with waitresses in white dress uniforms and a dining room clock with a bullet hole in the center,” Ferger wrote. “Now, as we hang up our aprons and ready for retirement, we would like to say a heartfelt thank you to the generations of customers, employees and friends who’ve contributed to the success of Beach Road.”
As hard as retiring is, she said they’re leaving the restaurant in good hands.
“We cherish the time and great memories made in that place. Ken and I are very excited to pass Beach Road restaurant to a young energetic new owner,” Ferger said. “We wish Nathan, his wife and their entire team much success.”
Stuart said the deal to buy the restaurant has been quietly in the works for awhile. They’ve already ordered all new kitchen equipment and developed the renovation plans.
“The building is in disrepair. We’re going to absolutely gut the dining room, redo it,” Stuart said.
Stuart said they’re adding a 1,000-square-foot patio, building a new entrance and redoing the iconic Beach Road sign. The restaurant also will have a full bar, he said.
“We’re going to make it nice. We’re going to make it so we can have live music out on the patio at night,” he said. “That has really worked out well for us in Orange Park. People like to come sit on the patio and listen to music and eat dinner.”
Stuart said they hope to open up by September.
“A lot of people are going to have sticker-shock about Beach Road changing … But we’re not going to delete Beach Road,” he said. “A lot of our decor is going to incorporate the history of Beach Road, and we’re going to leave those key dishes on the menu.”
Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075