Chris Straw never exactly intended to open a restaurant. “I didn’t follow my dreams,” he says of his entrepreneurial ventures. “I followed opportunity.”
In 2009, an opportunity came along for Straw to open his first restaurant. The Mayport joint Simply Tasty Thai rapidly grew in popularity, becoming a staple among residents of the Jacksonville Beaches. Fast forward to May 2016, when the chance arose for Straw to open a second restaurant in the same shopping plaza as Simply Tasty. That’s how Hangar Bay Café was born.
At Hangar Bay, Straw quickly earned a reputation for serving two unique foods—authentic Japanese ramen and Southern fried chicken—on the same menu. Jacksonville customers rave about the genuineness and yum factor of both menu items. Still, Straw rejects labels like “Japanese restaurant” and “soul food,” instead referring to his restaurant as “comfort food.”
“I threw together a bunch of things that are really tasty that I like to eat,” says Straw. Hangar Bay’s menu provides as a peek into Straw’s tastebuds—a list of foods he personally finds comforting, along with others concocted by Chef Ed Rossetti.
While a Hangar Bay customer has the capability to add fried chicken strips in lieu of pork to any ramen dish, the menu does not offer deliberately fused styles on one plate. Straw rejects the idea that a complicated combination has the capacity to make food taste better. “This is not a fusion restaurant at all,” says Straw. “Because ‘fusion,’ to me, connotes foofy-ness.”
Straw also runs a gallery out of his galley-style dining area. Along silvery walls, art deco posters of Japanese destinations, along with Straw’s own photographs and military ephemera, hang for customers to enjoy. The gallery also features Straw’s “war gallery,” a series of lithographs that depict the various aircraft Straw piloted during his time in the U.S. Navy. A veteran flight instructor and Sea Hawk helicopter pilot, Straw “eventually ended up in Mayport for the second time working on a command staff.”
Straw notes that the opportunity to open two successful restaurants proved more feasible when paired with his military background. “There’s all sorts of aspects to being in the military,” says Straw. “Accountability. Timeliness. Stamina. Leadership. Mission accomplishment. Attention to detail. All of these things come into play when running a business that wants to be successful.”
Running a restaurant, Straw says, is a lot like piloting a Sea Hawk: “You’re trying to get 50,000 moving pieces to go in the same direction at the same speed.” Fortunately, he’s skilled enough to pilot two restaurants at once.
Hangar Bay Café and Gallery serves up scrumptious ramen and fried chicken seven days a week—Monday through Saturday from 11am to 8pm, and Sundays from noon to 8pm—at 2294 Mayport Road, Atlantic Beach. Visit their website for menus and more: hangarbaycafe.com