Q&A MANAGING PARTNER JEFF McCUSKER
Have you heard of River & Post? It’s the newest addition to Jacksonville’s booming restaurant scene. What makes it special, you ask? Over 10,000 square feet, a 9-story rooftop bar with a killer view, Chef Elizabeth Arana with a 3-Michelin-Star background, and it’s locally focused. I sat down with managing partner Jeff McCusker to get the inside scoop.
Tell me about River & Post.
River & Post is a casual seafood restaurant. We have great steaks and poultry dishes. I would say it’s American cuisine with a chef that is classically trained. We have a lot to offer as far as some of the banquet spaces, the parking, the rooftop.
Where were you before River & Post?
I worked with a restaurant group called Southern Table Hospitality. They own the fish camps and Marker 32 and Safe Harbor in Jax Beach. They are the most incredible restaurateurs. They put out a product that people love, and they are knocking it dead. They are extremely business savvy, and they have taught me so much.
Can you tell be about the menu?
It’s 70-80% seafood. It is anywhere from a $17 entree to a $35-$40 steak. We are extremely fair priced. We want to make people feel like they can come once a week rather than once a year for their anniversary or birthday.
You said 70-80% seafood. Where are you getting the seafood?
That’s a good question. A lot of people ask me who’s going to be our vendor? Everyone is going to be our vendor. We’re going to use Safe Harbor Seafood, Beaver Street Fisheries, Cheney Brothers, and Sysco. As far as locally, Bacon Farms, we are going to get our lettuce from, Congaree and Penn. We’re trying to go as farm-to-table and as ocean-to-table as much as possible.
So right now you’re just going for the best ingredients, but you’re not focused on one of them?
No, I’m not focused on one of them at all. Everytime we make an order those vendors have a list they send out every day. They send that list out, and we pick the things we like. We call, we ask: What’s the freshest, how long has it been in? How many pounds of it do they have? If they have great grouper but they only have 20 pounds of it, then that’s not going to do us any good. It’s just about supply and the freshest ingredients.
Because you are using the freshest ingredients are you going to do a lot of specials?
We’ll have specials every night: A fish special, a meat special, and an appetizer every night.
Tell me about Chef Liz.
We got her resume sent to us by another friend in the industry. We sat down and just talked and had so much in common. We shared so many of the same philosophies of the restaurant business; we liked and disliked the same restaurants; we shared the same service standards and palette.
What was it that set her apart besides her being a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America and having a 3-Michelin-Star background?
The food was incredible. She did a six-course meal for us. Everything from the ceviche she made to the filet, the sauce on the filet, the salad dressing. The cookie she baked to put on the peach ice cream that she made. It was just incredible. But besides that, it was the way we meshed with her.
Tell me about the roof? There’s an awning?
The roof is nine stories high. The awning covers the larger section of the roof. It retracts the whole way. If it starts to rain, you don’t have to run inside, and you’re totally protected. The roof will have seven different couches with a fireplace for each one. I can’t even express how much engineering and thought goes into the handrail system. First, it’s gotta be safe; it’s gotta meet the wind load codes. You know, we selected 42 inches because if you’re sitting down you want to see through the glass. For safety you have to have a rail on the top, because we’re 9 stories up. When your standing up you see over it; when you’re sitting on a bar stool you see over it. There was a lot of thought and engineering that just was every single little meticulous thing up there.
Is the menu different upstairs?
The menu will be different upstairs. It will be more appetizer things like meat and cheese plates, ceviche, and cocktail shrimp.
Tell me about the bar on the roof and the cocktail program.
The cocktail program will be headed by Michael George, formerly of The Volstead downtown. He’s a hell of a cocktail specialist. He’s writing the cocktail list. We have 12 different cocktails on the list. We will be using local purveyors: Manifest Distilling, St. Augustine Distillery, Marlin and Barrel Distillery, and Dr. Reinhard’s bitters. Two different styles of each liquor in the cocktail list. There’s something for everybody.
How many can you seat?
We have capacity downstairs for 300. Upstairs for about 160. The downstairs includes many things: there’s an outdoor patio with 50 seats, two private dining rooms: one with 60 seats, one with 36, the bar area has about 30 seats in it, we have booths, we have a bunch of 4-tops that pop up into 6-top rounds.
Anything else you want people to know?
We’re ready, we’re anxious, we’re nervous, I think it’s human. We want people to know that we’re just genuine people. There’s no egos here. We just want to give people the best service and best food. We hope people will give us a shot.
The anticipation is building. How will River & Post’s 9-story roof measure up? What will the menu look like? Could there be a cocktail competition brewing on the roof? The opening date is set for November 20th. Are you ready?