Hands-On Experience

Walking into the soon-to-open 20West Café on Adams Street, one can tell, even as it is in a flurry of construction activity, that it will be a welcoming, bright addition to Jacksonville’s Downtown. The café is part of Florida State College at Jacksonville’s rehabilitation of the historic 106-year-old Lerner Building. Upper floors of the building will include 20 student housing suites, with room for 60 students.

“It’s a way for us to be involved in the community at a ground level,” explained Rick MacDonald, general manager of the café.

Robert Mark, program manager for culinary and hospitality at FSCJ described the café’s purpose a little further, saying, “[20West] adds an FSCJ presence to Downtown and its revitalization. It promotes the school in general and the culinary program in particular.”

The kitchen will be run by local chef Brett Cromer, a graduate of the FSCJ culinary program, whose previous posts include Jacksonville institutions like Cool Moose Café, French Pantry and Uptown Kitchen & Bar. The style, in the spirit of farm-to-table, is achieved through partnerships with local farmers and programs such as Herb & Core, a group that has begun managing urban gardens in the Springfield Historic District.

The seasonal menu consists of soups, salads and sandwiches, along with several entrée items and some vegan dishes. Cromer expects to regularly include special dishes conceived and prepared by students. Soups to be offered include Hearty Tomato Bisque and Farmer’s Stew; the multiple salad options will feature items like The 20 Wedge, a Romaine boat filled with onion, tomato, bacon and bleu cheese topped with champagne vinaigrette. Sandwich choices include The 20 Press-roasted turkey, beef or seasonal squash with arugula pesto, spinach and mornay sauce.

The restaurant operation will be counter service, with freshly prepared food delivered to the customer’s table. After ordering, diners can peruse the café’s teas, juices and a coffee bar complete with a cappuccino machine. Martin Coffee Company has created an exclusive blend that will be served at the café.

Students in FSCJ’s culinary program are required to complete two 300-hour internships. The café will afford them the opportunity to get the full, hands-on experience of working in a restaurant. While completing their internships at 20West, students will be exposed to everything from prep work to line cook duties to customer service, all real-world, practical experiences that will be applicable in future restaurant careers.

The café, decked out in exposed brick and distressed wood, includes a private dining room with space enough to seat 12. The reservation-only room, made possible by a gift from philanthropist Jim Winston, in whose honor it has been named the Winston Room, features a unique, greenhouse-style ceiling. In total, there will be seating for 90 guests, including the 12 in the Winston Room. The atmosphere will be further enriched by artwork created by FSCJ students and faculty that will be displayed in the dining room.

The café joins FSCJ’s already established Café Frisch, where students regularly serve lunch and dinner to diners. The college’s website describes Café Frisch as “a simulated restaurant environment designed to provide students a hands-on learning experience while also showcasing their culinary and service talents to the community. The café is named for the Harry Frisch family and the Beaver Street Foundation, benefactors to the program.”

The difference between the two cafés lies in the staffing and purpose of the spaces. 20West Café is a real-world, open-to-the-public restaurant staffed by FSCJ students and interns who were hired and are paid to work in the restaurant. At Café Frisch, the entire staff consists of students fulfilling course requirements while getting experience preparing and serving meals.

“In addition to the economic opportunity,” explained Cedrick Gibson, associate vice president of workforce development at FSCJ, “It’s a way for our students to learn, live and experience Downtown Jacksonville.”

One of the goals of developing the site is to help draw other entrepreneurs into the Urban Core.

“We not only want to collaborate with them, but also work collaboratively with us,” Gibson added. “That is a way for our interns who want to live in the Downtown core to work, because there could be employment opportunities. It’s a way to start a healthy conversation with other businesses to work with us on the reemergence of our Downtown area.”

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20West Café opened March 19. The hours are 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri. For lunch and dinner reservations at Café Frisch, call 633-8151.

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