A new arepa place just popped up in the Riverside / Brooklyn neighborhood, it’s called Arepa Please. You may remember this space as Johnny’s Deli, on the corner of Riverside Ave. and Forest St, across the street from Unity Plaza and the old fire station. I sat down with managing partner Jose Gregorio to talk about all things arepas and how they plan to serve both Johnny’s original deli menu while introducing South American cuisine.
Tell me about Arepa Please. Where did it originate? How did it start? Arepa Please is a place that combines good vibes, the best coffee in town with an arepa place and a New York-style sandwich shop. We like to call it a contemporary cafe.
Why makes Arepa Please different? We are trying to share the arepa culture with Jacksonville. It’s not people just selling a product. In Venezuela, the arepa places are like the delis in New York. They are everywhere and you go there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The way it works in South America is that we see the arepa like a healthy medium for flavor combinations, so the first thing you do when you want to ask for an arepa is deciding what you want inside of the arepa. That moment is when all the fun begins. Maybe your brain says that you want shredded beef, black beans, and avocados or chicken with cheddar cheese and coleslaw salad. There are so many possible combinations, I grew up eating arepa every day and every time that I was going to an arepa place it felt like a new experience for me just imagining what combination of flavor I wanted. Knowing of course that for some reason most things taste better inside of an arepa
Why Bold Bean? My dad drinks 10 cups of coffee every day, he lives in South America and every time that he came to visit me he had a hard time with the coffee. So one day I took him to Bold Bean in Riverside and I got him a cappuccino. He tasted it, looked at me, smiled, tasted it again and said, “I feel like I’m in South America with this coffee.” I felt so happy because finally he had a really good coffee outside of Venezuela and I want that our customers have that feeling too. We were looking around for a good coffee and no one can beat Bold Bean. Also when we told them about this crazy arepa project they were so excited about it. They told us they love arepas as they tried them on one of their trips to South America and they were sooo good! The people of Jax need the arepa in their lives!
Tell us about Johnny’s, is it still Johnny’s Deli and you’re in there too? Me and my partner bought Johnny’s Deli 6 months ago and we were so surprised about all the people who were going every day to eat Johnny’s Deli. He has been around downtown for at least 15 years so everybody knows him and like his deli menu. So we asked him to please stay with us and now he is part of the family, looking forward to working on new projects together. Even though we changed the name to Arepa Please we still have the old Johnny’s menu made by Johnny himself.
Anything else you want people to know about Arepa Please? We try to change the arepa menu often adding new combination to help the new customers with the flavors selection. Our chef has many specials recipes to share and we are going to be adding specials every week. Our mission is to share the arepa culture around Jacksonville and we are so grateful for the support.
Arepa please is very unique. It has a tried and true deli, venezuelan arepas, and you can get Bold Bean Coffee. If that wasn’t enough, they have one of the coolest murals on the outside painted by Nicole Holderbaum.