The Jazz Age

From the world of banking to the heart of a soul food institution, Celestia Mobley’s career trajectory has been nothing short of impressive. Her latest Jacksonville dining concept, Jazzy’s Restaurant & Lounge, is giving King Street a long-overdue culinary (and musical) boost.

Born and raised in Jacksonville, Mobley has seen Northeast Florida’s gastronomic tide ebb and flow. For her part, she’s been making waves in the local restaurant scene since 1998, when she transformed The Potter’s House Soul Food Bistro into the place to be to soothe all your comfort-food cravings. It was a solid start, but Mobley had grander ambitions.

“I wanted to be more, to know more,” she told Folio Weekly.

So, while working at the Bistro, she enrolled in Florida State College at Jacksonville’s culinary program. Mobley completed her training in good company, with Jax notables like Black Sheep’s Jon Insetta. The program quite literally changed her life. She still supports FSCJ’s initiatives and students any way she can.

Indeed, she looks for ways to lift up the local community whenever possible. She explained, “I try to support as many local businesses as I can.” From suppliers to a solid work force, she has a vision for Jazzy’s: “I want this place to give an opportunity for people to have good jobs, and I’m excited to be in this area.”

Never one to be satisfied with stagnation, Mobley was hungry for another challenge after graduation. “After I got my degree, of course, I wanted to do more.” What’s a gal to do? She became a Certified Executive Chef through the American Culinary Federation. Note: Nationwide, there are only 35 women—five women of color—who hold the certification. And lucky us—we have one right here in Northeast Florida.

After running the Soul Food Bistro for nearly 20 years, Mobley wanted to step out of her comfort zone. She wanted to continue working with The Potter’s House Christian Fellowship, the organization that launched the bistro, but she wanted her own place, too. “I wanted to do something … that didn’t compete with Potter’s House.” In 2017, she opened Celestia’s Coastal Cuisine on the Northside. The whole place—menu, ambience, drinks—is built on a very successful “fast casual, only seafood” concept. Hoping it would do well, she was blown away by the community’s support.

“[Celestia’s Coastal Cuisine] turned into way more than I thought it could be,” she admitted. In the end, even with Mobley’s drive and determination, she said, “I could not do both!” In less than a year, she “retired” from Potter’s. Celestia’s has been going strong ever since.

Then another challenge popped up. As Mobley scouted for a new spot, she learned the space at the corner of King and College streets (once it was Blind Rabbit, then it was Hamburger Mary’s) was available; she snapped it up, and Jazzy’s Restaurant & Lounge was born.

“This is like a New Orleans strip,” the entrepreneur said of King Street. Mobley knew she was ready to be part of that and add her own flair. Jazzy’s is a spot with live music and good food, both served up in a relaxed atmosphere. “I still want it to be woo sa place,” Mobley explained, a place where you can come and “have comfort food after a long day, with soft jazz.” Mobley commissioned local artist David Nackashi to paint a gorgeous mural; his jazz figures breathe life into the space. The venue will host live musicians several times a week, including Jazzy’s house band, led by local luminary Songstress Monique.

But Jazzy’s isn’t called Jazzy’s for the music—at least not exclusively. The name’s an ode to Mobley’s daughter, Jasmine. Known affectionately as “Jazzy,” the young one started out waitressing at Soul Food Bistro, and she is now instrumental in helping run her mother’s two restaurants.

Finding low key, appealing dining on King Street later in the evening is a challenge. Jazzy’s is ready to pick up the slack, not closing until 11 p.m. And the menu tells of pure, homespun cooking.

“There’s nothing frou-frou about me,” Mobley said. “Even though I’m a certified executive chef, I cook what I grew up on and what I love.” That means, yes, her dishes begin with family recipes. Some items she wouldn’t tweak for the world, even though they take forever to make. Stewed turkey and cornbread dressing, anyone? Others, like the cornbread she serves on the side, have been customized (in this case, with a pinch of sugar and a helluva lot of butter).

Jazzy’s has been open for about a month, and Mobley is excited for folks to dig into her pork chops, Low Country boil, Brussels sprouts and cornbread. Stop by early for a killer happy hour, too; from 3-7 p.m., you can indulge in small bites for small prices. There’s a full bar, where Mobley’s talented mixologists sling all sorts of cocktails (especially margaritas—Mobley’s jam. Her favorite? “Grown and Sexy,” with Camarena Tequila, fresh lime juice, Rose’s Real Lime and ice combining to create a margarita that’s not too “sweet, sweet”).

Slide over this weekend for some down-home cooking and soft jazz. You may just catch Mobley tapping her toes, sipping on a frosty marg.