The Urban Divide

Popular Riverside coffee shop and cafe being uprooted

If you’re tapped into Riverside happenings, you’ve probably come across Instagram posts regarding Southern Roots and their probable relocation. There’s been a lot of noise online, so we’re hoping to help clear up the facts and give a voice to all sides of the matter.

Here’s the rundown

Mariah Goetz Salvat and her husband Juan Pablo “JP” Salvat, owners of Southern Roots Filling Station, a local vegan coffee shop serving breakfast and lunch, set up shop at their current King Street location in 2014. In 2016, they expanded into the space next door, doubling in size. At the time of the expansion, they signed a five-year lease.

Their landlord, Patricia Butts, passed away in August of last year, a few months before their lease was up. The property was then transferred to her stepchildren. After Southern Roots’ lease ended in December 2021, they continued to pay rent on a monthly basis to stepson Layton Butts.

The building was listed for sale with Colliers’ Urban Division group acting as the realtors. Southern Roots asked for a new lease and Colliers advised against writing one while the building was up for sale. Outside investors are under contract for the building currently.

The Urban Division is acting on behalf of the future owners to find new renters as well. Southern Roots reached out, asking what rent would be under the new owners. They were told $35/sqft which is a 400% increase over what they are paying now. So the Salvats countered with a 200% increase instead, aware what they currently pay is below market value. Southern Roots said they did not receive a counter or clear answer back. Instead, The Urban Division has shown the property to another potential renter.

The Urban Division reports they have three letters of intent on the property that come from food and beverage and consumer services.

Communication between Southern Roots and The Urban Division is unclear depending upon who you speak to. Southern Roots was told last week the investor group will be closing on the property in 20 days. The Salvats were also informed they would have 60 to 120 days after closing to leave.

Public Response

On Aug. 1, 2022, Southern Roots informed their followers of their predicament via Instagram. They expressed their desire to keep the coffee shop open and their uncertainty in what the future holds. There was an outpouring of support. Five hundred plus comments expressed dismay and asked what the community can do to help.

Although Southern Roots didn’t name the realtors, the Internet is full of sleuths who quickly found The Urban Division page. Amidst a sudden wave of backlash, The Urban Division has limited their comments and made it so other profiles can’t tag them.

It seems The Urban Division has provided the public with a tangible villain, a face to direct their anger. While rental rates skyrocket and inflation is in high gear, the working class is feeling the pressure. This brokerage has been made into a symbol of corporate greed and apathy toward locals.

The Urban Division’s response to criticism has rubbed many the wrong way. In a long winded post, they seek to distance themselves from any wrongdoing. They attempted to assert themselves as bystanders: “We are not the owners of the property, we are not the buyers of the property.” A commenter disputes this perspective, framing The Urban Division as “active players in watching Jax become a city where the working class cannot afford to be in any longer.”

The Urban Division’s most controversial response took place on a since deleted comment.

One local wrote, “no surprise, good riddance to this establishment. Hoping for a decent real restaurant.”

To which The Urban Division responded, “Couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately they are in a lease for a bit. We are going to try and work with them to figure out another location. The corner is too special for what is currently there.”

The Urban Division claims: “‘The corner’ was in reference to One Bar and Lounge. This was never in reference to [Southern Roots Filling Station].”

In a written conversation with Matthew Clark of The Urban Division, he expressed, “I have always supported the public forum for people’s opinion to be expressed. I have never been at the opposite end of so much misinformation.” For example, Clark feels as though his group of realtors has been lumped in with outside investors. When in fact, he himself is a part of the community, having lived in Jacksonville for 20 plus years and Riverside for six.

Larger Implications

Southern Roots’ language about the situation hasn’t been angry or aggressive, but frustrated and distressed. The uncertainty they face has been emotional. Mariah told me, “We understand business is business.” They don’t blame the previous or future landlords. While getting priced out of their location of eight years is obviously upsetting, she understands the realities of tenant/landlord relationships. What’s hard to swallow is the way The Urban Division has treated Southern Roots and the implications this situation holds for the Riverside community at large.

Clark reportedly told JP his goal was to “elevate” the food on King Street, which the Salvats interpreted as a dig on their coffee shop. Online, Jacksonville residents view The Urban Division’s commentary as abrasive and their lack of communication with a reliable tenant, just “bad business.” With Instagram comments calling to boycott whoever takes over the space, it seems The Urban Division’s response has exacerbated their PR nightmare.

Mariah is concerned The Urban Division is “pioneering a Riverside movement.” As inflation makes it more difficult for small businesses to succeed, outside interests, via realtors such as The Urban Division, can step in and reshape the area to their own liking, potentially unraveling years of community investment.

When I asked what The Urban Division is looking for in a tenant that Southern Roots (a coffee shop offering breakfast and lunch) lacks, they wrote back “King Street is a pedestrian street—situated in a walkable neighborhood. It currently has a heavy bar and nightlife scene. I think a concept that activates the street during the day as well would be a benefit to all businesses. Could be a great restaurant or bodega.” Their hope is for King Street to become more similar to 5 Points or Avondale.

Clark wrote, “My brand as a broker has been to support local and regional concepts in their growth. We sometimes encounter franchises in our market, but for the most part local and regional concepts are what we place.” He wishes the public to know their team has worked with concepts in and around Riverside such as Crane Ramen, Alewife, Hoptinger, Med Men and Folio.

From Mariah, JP and their supporters’ perspective, they represent the community. The Salvats are community members. They live nearby; their children go to local schools. The family “only wants what’s good for the neighborhood.” Southern Roots is founded upon community care. The coffee shop started at a farmer’s market. They emphasize use of local purveyors to support other businesses and keep money within the community. Southern Roots works tirelessly to ensure their employees make a living wage; they’re proud to say they didn’t lay anyone off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In asking Mariah what an ideal outcome to this situation would be, she mentioned her team first. Her first wish is to be able to keep everyone employed.

This situation speaks to a divide in community opinion. Discourse surrounding the development of Jacksonville neighborhoods will only amplify as our city grows. This growth can play out in difficult and complicated ways.

Many locals have asked what they can do to support Southern Roots. Mariah says to just stop by, order some food. She would also like to encourage the community to patronize other small businesses as well. “[It’s] not just supporting us,” she said. “This is on the horizon for others.”

About Kale Boucher