Hawthorne Road Restaurant Starts Strong

Reggae Shack owners combine distinctive menu and community support to start creating a destination.

Isaiah Pollard, Ralston Mateo, Omar Olesimo and Madison Douglas-Seay are part of the staff at Southern Charm.

Omar Olesimo was set on making Southern Charm, the new restaurant that he and his wife, Arpita, recently opened on Hawthorne Road into a destination.

That meant developing a unique menu, featuring fare distinct from what is offered at their Reggae Shack Cafe at 619 W. University Ave. “I went to antique malls and bought old cookbooks,” Omar says. “I wanted to create an authentic menu that captured southern food from a historic perspective while presenting it in a contemporary fashion.”

Omar’s attention to detail also slowed the restaurant’s opening, which came two years after the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency awarded the lease for the restaurant building, at 1712 S.W. Hawthorne Road, to the Olesimos.

Designing the interior for the restaurant’s use, completing the city’s permitting process and remodeling the interior also took time.

The diligence has paid off, however, with the Southern Charm getting off to a strong start and business building daily.

The Olesimos received a loan through the CRA’s Grow Gainesville Fund, a Small Business Administration-backed loan program to which Southern Charm was the first recipient.

The CRA worked with the Eastside Redevelopment Advisory Board in making plans for the building, a former gas station. The agency invested $330,000 in the restaurant building project. The money came from tax increment financing, a funding mechanism that uses increases in tax value for community improvements.

“When we started talking about what kind of business we wanted in the building, we realized there wasn’t a place to get a meal east of Waldo Road,” says Vivian Filer, a member of the advisory board. “I think Southern Charm is awesome.”

The Olesimos were the only ones who responded to the city’s request for proposals to run a restaurant at the building. “Thank God we found the right people to run it,” Filer says.

Southern Charm has a staff of 10 and will employ 20 to 25 once it’s in full operation, Omar says.

Southern Charm’s menu includes sandwiches, such as the Southern Sea Po’ Boy made with fried shrimp, vegetarian entrees and sandwiches, seafood specials and traditional entrees, such as fried chicken, oxtails and smothered pork chops.

Filer says she hopes the restaurant will help foster more economic development. One other change in the works is for Santa Fe College’s Center for Innovation and Economic Development, located at 530 W. University Ave., to expand to the Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center at 2153 S.E. Hawthorne Road.

Santa Fe came into the picture after a July 2011 report criticized progress of GTEC, a city-owned business incubator that opened in 2001.

The CRA is planning a decorative fence around the Alachua County Schools bus storage lot as another improvement, and it’s conducting an engineering study to determine the area’s infrastructure needs, says CRA project coordinator Malcolm Kiner.


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