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Main Street makeover: Crispy's opening in former Akra Bros. store

By May, John Crispens hopes to renovate his vintage Springfield building at 1735 N. Main St. into Crispy’s, a restaurant, bar, art gallery and dry-cleaning service.

“I’ve been wanting to start a business in Springfield for quite a while,” said Crispens, 46, who moved to Jacksonville from Long Island, N.Y., in 1992 and has been a Springfield resident for more than six years.

Crispens said he wants to contribute to the level of development along that part of Main Street, which is north of Downtown. He considers himself lucky to have found the almost 6,000-square-foot building, which he bought last year.

“The building is over 80 years old, with many unique architectural features including terrazzo marble floors and two giant original skylights,” he said.

In addition to the floors and skylights, the grand staircase to the second level also will be restored.

The city is reviewing a building permit application for Johnson Home Builders Inc. of Yulee to convert the space. Plans show the renovation would turn the first floor into a dining room, bar, kitchen, business area and storage. The partial second floor would accommodate more dining, as well as live music and private events.

Bmorcreative Inc. is the interior designer. Baker Klein Engineering and The Ohmega Group are the engineers for the plans. All three are based in Springfield.

“This project is a Springfield group effort,” Crispens said.

Christina Parrish, executive director of Springfield Preservation and Revitalization, said Wednesday the organization welcomes the prospect of another good business along Main Street.

She said the Springfield neighborhood has come a long way, but “new businesses on Main Street is where we need to see improvement.”

Parrish said Crispens has experience and a good business plan for Crispy’s. “We think it will be a huge asset to Springfield,” she said.

In a little more detail, the first floor will feature dining, a full-service bar that runs along the left brick wall from the entrance, and an area where customers can drop off and pick up dry cleaning that will be taken to a professional service. Delivery also will be available.

The restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and feature casual family-friendly dining at large communal tables, which Crispens said will enhance “the neighborhood atmosphere of Springfield’s newest venue.”

The restaurant will feature pizza, paninis, sandwiches and salads along with locally roasted and brewed coffee. The full bar will include 24 craft beers on tap.

The bar and restaurant together will seat more than 150 customers, including 30 bar seats.

The ambiance will include a schedule of live music, with bands playing on the second floor overlooking the gallery restaurant. Artwork will be displayed throughout, with local art, paintings and sculptures featured in the front display windows.

Crispens said Crispy’s will open at 7 a.m. daily and close at midnight Sunday through Thursday and at 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights.

Crispens said he’s been in the restaurant business for almost 25 years and has been a bar manager for more than nine years at Mark’s Jacksonville Downtown club and lounge. Before that, he managed at TGI Fridays and Applebee’s Grill & Bar in Jacksonville.

Crispens said the Akra Bros. Department Store opened in the Crispy’s building March 23, 1933, and operated there for 40 years after which the structure was used briefly as a music store and then a pawn shop. Crispens bought it in May 2014 from Gold & Coin Inc.

City property records show the building was constructed in 1945, but Crispens said it was developed for the 1933 store opening, according to a story in The Florida Times-Union.

He wants to restore the front of the building to its original look, with display windows on each side and a covered alcove with a display window in the center and doors on each side.

The entry facade will be black tile, glass and copper. Internally, among other furnishings, he is repurposing reclaimed wood as tables and he found a rustic wine rack at Eco Relics near Downtown. The brick walls will be prominent in the design.

“I’m going to bring back the original beauty of it,” he said.

Crispens has been using the space as an art gallery and for private events. He cleaned out the remnants from former tenants, but the real work will begin when the city approves the permits.

Driving by the building one might not get a good look at it yet. Crispens often keeps the security doors rolled down pending the redevelopment.

He expects a total investment of just less than $500,000.

So far, the investment tops $300,000. He paid $109,000 for the building and the city permit shows a renovation job cost of $200,000. He said 121 Financial Credit Union will finance the build-out.

On top of that, Crispens will invest in furniture, equipment and other necessities of running a restaurant, bar and business. He estimates he will hire 16 to 18 people.

Crispens said it will be an historic renovation with federally approved grants and status.

Parrish said the neighborhood will support it. The combination of a bar, restaurant and dry-cleaning service is much needed and the art exhibits will be “wonderful.”

She said Springfield residents are very supportive.

“He is going to have a great reaction and support from the neighborhood,” Parrish said.
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