10 Questions about Tidbits with Clara LeBlanc
1. Tell us about Tidbits.
Tidbits is a lunch and catering restaurant. We've been in business since 1985, at the same location and with the same owners - my husband Greg and I. We really focus on fresh foods, great service and very reasonable prices
2. What makes Tidbits special?
People come because they can count on the quality and freshness of the food. Our staff is so amazing, we take pride in our great customer service creating a better experience than what you'd expect.
3. What sort of food do you serve?
Fresh salads, home made soups and great sandwiches. It's simple food. It really is. But we're going to make sure the ingredients are the freshest we can find.
4. Has the concept for Tidbits changed over time?
Our overall concept has always been the same, but we're always evolving and updating and making products better as they're made available to us. Consistency is really important to us so a lot of the menu items have stayed in place over the years.
5. What's your most popular item?
Our chicken avocado sandwich - it's a really great sandwich. Our chicken salad sandwich, potato salad and lemon cake are also extremely popular items.
6. What's your favorite item?
They're all my babies. I had a cup of chili today but my favorite food is tuna. And I've been eating salads for three weeks. It's all really good and I never get bored with what we have here. And I've been eating here for 27 years!
7. Where do you get your recipes?
We have created most of the recipes and we also have some of Greg's family specialties, like his Mama's Peach Bread Pudding and Gumbo. We've been doing it for years now so most things are pretty set although we'll add in specials regularly. My husband and I will get together to re-invent some sandwiches. But we are also careful to be consistent. People have been coming here for years to get the taco salad special on Wednesdays and the prima vera special on Mondays. We don't want to mess with that.
8. Do you do your baking in-house?
Yes, we bake our desserts on site. We have a great baker, Deni, on staff. She has always loved to bake at home, so we trained her to bake our specialties like Bread Pudding and Lemon Cake. She has a great creative touch, making many of the items really pretty. She maintains the high quality of our cookies and cakes.
9. You've had a lot of growth in your business over the years. Can you talk about that?
It's been a number of things. The neighborhood has improved and gotten more popular over the years. There are more businesses in the area and that's really boosted our catering. Continuing to grow is very important to us. We are always fine tuning our business - adding space as we need it and keeping things fresh looking.
10. Your lunch room is really big. How many can you seat?
We seat about 150. Our kitchen is even bigger than our dining area.
… why such a big kitchen?
It's really important to support our catering business which is about as big as our dine-in business, maybe even a little bigger at times. We cater for some really big events at times.
… what are some examples?
We're doing a promotion with the Kraft company now - serving up mini-sliders that highlight their Miracle Whip. The promotion is around football games. We just served 5,000 mini-sliders at a game in Tampa. We have three more games coming up - here in Jacksonville for the Florida-Georgia game, and in November we are delivering to Alabama and Louisiana. It's an interesting order and very fun. Being built around football is great too because everyone loves football.
We also do a lot of fairly big events locally. We can fill orders for 1,000 or more for places like the hospital, when they're feeding their staff on special occasions.
11. Has catering always been a part of your business?
No. It started way back when I was here with one other person. It was raining and I knew nobody would come out. I made some calls to my regulars and asked if they'd order if I could deliver to them. And that's how it started. Today we have 8 trucks on the road every day. We deliver all over the city - to Orange Park and the Beaches too.
Companies have always been a big part of our catering as well. IBM was one of the first companies in our neighborhood. In the late '80's they were doing a lot of training right around the corner. That's how we created the platter of sandwiches and the catering box lunches to accommodate them. And it's just taken off since then. Today we do a lot of corporate catering and on Fridays we do a lot of bulk catering pick up orders. We cater for weddings, births and funerals too!
12. Can you tell us about Clara's Special Blend?
It's our house seasoning. We use it in every recipe. The combination we have makes everything taste great, but not the same. I'm not sure how it works, but it does! We sell it to our customers and off our website as well. We send it as far as Scotland. People who've been in Jacksonville and moved away - we ship to them a lot.
... how did it come about?
I like seasoning and to season our food. I come from a family that's always had great tasting food and my husband comes from a Louisiana family that's used to very flavorful food. So from very early on I'd make these recipes and I'd have all these bottles of seasoning around me. I eventually realized I was going to have to come up with something different so I came up with the seasoning blend and we started using it in all our recipes. We're very consistent about how we use the seasoning. If someone is making a 30 lb. batch of potato salad we'll have the seasoning pre-measured out for that, so the taste stays the same.
... is your seasoning available at retail outlets?
It's available at our restaurant and online. We're working to expand to other stores.
… do you have other seasonings available or in development?
I actually have 6 today. We have one for gumbo and another that's lower in salt that we use when making fish. We have other blends too that are ready to go if we release a line of seasonings. I like the fun and inventiveness that comes with making up new blends.
13. You also have a cookbook. How did that come about?
I love cooking and found using the seasoning made it much easier for a working Mom. Whenever someone came over they'd get a sack of seasoning. Friends and family wanted recipes using the seasoning at home and that's where the cookbook came in. I loved creating recipes for my family and friends. The cookbook became a collection of those recipes. There are no restaurant recipes in the cookbook. Sorry, we keep them locked up!
14. Can you tell us a little more about your background?
I've been in the restaurant business in some way since I was 13. My grandmother was a great cook and I learned a lot from her. I was also lucky to train under a chef when I was very young. I learned quite a bit and just stuck with cooking. I love to cook. I'd been working in the restaurant business from 13, 14, 15 and onwards. At some point I thought I'd try something different so I got into commercial real estate. That was fine but I found that what I did was just try to save money to open my own business. And that's what I did. I bought an existing sandwich shop when I was 19 - even before I was married. Then my husband joined me in the business.
15. Have there been a lot of surprises along the way?
We're in the people business so I get surprised every day!
We've seen changes in the neighborhood we're in. We're about to see another change with an upcoming bridge project. But we'll just embrace it. And I think that's a lot of what has made us successful. If something comes up and may surprise us we just embrace it and look at all the good things that can come from it instead of all the bad things
16. Can you tell us about In Shape Ladies Fitness?
It's another business of mine that I have with a partner, Sandra Salem. We've been in business 6 years. When I started looking at the business my son Mason was in high school and my son Austen just graduated and was heading to college. I was very involved with their sports and school PTA and that was coming to an end, so I decided to venture into another business to keep busy and because it's something I'm very passionate about - being healthy and exercise.
17. How do you find the time?
We serve lunch and we're normally working from 5am to 5pm or 6pm. I run the gym in the evenings, so I go to the gym after I leave the restaurant. I'm actually a trainer, so I teach classes. I just enjoy it. It's a real passion of mine.
18. What's next for Tidbits?
We'll continue to grow the website and online ordering. We are currently planning our next step in the company's growth, looking at opening Express stores around the city and catering to large events.
… can you tell us about your website?
My son Austen and I have been working on the web ordering site for two years now. It's something we're very proud of. We've heard really good feedback from customers about it. You can order pickup or delivery. A lot of people use it for office catering and lunches. They know what they want and it makes it easy for them to repeat orders.
There's a separate link on our website to go to the ordering and it's very easy to use. Some people still prefer to call and that's always an option. We're happy to take your order by phone.
19. Anything else?
We are planning on opening more locations, packaging our pita chips and popcorn for retail, and marketing our seasoning. We are also considering opening a coffee bar inside the restaurant. There's always something new. Come by and see our great staff, and managers Aletta and Terry, or call us for your next catering needs!