10 Questions about Maple Street Biscuit Company with Scott Moore & Gus Evans
1. Tell us about Maple Street Biscuit Company.
It's a local, independent shop featuring Southern comfort food, with a modern twist. Everything's built around our flaky biscuit.
…what do you mean by a "modern twist?"
Normally you think of biscuits with sausage and bacon, and we do have that, but the bacon we're using is a pecan-smoked bacon. It has a really nice flavor and a little different texture. It's actually smoked bacon and you can see the smoked ring around it. We have a sandwich called the Loaded Goat, which is a biscuit with fried chicken. The chicken has a nice, crunchy crust, and we've added a little kick to the breading. On top of the chicken is a goat cheese medallion, with the biscuit on top of that. Goat cheese is very popular - it happens to be one of my favorites - and the goat cheese medallion is a great way to serve it but you typically wouldn't do that with biscuits.
2. How did you come up with your biscuit recipe?
The internet has a world of information. We started doing a lot of research online about what good chefs did, what other bakers did, and what worked well. Then we started practicing to see what works. We changed around ingredients and how we did things. We've been working on a biscuit recipe for almost 5 months. Every Thursday night we'd have people over to the house. We had a spreadsheet where people could grade our biscuit on taste, appearance, structure, and flakiness. They could also give us overall feedback. We just kept working on it and perfecting it until we think we got a really good, fluffy biscuit. We knew we'd found it when my neighbor came over and bowed down in the front yard and said "I worship the biscuit kings."
3. Any idea of how many batches you went through?
We went through a LOT! My next door neighbors were mad at me because it seems we ruined any chance they had of staying on their diet program. We use nothing but real butter on the biscuits.
4. What's the secret to a great biscuit?
Gus: It's a couple of things. When we were originally working on the recipes, many called for sugar. I thought that if we had maple syrup going on top of the biscuit and we're called Maple Street, then I should do some tests with maple syrup in the biscuit. So, I tried it out and the flavor was great. It was easy to work with. It really worked out. So, having maple syrup is one of our tricks. Another is that we freeze the butter and then shred it. When you put the biscuits in the oven the butter pops and that creates air pockets in the biscuit making it fluffy and airy. You can see layers within the biscuit. Those are two secrets. I'm not going to give out anything else.
5. How did you come up with the concept for Maple Street Biscuit Company?
Both of our jobs went away in the last half year and we started to think about what we wanted to do. My wife and I had gone to Portland, Oregon and there's a restaurant there that 3 guys from North Carolina had opened up. It was built around a biscuit. We thought it was really neat. They had started at a farmer's market, got a little following, and opened their first store. They have since opened a second store. They do a really good job. My wife and I went to both places and enjoyed the food. Here we were without a job looking for what the next step should be. We were inspired with what we saw. Gus came to me after I shared what we'd seen and told me he'd like us to work on this together. We thought the shop in Portland was great on the west coast but would be even better on the east coast, especially in the South where we love biscuits. We came back and started working on the biscuit recipe until we perfected it. That was the inspiration for us and we worked on making it something we think the South will appreciate. In Portland they were doing plain biscuits whereas we're doing a wider variety of flavors and some sweet biscuits. For example, we have a cinnamon chip pecan biscuit with a cream cheese icing drenched over it.
6. Have you owned a restaurant before? What attracted you to a restaurant?
About 15 years ago, when we lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee we opened up a little, local, community type store that my wife ran called The Bagel Market. We made bagels from scratch and baked them fresh every day. We had it for 6 years before we sold it so I knew something of what it took, and had a good experience previously. I've also been in the retail, food grocery business for 20 years. I was responsible for learning and development with Fortune 500 grocery retail chains and I was responsible for training people in delis, bakeries and food service departments. Gus has been in construction for the past 10 years so this will be a bit of a new adventure for him.
7. Gus, can you tell us a little about your background?
Gus: My background is building construction management. I am from Jacksonville, FL - born and raised on the west side. My parents still live there. My grandparents live there too - they have since the '50s. I graduated from Bolles High School. I got a 2-year degree at FCCJ followed by a Building Management degree from UNF.
I have always enjoyed being in the kitchen, working with my mom, my grandmother, and my wife but I've never worked in a restaurant. It's something that excites me. I like to prepare things for people. It's something I enjoy doing.
…what attracted you to Maple Street Biscuit Company?
I lost my job about 6 months ago. In praying and talking to Scott and my wife we wanted to do everything we could to stay in Jacksonville. We didn't want to move to find a construction job elsewhere in the state or in the country. I was willing to do anything to stay in Jacksonville. This opportunity with Scott seemed like a perfect fit. I love doing it so I told Scott I was interested in going in with him to make it work. Fortunately Scott agreed after we took the weekend to pray about it and to seek God about it. It all worked out from there.
8. Where did you get the name for your restaurant?
We had 3 things that are core to our concept that we wanted to represent in our name:
1. Great comfort food, freshly made.
2. Great guest services.
3. A comfortable atmosphere.
We started with a whole list of names and did a survey with a bunch of people. I was drawn to the idea of maple. We were going to use real maple syrup in our biscuits and some of our other recipes. We had partnered with Bissell Family Farms, a local, family owned farm in Ohio. They've been making home made maple syrup for almost 150 years. We started surveying people and Maple Street started coming back as the best name. We asked if they'd be confused if it wasn't on Maple Street. They weren't, and Maple Street Biscuit Company overwhelmingly came back as the winner. Interestingly, my wife did some research on Maple Street and found out that maybe one of the reasons it resonates with this natural, homey feel is that both Andy Griffith and Leave It To Beaver lived on Maple Street.
9. How did you choose your location in San Marco?
Gus: Scott lives in Avondale and I live in Venetia. We thought that the concept we were trying to put across would work well in an historic area. We did an exhaustive search. One of our wives was driving through San Marco and saw a "for lease" sign and that was the end of our search.
10. How big will the restaurant be?
It will have 48 seats. It's just under 2400 square feet.
The model is built to be like a comfortable community store. It's counter service where you walk up to place and pick up your order. But we're not calling names. Every month we're going to have a different question you'll answer and that will be your order name. For example we'll ask, "what's your favorite rock band?" If you like Rush, then, when you're order is ready we'll call out "the Rush is ready." That can lead to people talking about seeing them in concert or mentioning that Rush is also their favorite band. There's a sense of connection that gets created.
Next month the question might be "where did you take your last vacation?" Every month it will be something a little bit different.
We have a 12 foot table that seats 14 people community-style, where you can sit and get to know people. There's also smaller tables if you want a separate area for your family or yourself.
We have a sign on the table that tells people that we appreciate 3 things:
1. We appreciate them supporting local, small business.
2. Thanks for busing your own table; and
3. Thanks for letting us know anywhere we can improve.
11. Will your menu be set or rotating?
There will be some seasonal items. We currently have hand-made apple butter and we'll be introducing our hand-made pumpkin butter. You grill a biscuit and put that on…it's really good.
12. Who designs the menu going forward?
Gus: We work together on the menu. With our wives too. We've had several different variations of the sandwiches. Different presentations, different versions of each sandwich. This is what we've come up with - thus far.
13. What can you recommend to someone who wants to experience the essence of Maple Street Biscuit Company?
I would start by recommending they have The Five. It's called that because it has 5 things on it - the biscuit, fried chicken, pecan smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and then sausage gravy drenched on top of that.
I'd also recommend the Smokey Mountain Mac and Cheese. It's was a big, big hit in the testing we did. It's five cheeses blended together. One of those is a smoky gouda. When you taste it you think bacon may be in it, but it's not. It's that smokiness coming through the gouda cheese. It's very cheesy and has a baked breadcrumb crust on top so there's the softness and the crunch together. It's just very enjoyable.
14. After all the testing, what's your favorite biscuit?
Gus: mine's the Squawk on the Street with our home made pepper jelly. I'm also partial to the Garden Bird, made with fried chicken, collard greens and a fried egg with hot sauce on it.
Scott: mine's The Loaded Goat. I'm just partial to goat cheese. When you put that on top of the fried chicken which has a little kick to it, it wins me over.
15. When you're not eating at Maple Street Biscuit Company where do you like to eat in Jacksonville?
Scott: My favorite of all is Biscotti's.
Gus: I'll second that.
Scott: They do a great job. They create a great experience for you. It has that foodie type atmosphere. That's my top choice. When people want to give me a gift card for a restaurant that's the one they give me.
16. Can you tell us about your coffee?
We're working with a local roaster. It's two guys, Bob and James, who have been roasting in Mandarin for the past 6 years. They're going to fresh roast 4 different varieties for us every week. Every morning we'll grind the beans - so it's about the freshest cup of coffee you're going to get. Roasted within a week, ground within a day.
17. Anything else you'd like to add about the food?
We try to buy everything locally where we can. We already talked about the coffee. There's also a local honey place called Cross Creek. The owner graduated from UF. She sells her honey down at Riverside Arts Market most weeks. We'll be using her honey here.
We also have two desserts - pecan pie and apple pie. It's my wife who worked out the recipes for us. She learned from her mother, who had the recipes passed down from her mother. My wife's grandmother never measured anything so my wife had to work out the exact recipe for us. For the last 30 years I've not had a birthday cake because my wife's pies are so good that she makes me birthday pies. They're about as good as you can get. The crust is flaky and made from scratch. We're going to serve them in a smaller version here.
18. What were some of the biggest surprises along the way to opening Maple Street Biscuit Company?
Scott: the first thing I did was to meet with Loren Chancey who is a restaurant consultant. He'd worked with the Health Department before. He knows all the steps you have to go through to open a restaurant. I don't know everything and I know I don't know. My thought process was to work with someone who does know. Loren listed out 15 steps which included licensing, inspections, certifications that have to happen, and so on. I hired Loren and he's been with us throughout the process. I wouldn't open a restaurant without him. He's helped us step by step so we didn't get caught off guard. If we hadn't had him I'd be so frustrated at this point.
19. What's been the biggest challenge?
We put a pretty aggressive timeline on ourselves. We wanted to get the place open within 6 weeks from when we got the lease. We've also not done a lot of marketing yet because we've been so focused elsewhere.
A big challenge would have been managing all the contractors we've had but Gus comes from construction as a project manager so he's taken that on along with the menus and recipes.