After nearly a decade as the executive chef of Newport Beach’s A Restaurant and CdM Restaurant, and most recently the chef-owner of Fork and Knife along 17th Street in Costa Mesa, Jonathan Blackford—named the Business Journal’s Chef of the Year in 2021—has his sights elsewhere.
He and his wife are packing up and moving to the East Coast.
“We just bought a house in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, about 20 minutes from downtown Jacksonville,” Blackford said last month, before shuttering Fork and Knife.
Real estate is much more reasonable there, and so is opening a restaurant, he said.
“I met with developers there, they are excited about new people coming into the city. They are putting a lot of money into infrastructure, building high rises, bringing in a decommissioned battleship as a museum. They have so many projects going on.”
Add to that list a new restaurant for Blackford.
“We will probably open our first restaurant near the beach by the end of the year. I’m excited about that. Our second restaurant will be in the city. This gets me back in to restaurants, and that’s what I want to do. I love restaurants. I want to have five or six restaurants, and different concepts. I like pushing myself.”
Blackford says the cost of doing business in California is a primary reason for his decision to switch coasts.
“The last five years in California has really changed. They have been passing laws making it difficult for small businesses,” Blackford states.
“I lost a line cook to a restaurant that was paying $28 an hour. I can’t compete with that. I am in the realm of $18 to $20. Minimum wage in Florida is $11 an hour, and a really solid line cook makes $16 to $19 an hour, and lives well. Our house we bought was half of the price we sold our house here for, and double the size. And it’s new.”
“Here it’s a 3% to 5% profit margin, there it’s a 10% to 15% margin,” he added.
Blackford estimates that opening a restaurant in Southern California takes $3 million to $5 million, or more.
He estimates he can open his first Florida restaurant with an initial investment of about $300,000.
“I like to cook and create and come up with new things, instead of doing paperwork and bills and payroll, and working with one or two cooks because that’s what we can afford,” said Blackford about running Fork and Knife. “It did its duty for COVID. We had great customers, they have been super supportive.”
Blackford will no doubt acquire new supportive customers in Florida.
I’ll report back on Blackford after he opens his initial Jacksonville restaurant.