The Story Behind Local Restaurant “It” Couple
Ben and Liza Groshell are a dynamo dining team who are veritable local celebrities due to their growing number of go-to restaurants. They became restauranteurs in 1992 with the opening of Marker 32, the highly-rated seafood destination on the intracoastal waterway. Then they began working on a steakhouse concept, but the 2008 economic recession had them rethinking creatively. Ben Groshell saw that at a time when fine dining was suffering, simple comfort food was still thriving. So the couple decided to switch gears and bring to life a concept they had planned for later in their careers – a fish camp.
Living in Ponte Vedra and loving the waterway, they found a small waterfront structure on Roscoe Road in Palm Valley and got permission from a former restaurant owner in the area to use the name Palm Valley Fish Camp.
“Fish camps of the past, the thirties and forties, were places where boats were launched, people would go fish, and at end of the day, bring back their catch and cook it and talk about the day,” Ben told food celebrity Sandra Lee during a video segment she created on the Fish Camps for BBVA Compass Small Business Stories.
“[It] was going to be a very small, mom-and-pop, niche spot in our neighborhood,” explains Liza. The concept worked, and the rest is history, as the community saw two more Fish Camps open in the seven years that followed; each with their own personality but all with the same exceptionally fresh seafood and southern-inspired sides.
While Palm Valley has the appearance of a Florida Cracker-style home, seating a relatively small number of eighty guests amongst buoys, driftwood, and other seafaring bric-a-brac, Neptune Beach’s North Beach Fish Camp is sleeker and roomier, like breathing the fresh salty sea air from the ocean just a few hundred yards away. The most recent addition, Julington Creek Fish Camp, sits on its namesake, a large creek off the St. Johns River that has historically been a fishing haven. This location has the most outdoor seating, perfect for boat-watching. It’s clear that the Groshells responded to the distinct neighborhoods when building their Fish Camps. It’s also clear that the two love the restaurant business, with Ben, a chef, focusing mainly on the kitchens, and Liza, a businesswoman, on the restaurants’ development.
They are people who look to constantly evolve and try new things: When in 2013, their long-time seafood supplier, Safe Harbor Seafood in Mayport, decided to open a restaurant of its own, the Groshells were asked for assistance. And in 2016, the two entities formed a 50/50 partnership in a second Safe Harbor Restaurant on the intracoastal in Jacksonville Beach. The Safe Harbor restaurants are fast casual, with dishes (actually baskets) at a lower price point than the Fish Camps or the high-end Marker 32, and they have the same crowds clamoring to get the straight-out-of-the-water seafood, local produce, and friendly, neighborly vibe found at all the Groshell’s spots.
“As long as I’m around seafood, I’m happy,” says Ben. “Yeah, I had no idea I’d end up in the restaurant business, but I cannot imagine doing anything else,” adds Liza.
Article written by Meredith T. Matthews