By Jim Alabiso
I meet Mark Janasik at his new Southern Grounds coffee house in Avondale. He’s the guy sitting at the bar with a smile on his face.
The first Southern Grounds was established in Atlantic Beach when Mark and his team envisioned a way to transform the coffee house experience. I notice straightaway the large “Gather Together” sign on the back-facing wall.
“Instead of being transactional, we wanted people to gather, we wanted hospitality, not just a cup of coffee to go. We wanted to create a sense of community,” says Janasik. I ask how it affects turnover. “I think it’s powerful when people come together and talk. Students come here, office people come here, people set up computers all day long. We don’t require the table to turn like a traditional restaurant. It’s just not in our model. You can have a single coffee all day long or a whole meal.”
Southern Grounds is purposefully airy and bright, no dark corners here. “We wanted the whole place to be energetic and full of life and convey that sense of hospitality as well,” says Janasik. “We are very grateful to Group 4 Design in San Marco. Leigh Gunn and her team have done an amazing job with aesthetics, color, artwork, and tile selection. Everything that makes us who we are, they enhance by the architectural design.”
Jessica White, senior interior designer at Group 4 says, “At Southern Grounds Avondale, the goal of the design team was to create a warm, refined space that fits in with the culture of the neighborhood yet brings something new and fresh to this historic district. Using SoGro San Marco as a starting point, we took the established brand colors and elements and modified them to create a custom palette appropriate for this flagship location.”
Then, of course, there is the coffee. “If you really think about it, the journey is tough,” says Janasik. “You have to make sure everything on the line is thoughtfully prepared. The roasting, the procurement, the relationship with the farmer, the extraction, the water temperature, all plays into how good the coffee is. We really think about drawing out the natural properties and compounds of coffee. The stewardship of that product is essential.”
On the food side of the equation, Janasik’s vision draws inspiration from the Blue Zone. “We try to indulge in simple luxuries that are essential to well-being. Live better, live longer. Our food is sustainable, our procurement is intentional, we try to do the best local ingredients possible. We wanted to transform the way people eat and dine. We are fast casual in our approach, but we have Verlasso sustainable salmon at 12 dollars a pound. We have grass-fed beef from Brasstown, North Carolina and Open Blue cobia from Panama. We are taking intentional measures to make our food program as strong as the coffee program,” says Janasik.
Also evident is the art vibe. Southern Grounds adjoins Missy Riley’s new gallery, Missy Riley Art & Pieces, a curated collection of contemporary art, vintage furniture, and one-of-a-kind pieces handcrafted by skilled artisans. Working in the art world for over 20 years, Riley says her love of art and interiors was the impetus to open what she describes as her jewel box of a shop. Opening the gallery into Southern Grounds is a marriage of art and business. “It brings art into a great space,” says Janasik. “People can come in, see visual art, have great food, bring family and friends, sit and relax, and hear each other talk. The gallery is an extension of this. We feel very grateful that they have partnered with us.”
Southern Grounds features pieces from artists such as Sean Dampier and Heather and Holly Blanton. “We actually started with Holly Blanton at the beach and people raved on promoting the local art scene,” Janasik adds. “Then Holly and Heather started doing shows at our San Marco location.”
Holly recalls Janasik’s visit to her studio in Atlantic Beach. “He came in one morning at like 8 a.m. and he was so positive and sweet and kind. Southern Grounds for me is an opportunity to have my artwork shown in a place that has artsy and interesting people moving through it. It’s almost like having a show all the time that we can change out,” explains Holly.