The Milestone at Marker 32

Celebrating Ben and Liza Groshell and their restaurant endeavor

By Laura Riggs

More than half of all restaurants will fail in their first year of business, and roughly 80 percent close within three to five years after opening. The ones that make it past the five-year mark will often stay open for at least a decade, but restaurants that stay open longer than 10 years are a rare gem. For independently owned restaurants, the hill is a much steeper climb. Although independent establishments have more creative offerings and a stronger sense of community, chains often have the advantage of buying power, brand recognition, and funding, making it easier to withstand market shifts.

Against all odds, Marker 32 has remained a staple in the Jacksonville food scene for over 30 years. When they opened in July of 1992, proprietors Ben and Liza Groshell had no idea they would survive two recessions, a pandemic, five renovations, and an expansion. Over that time, the Groshells not only nurtured the longest-standing fine dining restaurant in the city, but they also opened seven other beloved dining experiences, raised three children, and are now grandparents of twins. 

“I was just learning the business, literally hands-on training here at Marker 32,” Liza says. “And I was pregnant with our older son Jacob, who’s 29 now. I would be here answering the phone during the day; sometimes, you would hear a baby crying in the background. I remember the kids spending their summer vacations right out back at Marker, helping me fold napkins and menus and all kinds of things. They grew up in the restaurant.”

“It truly was a mom-and-pop place, even back then,” Ben adds.

Initially constructed as a small home in the early 20th century, Marker 32 has experienced many transformations throughout the years. Sometime around World War I, the house evolved into the Acoustic Lake Fish Camp, nestled next to what once was a pristine, clear sand bottom lake, and a train track ran where Beach Boulevard exists today. During the 1930s, the lake was dredged to make way for the construction of CR-212, and the area became an extension of the Intracoastal Waterway. Around it, the neighborhood grew, more businesses moved in, and chain restaurants began popping up. The view, however, remains stunning, and Marker 32 has thrived.

As the kids grew, the Groshells began planning for their next location. “We wanted something smaller that we could still manage when we got older,” Liza explains. “We found a spot in Palm Valley and opened our first Fish Camp in 2008,” says Ben. “Next came the North Beach Fish Camp,” he adds. “It wasn’t even on our radar until the landlord had dinner at Palm Valley and approached us about opening a spot just steps from the Atlantic Ocean in 2012.” 

Soon after, the couple launched four more concepts, including two more fish camps, one in Julington Creek and the other in Saint Augustine. “It’s important for us to support the neighborhoods that support us,” Liza notes. “Each fish camp blends into its surroundings and gives identity to the community.” Just up from the Palm Valley Fish Camp, the Groshells opened their first BBQ concept, Valley Smoke, along with a more casual seafood spot, now known as Dockside Seafood, just across the Intracoastal from Marker 32. 

Early on, they realized that each of the restaurants was getting a different quality of seafood than Ben expected, so the team procured a fish house. Known as Southern Provisions, the centralized commissary allowed them to create more efficient product sourcing and establish the consistency in products for which their establishments are known. The company is passionate about supporting purveyors from the Sunshine State to serve locally sourced meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables at all their locations. It also means they can purchase in advance, which has insulated them a bit from supply chain fluctuations, further protecting the quality of their product.

All locations are incorporated under the Southern Table Hospitality Group. Ben runs the back of the house, and Liza focuses on the front. They have a dedicated team of people, many have worked with the Groshells for 15-20 years, establishing them as a leader in delicious, seafood-focused cuisine. “I enjoy the back of the house with all the chefs,” Ben shares. “The camaraderie with those guys, having walked in their shoes, I can see what they need.”

 “I enjoy running the front-of-the-house operations, and I have an obsession with construction, evidently,” Liza laughs. She has led the design and buildout for all locations and overseen each renovation.

Although the group now operates eight restaurants, soon to be nine with Billy Jack’s BBQ on Heckscher Drive, Southern Table remains a family-run business. The couple recently helped guide their sons with the opening of AB Kitchen in Atlantic Beach. “Our oldest son went to Flagler. He’s been in and out of the business helping us through our fish house and in the restaurant helping with the front of the house,” Ben comments. “And our younger son, Nicholas, went to the same school I attended in New York, so he runs the kitchen. They’re having fun with it.”

“Our daughter just had twins,” Liza smiles. “She went to Auburn and got her degree in hospitality. She’s helped us with wine programs and helps me ensure the restaurants are doing well. We tried to encourage the kids to try other avenues, but the more they tried other things, the more they realized they love this business as much as we do.”

The ability to succeed in the long run necessitates a love for genuine hospitality, passion, a clear vision, flexibility, and humility. The Groshell’s relentless pursuit of excellence in all stages, from planning to testing to operating and a deep connection with the community has given Jacksonville a delightful product and excellent service day after day. “Hospitality, integrity, professionalism, dedication, discipline, and innovation are the core values we stand by,” Ben remarks. Their approach to hospitality fosters long-term customer loyalty and allows them to thrive year after year, decade after decade.

14549 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville Beach; Monday – Saturday 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; (904) 223-1534

Author: Arbus

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