Sunday, April 17, 2016

Record Touts New Restaurant, Slights History, Page One on Sunday

Leave it to the St. Augustine Record to omit significant details from a page one Sunday article touting a new restaurant, in a building owned by DAVID BARTON CORNEAL:

New restaurant at site of old M&M Market give neighborhood new feel, taste
Posted: April 16, 2016 - 11:41pm | Updated: April 17, 2016 - 7:28am

In a building he wouldn’t have entered 10 years ago, chef Brian Whittington is basking in the transformation of a historic place that he hopes will have an impact on an entire part of town.

Whittington is the owner/operator of Preserved Restaurant at 102 Bridge St., former site of the infamous M&M Market in Lincolnville. He said he’s thrilled to be part of a positive change in the neighborhood he’s serving.

“I think it’s in the beginning stages of really being something (great),” Whittington said of the area. “I think a lot of people recognize this area is up and coming. Over the next five years, it’s going to transform into something different. A lot of people are going to see what it’s become.”

Just adding Preserved to Bridge Street is a pretty drastic change.

The restaurant occupies the first floor of the three-story building, seating about two dozen customers inside a homey but elegant dining room and another dozen or so on the wraparound porch. More seating will soon be added in a small courtyard.

A building once housing a seedy convenience store that was shut down by police in 2010 has been refurbished and returned to its glory as a place befitting former resident Maria Jefferson Shine — great-granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson.

After the market was shut down, the city purchased the property with the intention of selling it to someone willing to revitalize it. There were several bids by those proposing a variety of uses, but the eventual winner was David Corneal, who bought it for $225,000.

Corneal promised some kind of restaurant or coffee shop for the first floor, with rentals of apartments above.

While renovating the property, Corneal also acquired the former Dow Museum of Historic Houses of St. Augustine just down the road. He’s converting that property into an inn.

With so much going on, Corneal decided to lease the building at 102 Bridge St. to a restaurateur and, after some negotiations, settled on Whittington.

“I decided I didn’t have the time or the expertise to run a restaurant,” Corneal said. “I looked for a chef who would lease the property. I’m thrilled with his work, with what he’s presenting. It’s turning out to be a fabulous connection for both he and I.”

The city’s initial decision to acquire the property and the deal to sell to Corneal were somewhat controversial at the time. But Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline, who was on the commission at the time, said she’s pleased to see how it worked out.

“We’re just happy to see the building put into service in a positive way,” she said. “It’s really helped turn the neighborhood around. We wanted to be sure whoever had it was a good fit.”


In 2010, after an eight-month investigation, the St. Augustine Police Department executed a search warrant at the M&M Market, seizing all assets and closing the business. One of the owners, Raj Patel, 20, pleaded no contest to charges of sale of cocaine, sale of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a place or worship or convenience business, money laundering and public assistance fraud. Patel was sentenced to five years in prison.

The argument by those in favor of buying the property was that the City Commission would be able to select the kind of business proposal that would most benefit the neighborhood and the city overall. It was the best way to erase the stain of crime and help change the vibe of the neighborhood, they reasoned.

Former Mayor Joe Boles said he was confident that city was doing the right thing by purchasing the property in 2010.

Now that a quality restaurant is open and the building has been restored, Boles said the corner is now hugely improved from what it used to be.

“It’s so wonderful for residents of Lincolnville to be able to walk to a fine restaurant rather than (to a place of) violence and drug sales,” he said.

Current Mayor Nancy Shaver is a Lincolnville resident who was not in office when the decisions about the property were being made. However, she said she’s familiar with the history of the building and glad to see the change.

“I’m delighted this revitalization is taking place,” she said.

The goal for Whittington now is to turn all the goodwill into a sustainable business. The restaurant started opening for dinner a week ago — but is always closed on Monday. It is Whittington’s intention to open for lunch and Sunday brunch as well, but he doesn’t have a firm starting date yet.

Whittington, who took about nine months to get the restaurant ready to open after signing the agreement with Corneal, said he’s been thrilled with the staff he’s been able to assemble. That includes local hospitality veterans Jem Fromant and Francesca Cooper.

“Somehow we got extremely lucky here, ended up getting really good staff, not only in the front but in the back as well,” Whittington said.

He said they’ve helped him create positive early impressions for the customers.

So far those patrons have enjoyed the style of food that Whittington calls Southern cuisine “with a little bit of French.” They can select dishes such as shrimp and grits, fresh fish, and even a side of macaroni and cheese.

Whittington said it was important to offer the kind of fare in the type of atmosphere that is appropriate for the neighborhood.

“It’s big that we’re inside a community, so I think doing anything in the community that wouldn’t fit, to me, would be kind of an injustice to it,” he said. “There’s a lot of Southern culture here, so a lot of our dishes have Southern staples in them.

“At the end of the day, we’re just trying to make the guests happy.”


Morris1 04/17/16 - 11:10 am 20Gentrification
I'm conflicted about the "revitalization" of Lincolnville.

On one hand, I remember that area during some real low points in the 80's and 90's. It's hard to argue against any improvement. On the other hand, it's a historically significant black area that goes back to right after the Civil War. That whole aspect is being wadded up and thrown away because it has such desirable proximity to the historic district.

Charleston has faced this exact same issue and it hasn't been pretty, having sustained real cultural loss. I just don't know if there's anything we can do since market forces are what they are.

Archer 04/17/16 - 11:09 am 20Best Wishes, Chef Whittington!
Please try not to comp David Corneal on every meal. He'll eat you into the poor house.

eaglewatch 04/17/16 - 12:38 pm 20Great improvement!
This is a statement @ Morris- First, Lincolnville was owned by whites!! Lets don't get the facts or history confused! Lincolnville eventually turned black after whites died and/or moved away! The whole Lincolnville story has a time line that dates back to the early to mid 1800s.. Do your research! Now as far as the revitalization is concerned- its good for both blacks and whites who reside in this neighborhood!! I very well remember hearing gunshots, drug dealing, loudness, even prostitution at that corner! The problem, as I see it, is that homes were not maintained, crime and drugs moved in, and the neighborhood went into shambles! Still lots of work to be done.

So kudas (sic) to the improvements for both black and white! The restaurant brings a much needed and welcome change to the area! And I hear the food is great!

JoeJoe 04/17/16 - 12:45 pm 02Advertisement
Does this business have to pay for this article? If so, good luck to them in their venture. If not, what about the other restaurants that aren't picked for an article? It is like the ice plant deal, every other week there is a "story" about them.

Its not fair to make a pre Civil War comparison about what was 'owned by whites'. I'll let you figure that one out for yourself.

As far as the rest of the stuff, we mostly agree. That was a very rough area for a while in the not too distant past and a lot of those buildings had fallen into total disrepair. The "revitalization" has taken the better part of two decades but it's finally here, full steam, and had it never come, a lot of those buildings would be torn down by now. Gentrification does come at a cost, though, and we shouldn't pretend it doesn't.

While certain aspects of Lincolville's recent history are gritty (especially as an outsider looking in), it still represents a 150 year old local community and culture that at this rate, won't exist in another couple decades. While that might be good for "property values" or "crime rate" or "revitalization" or whatever other codewords we use for displacing lower income black folks from geographical areas of increasing desirability, it sucks for the people who have to watch their community run through the wringer like that.

A random 40 year old man who grew up in St Augustine Beach and a random 40 year old man who grew up in Lincolnville may have more or less in common but one conversation they could certainly have with total mutual understanding are the changes that have befallen St Aug and how much we miss the way things used to be- warts and all- before everyone moved here, took our town over and "improved" it.

eaglewatch 04/17/16 - 01:50 pm 00@ morris
I love logical disagreements- First off, I think political correctness is a weakness! I'm a straight shooter. So, for you to say:

While that might be good for "property values" or "crime rate" or "revitalization" or whatever other codewords we use for displacing lower income black folks from geographical areas of increasing desirability, it sucks for the people who have to watch their community run through the wringer like that."

Run through the ringer? Where are you from and how long have you lived here? You obviously do not know what being "run through the ringer" really means- Shots fired, drug distribution, well-fare fraud, prostitution- What kind of neighborhood is that for kids or families of any race?

Morris1 04/17/16 - 02:07 pm 00I'm a St Aug native. That hand won't play.
Gentrification is not without its benefits, the biggest one being that the 'clean up' process involves displacing the dregs who engaged in those kinds of activities.

It also displaces families and demolishes what was once a vibrant community with deep roots.

St Augustine Beach had quite a 'drug problem' in the 1980's, too. We also had bonfires and parties on the beach, everyone knew their neighbors, rents were affordable and sure, the off-pickup truck full of rednecks might go flying down the beach and fire off a few rounds into the drink, overall, it was our culture that was completely destroyed so a bunch of idiots from someplace else could have a sterilized area to buy a retirement condo.

Crowing about whatever crime exists in a given low income black community as a justification for essentially destroying that same community through the gentrification process seems to be the stock argument from people who may have ulterior ideologies. That's fine. I'm simply pointing out that there is another side to the story that isn't being told by folks who insist all's well because there used to be hookers on that corner but LOOK NOW AT THIS AWESOME NEW MICROBREWERY!

eaglewatch 04/17/16 - 02:22 pm 00Morris-
You're a St. Aug Beach resident! Mostly white people there- Homes in Lincolnville were built by whites well into the 20th century- mine was built in the 20s, my neighbors was built in the 40s. So the argument of this being a black built community is hugely false!

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