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the end of an era
Boomtown’s last supper


      Boomtown is down, but it isn’t out.

      “I’m taking off for a little while. In order to do the restaurant I need training manuals. There isn’t a culinary institute here that teaches technique, so I have to actually make a video about how the sauces are made and the consistencies.”

      Stephen Dare is the self-taught chef at Boomtown, a downtown restaurant that has proven that culinary expertise doesn’t have to come with a snobby attitude. Granted, Boomtown’s cuisine is only a portion of what made Boomtown the success story that it has become, but their food has certainly set them apart from the other restaurants in Hemming Plaza that have tried to stake their claim on Downtown Jacksonville’s culinary legacy.

      “We’ve been discussing franchising opportunities in the Beaches and Arlington.”

      The other things that made Boomtown notable over the past few years are their focus on local theatre and Stephen’s perpetual activism with groups such as metrojacksonville.com. Stephen has been an activist in Jacksonville since the early Five Points days of the mid-nineties, but in the last five to seven years, he has been involved in taking a live theatre and restaurant concept from a private kitchen in a downtown loft apartment to a real business in Springfield, and then one of the most expensive-to-operate restaurants in downtown with business partner John Allen Harrett.

      “I’m throwing myself into theatre stuff. John and I are taking the rest of the summer off, our first vacation in twelve months. I’m throwing myself into sleeping and blogging.”

      Stephen’s activism through Internet blogging intends to bring Metro Jacksonville to the next level.

      “With our email list of 12,000 contacts, it’s not like we’ll run out of gossip.”

      So although Stephen and John are getting out of the entertainment business downtown, they are not getting out of downtown’s business. The Dalton Agency, one of the leading advertising agencies in town, has purchased the building that Boomtown was in, but Boomtown doesn’t intend to disappear quietly into the night.

      “Jacksonville is such a political place. We were looking at Craig VanHorne’s space (9th and Main) but he is so up against the wall for cash that he needed a $36,000 deposit to bring a successful business into his floundering space.”

      Some say that Craig originally took the concept of the 9th and Main space from Stephen and John to begin with, but they’re not bitter about it.

      “We found a perfect location for what we wanted to do, but someone from the neighborhood queered the deal, saying we were being evicted from our current space. Of course this isn’t true, but according to John:

      “Anytime you have any level of success, especially in the indie and arts community, you’re going to have people that are jealous and relationships will go sour.”

      Stephen knows about this separation because for years he was one of the local people that was known for being divisive in this local scene. That was twenty years ago, and now he has learned to try to work with others to create success through numbers rather than through being the quintessential success story on a solo basis.

      “John and a girl in Indiana mellowed me out a little. The ego just gets in the way. I landed with a loud thud from my ego, and even when I was feuding, I still regretted it when I looked back. I liked the people I was feuding with.”

      Right now John and Stephen are both exhausted, so they intend to take full advantage of the time off, but Boomtown is not gone for good. When they re-open, we can expect Nocturnal Escape to return and the theatrical aspects of Boomtown to reclaim the stage, but the restaurant will take some time to come back. It needs to rebuild its reputation and become more manageable for the ownership.

      Because the overhead on an 8,000 square foot restaurant in the middle of Downtown was so expensive, they had to work harder than most to keep the facility operating. In addition to the costs of the theatre and live music space, they had to pay the bills on a vast amount of space that made no money at all for them. So they brought the restaurant concept to life. As it turns out, Stephen Dare is a cook who can hold his own against many a celebrity chef, but he needs his time away from his sauté pan.

      So Boomtown will go into a brief hiatus and when we see it again, it will be more focused on theatre and less on cuisine, but that’s not to say we can’t expect to see cuisine in the future. In fact, one of their key objectives is to bring the restaurant back to multiple venues through franchising, so look for Boomtown dishes all over town in the coming years. But don’t expect to see Stephen spending the rest of his active years slaving over a hot stove. He has a lot to accomplish, and the rich sauce on his pork chops isn’t exactly at the top of his priority list. Look for Boomtown’s comeback after the summer.

      “We say we aren’t going to do the restaurant anymore, but we just purchased a lot of restaurant equipment, so it doesn’t look like we’re really committed to that promise.”

      Look for Boomtown’s re-opening in the Springfield or downtown area after the summer.

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