Downtowners will soon have more places to dine al fresco under oak trees weekdays when Friends of Hemming Park launches its cafe Jan. 5.
Open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Charlie’s Cafe will feature a rotating selection of food vendors, from restaurants to food trucks to caterers.
“After studying what the core elements that make a successful public square, one necessary ingredient was always a café,” said Vincent Cavin, executive director for Friends of Hemming Park, the non-profit in charge of the park’s revitalization, in a press release. “This was our first call to action in transforming Hemming Park into a vibrant, urban square.”
Charlie’s Café gets its namesake from Jacksonville Congressman Charles Edward Bennett, who represented the River City in the U.S. House for more than 40 years before his death at the age of 92 in 2003. Friends of Hemming Park chose to name the café after him because a statue of Bennett already exists where the café will be located.
The café will be on the Monroe-Street side of Hemming Park, with a small stage near the corner of Monroe and Laura streets used for music performances during café hours. With moveable table and chairs that will seat up to 64 café patrons (12 to 16 tables daily), this dining initiative will attract lunchtime crowds of Downtown office workers and residents as well as local visitors and out-of-towners.
Although the café doesn’t launch until Monday, new ideas are already in the works. Through a request-for-proposal process, Friends of Hemming Park looks to find a food vendor that will exclusively call the park home, creating a permanent dining establishment in the park. This eatery would ideally feature healthy, reasonably priced cafe-style bites, such as sandwiches, salads and soups, with the menu changing seasonally.
The Friends of Hemming Park team said they plan to select the permanent food vendor in February with set-up beginning in March. It will be mobile starting out, but the team is working to secure a building structure for the to-be-determined vendor. Once the permanent vendor begins operation, café service will then be available seven days a week, including events. Friends of Hemming Park said the name of the café could change once the permanent vendor is chosen.
“I imagine a space that attracts diverse groups to the square,” said Cavin in the press release. “The café is only the first phase of amenities to be added to the park; we’re looking forward to becoming part of Downtown’s culinary experience.”