Columbus restaurateur Mark Jones is not ready to say what his new restaurant will be, but he confirmed late last week he has gained control of one of the prime downtown dining spots.
Jones, who already has four downtown establishments, has signed a deal to take over the food service at The Social, a restaurant and bar at the corner of 11th Street and Broadway that opened in July 2014.
“We feel like it is a great opportunity for us in uptown,” Jones said. “I love the space, I love the way it looks. I think it’s the best corner in uptown.”
The name and concept of the new restaurant will be revealed in the next couple of weeks, Jones said. His role will not include ownership, but instead he will be a “managing consultant,” Jones said.
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On Monday, the new restaurant plans to begin hiring a staff of about 30 people, including servers, bartenders, cooks and hostesses, Jones said.
Brandon Haynes, operating under a long-term lease, converted the building that had been used as a shoe store and theater into an indoor/outdoor restaurant with a rooftop bar and large garage-style doors on the ground floor. Haynes has had two restaurants in the space in two years and both have failed to produce results. It opened as a taqueria and most recently was called Parrilla Del Gaucho, an Argentine steakhouse.
Since its opening, most of the reviews for both restaurants on yelp.com, a popular online restaurant site, have been terrible.
“Don’t do it!!!,” read one review from a man from Walnut Creek, Calif. “Made the mistake of going here before checking out the reviews on Yelp ... except for the dude rating it 5-Stars ... they’re all spot on.”
Stephanie Woodham, Jones’ publicist, said, “One of the main issues we saw coming in was brand reputation the location had acquired since its opening as The Social.”
Woodham’s public relations company, Yalla PR, works in the hospitality and tourism industry.
“We consider the best PR ambassadors to be the servers and the service itself,” she said. “If that portion is broken, it makes the rest extremely difficult. We promise we will not waver on top-line service and delicious food.”
Haynes said that the time had come to move in a new direction.
“We decided to bring in Mark and his team because the areas we failed at since we opened The Social were service, consistent food, wait times, etc,” he said. “Mark and his team have a proven track record of success in all these areas, and his reputation speaks for itself.”
Haynes will operate the upstairs bar, but Jones will consult and provide a limited food menu.
The prize for Jones is the location. Uptown Columbus Inc. President Richard Bishop said it is strategically one of the best spots downtown.
“There is not a more strategic better site in uptown,” he said.
“The sky is the limit,” he said. “Look at the foot traffic, look at the drive-by traffic. There is not a better location for downtown events and the concert series. It is right in the center of the heart.”
Jones, 52, has been one of the most prolific chefs in the Chattahoochee Valley, operating nearly a dozen restaurants under the company Mark Jones Kitchens. He has owned restaurants in Columbus and Harris County since 1995.
The new venture will be the fifth restaurant Jones has either owned or consulted with in downtown Columbus. Other downtown restaurants with Jones’ seal on them are the Black Cow on 12th Street, Plucked Up Chicken on First Avenue and Flip Side Burgers & Tacos and Phillyosophy on Broadway.
His other properties include Mark’s City Grill and Ready-Steak-Go in Columbus; Hunters Pub & Steak House in Hamilton; Aspen’s Mountain Grill in Pine Mountain; and Mark’s Pies & Thighs in Cataula. Before the end of the year, he plans to open a bakery on Second Avenue near Bibb City called Baked & Confused.
Most of his restaurants are themed, and this one will be no different, Jones said. But he is being coy about what will likely be opening at 1047 Broadway before the end of the month.
“We are coming in to try something different,” Jones said.
Pressed on the concept and name, Jones was not forthcoming. Bishop said he can’t divulge the name or concept, either.
“I think without question it will work,” Bishop said. “You have an outstanding operator who can deliver product and service.”
Haynes said he did not consider the move to be “throwing in the towel.”
“We look at it as giving up something to make it 10 times better than it has been under our control,” he said. “We have realized food is not our area of expertise, and who better to lead the charge to making the location something special than Mark Jones.”