When Hurricane Irma finally reached Jacksonville, the category one hurricane was supposed to be fairly mild. While that may have been true for some areas in Northeast Florida, those along the St. Johns river, like San Marco and downtown, were especially hit hard. Tidal changes, surging water and wind quickly became a recipe for disaster as the river began pouring into homes and businesses along the riverfront.
Bistro Aix was one of the many San Marco businesses to be devastated by the flooding from Hurricane Irma, but it sure didn’t keep them down long. The iconic Jacksonville restaurant recently reopened to the public for the first time since Irma hit, and the folks at Bistro Aix, including co-owner Jacques Klempf, invited us out to their reopening last week.
After having a scrumptious meal there, it seems like they’ll continue on just fine despite the extensive damage caused by over two feet of standing water. To get a better idea of what went into the rebuild of Bistro Aix, I asked Jacques a few questions about what happened last September.
Give me some background on the extent of the hurricane damage. What happened?
Once Hurricane Irma breached the river wall, we had an average of 28 inches of water throughout the building. It was a total devastation as furnishings were ruined, equipment and finishes throughout the restaurant were ruined, too.
What were the immediate thoughts after the flooding/damage? Was there any worry that this would be the end for Bistro Aix?
We were very concerned about our employees and how in the world would we be able to retain the staff. Luckily, Cowford Chophouse was about to open and we were able to take on many of the employees. Absolutely, the thought did go through our heads that we may not be able to reopen Bistro Aix, based on all of the damage, and not knowing at that time what insurance would cover and what would the direct costs to the owners would be. Thankfully, our landlord and construction team were eager to help in any way, and the landlord’s insurance has helped reduce our out-of-pocket costs. We knew very early that we had the right support team in place to bring Bistro Aix back to life.
Tell me a little about the restoration process, what all did you guys do and what major changes were there?
We refinished all of the classic gothic chairs, which are iconic to Bistro Aix, with a lighter, sanded-down finish. All of the colors are lighter and more airy throughout with additional refinished floors. We also changed the 40-seat private dining room, with 65-inch TVs and an updated color scheme throughout with soft grays and white. All of the chairs and banquettes were refinished and reupholstered. We also removed the pastry case and put a 10-top table in that same space.
How has the neighborhood of San Marco dealt with the challenges from the storm? Do you think the area has been supportive to one another?
I cannot speak for all of San Marco, but the storm dealt a huge blow to many of the small businesses and devastated many families that were displaced, as well. San Marco is a very beautiful area with so many historic homes. It has been encouraging to see neighbors help each other over the last several months. So many guests reached out to let us know that they couldn’t wait to come back to Bistro Aix. We hope that our reopening encourages other business owners and residents in the area.
Are there any other major changes people should know about?
The menu has many of the same classic dishes (including the blue cheese chips, steak frites and shrimp tagliatelle) that made Bistro Aix such a wonderful restaurant! We sought to update the look, while keeping the same signature design details, service and cuisine that have made this restaurant a landmark in the Jacksonville community. We’re also happy to introduce an updated bar menu, happy hour and private dining options for group events.
See more photos of their rebuild below.