On the corner of West Duval and North Hogan streets sits a stately building with expansive columned porches. Built in 1903, the Seminole Club was the seventh oldest men’s social club in the U.S. Teddy Roosevelt even once gave a campaign speech here.
“It was a gathering place for Jacksonville’s civic and business leaders for nearly a century,” Wayne Wood, author of “Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage: Landmarks for the Future,” said.
But since 1990, this fixture in the local social scene has stood silent and still. Empty, until late last year when the results of a sweet deal between Sweet Pete’s, the Wonka-esque Springfield confectioner, and Marcus Lemonis, entrepreneur and financier, came to life.
Sweet Pete’s appeared on Lemonis’ CNBC show, “The Profit.” Episode 206 of season two paints a vivid picture of a married couple running a business, at a loss, purely out of the passion and love for candy. In typical reality-TV style the show dramatizes several reasons the company is struggling, one being the limitations of their small Springfield neighborhood location. On the show, Lemonis makes an offer to help turn their business around by investing $750,000 in working capital and a new facility, for a 50-percent stake in the company.
“We had a number in our heads we knew we had to get in order for us to take the deal,” said Pete’s wife, and Sweet Pete’s co-owner, Allison Behringer. “His offer exceeded that number by quite a bit, and he’s since contributed much more without ever asking for more equity. It’s been life changing.”
Months following the April airing of that made-for-TV offer, Lemonis’ investment brought this quiet old building to life.
“At first, Marcus wasn’t sure this was the right place for us. His hesitance was that he knew the remodel would be challenging,” said Behringer. “But we’re not a Town Center kind of company. We really wanted to be a part of changing downtown, and when he saw where our hearts were, he wanted to be a part of that revitalization process, too.”
With $3 million poured into the purchase and renovation of the building, the old abandoned Seminole Club has crystallized into a colorful, upscale downtown destination. This revived three-story, 23,000 square-foot mixed-use facility features Sweet Pete’s retail store, a full-candy production facility, candy-making class space, a 95-seat restaurant and bar called the Candy Apple Café, a full ice cream and dessert bar and an entire floor of rentable event space.
“Allison wanted a photo opportunity in every corner, and there is. Every part of the building is an eye-catching space,” said Jennifer Earnest, partner at Candy Apple Café. The interior, designed by Laura of Pembroke out of Ohio, transports visitors into an elegant, but whimsical, candy land. “It’s where Dr. Suess and Willy Wonka might come to have a drink after work.”
During the transition, the renovation and design team worked with the the city’s historic preservation specialists to keep the integrity of the building and highlight some of its character. The entry hallway’s original wooden floors and wood paneling are juxtaposed with striking colorful and contemporary details that seep out of doorways on the left and right. More than 20 unique light fixtures and brilliant chandeliers drip from the ceiling in every room, hallway and staircase.
The railing of the outside wrap-around porch was rebuilt to match the original look, but new Napoleon-style chairs drenched in hues of orange, blue and pink are a bright visual cue to every passerby that this place hasn’t yet seen the height of its heyday.
“This building has a lot of history in Jacksonville and we are all so inspired by the idea of bringing events and dining back into it,” Earnest said.