If you’ve ever wanted to get some insight on new and upcoming restaurants, there’s typically one place you would go. With an ever-growing Facebook fan base (nearly 12k as I type this) and a dedicated food culture community, Jacksonville Restaurant Reviews has paved the way to our very own Flavorville and continues to help foodies connect, share, and of course, review all the eats around Jax. To get a better understanding of what they are about and hear more about their latest venture, virtual cooking classes, I reached out to them on Facebook and got answers from Grace Stoyshich, who was more than happy to spill the tea.

Who started Jacksonville Restaurant Reviews? Why?

Text Box: Jerry Watterson, co-owner of Jacksonville Restaurant Reviews. Image from Facebook

Jerry Watterson founded Jacksonville’s largest food blog, Jax Restaurant Reviews about 6 years ago. After seeing his favorite restaurant at the time close due to its struggle to effectively market itself, Jerry decided to build a platform to get the word out about great locally-owned restaurants. Now with over 80,000 followers on social media and 20,000 monthly website readers, Jax Restaurant Reviews has become a key source for Jax foodies to discover new restaurants and a launchpad to help restaurants market themselves to a key audience. Jerry played poker professionally for over a decade which helped him to understand how others make decisions and apply that to his advantage with JRR. Now almost 6 years from his start, Jax Restaurant Reviews is the hub for all things Jax food-related.

What have been some of the greatest accomplishments over the years?

Transitioning Jax Restaurant Reviews from just a blog to a business that can help local restaurants. In August of 2019, I joined the team as Managing Partner to help elevate the JRR platform and dedicate time to it full-time.

I interned with JRR while in college at UNF. I’ve always been a foodie at heart and decided to reach out and ended up interning for a summer. When Jerry approached me about running the business alongside him, I was honored. With my addition, we launched marketing services to local restaurants to help them better advertise themselves to our huge audience of foodies. After years of being a launchpad for restaurants, we realized we could make a big difference for local spots and through our advertising packages, we’re able to do that. My background in Public Relations and time at Wingard, a local Communications agency, brought an added value to the team. 

In early 2019, we created the FB group “The Scoop with Jax Restaurant Reviews” which has grown to almost 12k people in less than a year. 

Other accomplishments include expanding our blog into other cities such as Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, and more to come. We launched Virtual Cooking Classes recently to stay connected with our followers and also help local restaurants. And lastly, we’re launching a podcast very soon called Chef’s Tell Stories, which is exactly what it sounds like. We sat down with chef’s and just talked to them. We’re super excited to release that!

You’ve done several top food categories but which one has been your absolute favorite? What are some restaurants that you have in your go-to list?

Our Top Food lists are always a blast to do. One of my personal favorites is probably tacos. We tried over 23 taco places in the span of a weekend and when we do these lists we really physically go and try every single one before making our final ranks. Tacos were so much fun because we ended up at places we’d never heard of or seen and found some amazing tacos we’ll never forget. 

Ravioli with Scallops From Catullo’s

My go-to’s vary week by week because we’ve tried so many things and so many places, it’s hard to keep track of a setlist. Current faves include Catullo’s, 1748 Bakehouse, Khloe’s Kitchen, Hungry Owl, and Orsay.

Text Box: Happy Hour From Orsay
Happy Hour From Orsay

As you mentioned, and I’ve seen, you all are doing your part and collaborating with different chefs to start virtual cooking classes, can you expand on that? Do you see this being a continuous thing or for the time being?

We launched Learn From Chef’s a series of virtual cooking classes just a few weeks ago shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We were thinking of ways to 1. Help our local restaurants and chef’s and 2. Create revenue to keep JRR alive. People are spending more time in their homes than ever now so we knew it’d be something virtual. After speaking with a few chefs who seemed on board and excited about teaching classes, we went for it. So far we’ve done 10 classes and they are a hit! We team up with a local Chef and have them teach a 2-hour class where folks can cook along with the chef or just watch the show. Guests get a keepsake recipe card and the best part is that the classes are only $15. Some chef’s we’ve featured include Dennis Chan of Blue Bamboo, Ashley Amin of Fusion Food Truck, and local celebrity chef Kenny Gilbert. 

Chef Dennis Chan, image from bluebamboojacksonville.com/

We’ve got a couple of classes coming up with Chef Rebecca Reed, Corporate Pastry Chef of Black Sheep Restaurant Group, and also Chef Dennis Chan. People can check out all the upcoming classes at Learnfromchefs.com. 

When we first launched the virtual classes, we were definitely thinking it was a new thing. But, as we keep hosting them, we’re finding that people are really enjoying these classes. We’re thinking we’ll continue to host these post-COVID-19 but maybe not as frequently. 

With all that’s going on, what are some ways that people can help local businesses/restaurants?

Obviously this is a very rough time for restaurants and we’ve found ourselves having to adjust in ways we didn’t see coming. What we’re encouraging people to do is continue to support their local restaurants and small businesses in any way they can. Whether it’s participating in #TakeoutTuesday, sharing their takeout menu on social media, or purchasing gift cards, try to do one or two things each week to support a local spot. It’s very important during this time as a lot of our restaurants may not survive this. Another great way to help is to share your experience. If you ordered takeout and had a wonderful experience, share it with your friends and family. Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to help send more folks their way. Be mindful and patient with our businesses right now as well. They experienced this change just as drastically as we all did which means it may take some time for them to figure things out and perfect their new ways. Be kind.