F E A T U R E D R E S T A U R A N T
With a courtyard on the bayfront and
New Orleans style specialties and seafood,
Harry’s sets the standard for downtown dining.
By Wendy White Philcox, Publisher
What started initially in 1987 as a 20-seat limited-menu raw bar at the entrance of the newly opened Jacksonville Landing is now a thriving collection of five full service restaurants located throughout Florida. With locations in Gainesville, Lakeland, Tallahassee, and Ocala, “Harry’s St. Augustine location leads the pack in terms of revenues,” comments managing partner Jesse Jabot. “And that has everything to do with our brick courtyard right on the bayfront.”
The two-story historic building located right on St. Augustine’s historic bayfront is the perfect complement to the restaurant’s theme and menu—Cajun and Creole specialties with a focus on fresh local seafood.
The restaurant was founded inititally by two brothers—Greg and Louis Saig who were inspired to adopt the New Orleans theme from one of their first employees who hailed from the region. Not long after they founded the concept, Jeff Jabot came on board as the first opening general manager of the St. Augustine location, which opened in 1995. As Jeff became more involved in development of new locations in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida and eventually a partner in the company, his twin brother Jesse took the helm of the St. Augustine location and today is the current vice president of the company.
The Saig brothers and Jeff Jabot expanded into yet another restaurant concept—Salt Life Food Shack—in partnership with the developers of the widely recognized Salt Life brand and built their second location overlooking the ocean in the heart of St. Augustine Beach (a third in Fernandina Beach is opening soon).
I caught up with Jesse Jabot to get some insight on what it takes to maintain the momentum of one of the city's most popular restaurants in its prime bayfront location.
WP: I worked at The Florida Theatre in in the 1980s in downtown Jacksonville and remember walking over to The Jacksonville Landing for lunch. My coworkers and I loved the cool New Orleans-style oyster/seafood bar that opened—the first Harry’s venue! What year did that open?
JJ: It opened in June of 1987 when the Landing was first opened.
WP: How did you come up with the concept for Harry’s?
JJ: The Landing originally wanted a market fresh theme at their ground floor entrance. Harry’s originally opened as a seafood market along with limited counter space for it’s raw bar featuring fresh shucked oysters, New Orleans Seafood Gumbo and cold draft beer. The seafood market was dropped and it expanded seating and development of New Orleans inspired menu.
WP: Who was involved with the ownership/development of Harry’s in its early days?
JJ: Jacksonville natives and brothers Louis Saig and Greg Saig.
WP: Who is involved now?
JJ: Primarily Louis and Greg Saig along with my brother Jeff Jabot and myself.
WP: With five locations in St. Augustine, Ocala, Tallahassee, Gainesville and Lakeland, is the brand still in expansion? Are there plans to branch out further into Florida and/or other states in the Southeast?
JJ: The company is at a point where it may consider new locations in the future. We would love to reopen back in Jacksonville. The original Jacksonville Beach location was converted to the first Salt Life Food Shack.
WP: I understand that the St. Augustine location is your top producing store—is that correct? If so, why do you think that is?
JJ: It is our best performing location. Didn’t start that way. It was actually a slow start but has grown in sales almost every year. Great location, an awesome courtyard and atmosphere, a passion for quality food and service at reasonable prices are the key ingredients. Never taking our local business or tourist customers for granted. A genuine sense of hospitality. Locally owned and operated.
WP: When did the St. Augustine store open?
JJ: 1995... almost 23 years ago.
WP: I love your seasonal specials which offer a great marketing opportunity and keep local customers excited to come in and try something new. Do you have a corporate chef who develops these or is there a think tank-type approach to development of menus and specials such as these?
JJ: Harry’s is lucky to have a great executive chef who drives the development and “think tank” for development of seasonal specials and constant improvement of menu offerings. Bennett Depew works closely with all the store management teams to keep the menu fresh and consistent.
Whether dining in the expansive brick courtyard or inside the vintage building overlooking the bayfront, the good times are rolling for lunch and dinner daily at Harry’s. Featuring the best of Cajun, Creole and Southern flavors infused with a current-day twist, Harry’s most popular dishes include Shrimp and Scallops Orleans, Chicken and Shrimp Creole, Crab-Crusted Red Fish Royale, Bourbon Street Salmon and Filet Mignon “Scampi Style”, to name a few. A great selection of seafood, chicken, beef and pork along with burgers, po’ boys, salads and much more; Harry’s menu is sure to have something for everyone.
Harry’s serves lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m. Live music is featured nightly. Private dining and banquet facilities available.
“[THE ST. AUGUSTINE LOCATION IS TOP PERFORMING DUE TO ITS] GREAT LOCATION, AWESOME COURTYARD AND ATMOSPHERE AND A PASSION FOR QUALITY FOOD AND SERVICE AT REASONABLE PRICES.”
“WE ARE CONTINUALLY UPDATING OUR MENU AND OFFER LIMITED-TIME SEASONAL SPECIALS, BUT THE HEART AND SOUL OF THE MENU ARE CAJUN AND CREOLE SPECIALTIES THAT MADE US FAMOUS.”
Harry’s Seafood Bar • Grille
46 Avenida Menendez