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How to Court Fine Diners in Jacksonville

2 May


If you had moved to Jacksonville to open a posh clothing boutique, to generate customers the last thing you’d want to do is insinuate that the women here looked like they stepped off a Wal-Mart runway and you were going to have to show them what real style was.

So when a new chef in town of note tweeted recently that he needed to train Jacksonville palates because we were used to eating at chain restaurants, some locals didn’t take kindly to the slight.  I think he’s still scratching his head and wondering why we were insulted. He didn’t mean it as a slight, just a fact.  

Jacksonville has come leaps and bounds since it voted Red Lobster as the No. 1 seafood restaurant. But are we still as backward as outsiders tend to think? (Super Bowl news columns come to mind.)  The answer is a resounding “NO.”

When the group of 15 Twitter pals I was having brunch with at TacoLu (a non-chain) read the chef’s tweets, the entire group was like “Say what? Oh, we need to educate this guy.”  They were incensed to say the least.  This was a group made up of PR mavens, a TV news producer, foodies, a restaurant owner, newspaper reporters, bloggers and other interesting locals. Not exactly the Golden Corral bunch. 

The chef in question here will go unnamed because we want to educate him, and we do want his place to make it. (We love great restaurants.)  But we also want him to know that to make it in Jacksonville, the approach is to celebrate offering us more of what we love — good food.

We love Jacksonville; that’s why we live here. That’s why transplants make their way here in droves. Folks who have lived in the big cities. They move to Jax. 

While our restaurants may not be L.A., San Francisco, New York or even Telluride, we are a proud city. And we are the ones who will make  or break your business, whatever it is, not the tourists or traveling business people. There aren’t enough of them.

Bistro Aix

There are plenty of fine dining  restaurants in Jacksonville: Bistro Aix, Matthew’s, Orsay, Wine Cellar, Ocean 60  and Palm Valley Fish Camp to name a few. And there are plenty of great chains from Ruths’ Chris and  Bonefish Grill to Stonewood Grill. Duplication doesn’t automatically mean bad food.

Jacksonville is beyond the days when we used to apologize for ourselves. We’re a proud lot now.  And if you want our business, if you want our respect, then you have  to show us what you’ve got, not tell us what we need.  Those days are over. Fine diners in Jacksonville expect to be courted and romanced.

HORNS & HALOS: Jags, Jessie-Lynne and Jax Parking

30 Apr

HALOS to the Jacksonville Jaguars for snagging
QB Blaine Gabbert from Missouri in the first round of the NFL draft. Reports have it that ticket phone lines were lighting up like crazy at Jags headquarters the next day. With surfer-like good looks, many locals commented that he’ll fit in quite well in Jax. Don’t know if he can ever replace Tim Tebow in our hearts as the local King of Football, but many a mom has already put dibs on
                                               him for her daughter.

HORNS to the Public Parking Division of the City of Jacksonville for blanketing Downtown Jax with tickets after 5 p.m. on such a busy evening last week.  Parking is free after 6 p.m. and it’s common practice for enforcement to stop at 5 p.m. But on such a busy night, there must have been money to be made! With everyone working diligently to increase the use of Downtown Jacksonville, especially at night, this was a pathetic
                                               display of ‘gotcha.’

HALOS literally to Jessie-Lynne Kerr, the beloved and self-named “tough old broad” of the Florida Times-Union.   Jessie-Lynne fought the  good fight with lung cancer and left this life peacefully while at a hospice facility. She was a reporter for 47 years for the TU and lived to meet her goal of making it until her 73rd birthday which was Tuesday.  She left us early Friday morning grabbing headlines on the day of the royal
                                                 wedding, proving that she is a woman who knows how to
                                                 make an exit.

HALOS to the Florida House for passing a bill requiring women to have ultra-sounds performed before they can have abortions. There is nothing sinister in requiring women to understand the depth of their decisions.  Pregnancy is more than a mere nusance, even when inconvenient.  If passed, this law will surely help a growing number of women change their minds upon seeing life inside them. Helping a woman determine she’d
                                                 rather give life than terminate it is all good.

Repeat After Me: Mike-lers NOT Mick-lers

16 Feb

It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to hear folks mispronounce my family’s name as “Mick-ler” rather than the proper pronunciation of “Mike-ler.” It is our mission to ensure that future generations know how to pronounce “Mickler’s Landing” in Ponte Vedra Beach.  It really is pronounced Mike-lers, even if it’s not spelled that way.

Just last week I heard two people refer to it as “Mick-lers.” One has been here nearly 25 years and never knew there was another pronunciation.

I am part of the Mickler clan that was one of the pioneer families that settled Palm Valley back in the mid-1800s. My mother Nettinell Mickler Altee was cousin to Sydney Mickler who once owned the beach now known as Mickler’s Landing and where Mickler’s Pier once stood, as well as surrounding property.

People will often argue the pronunciation until they are told it was named after our family. Most folks are smart enough to believe us.

There was the time, however, that a boss of mine went into a full-fledged tantrum because I wouldn’t agree to mispronounce my family name.  During college I was a news intern at WTLV in Jacksonville. While in the editing bay one day voicing a piece, it chanced to contain the name in question.  The executive producer popped his head in to be “helpful” and let me know I had mispronounced the landmark’s name, that it was in fact pronounced “Mick-ler.” When I very nicely explained how I knew my pronunciation was correct – I thought his head was going to explode.

 I swear to God, these were his words, “I’m the executive producer, and if I say it’s Mick-ler’s, it’s Mick-lers!”  He stomped off  leaving all of us speechless. I continued on by pronouncing it the only way I could without my mama reaching down from heaven and slapping me upside the head.

I thought for sure there would be hell to pay, but he never said a word. The news director at the time, Howard Kelly, later acknowledged I was correct while giving me a knowing wink. I suspect he informed Mr. Executive Producer how foolish he had been.

You’ll  see the Mickler name throughout this area  including the stone obelisk monument in the Plaza in St. Augustine that includes the names of local war heroes.

As one of the ninth generation of the original Mickler family in Florida,  I’m just doing my part to ensure the honor of the correct pronunciation continues.

Where Mothers Still Warn You About the Yankees

27 Sep

Just what is about southern friendliness and manners that creeps out northerners so much? They sometimes just don’t know what to make of us, being so friendly and all.

And that ‘yes ma’am’ thing can unnerve them. You don’t hear much fuss about ‘yes sir,’ maybe because of the military. But say ‘yes ma’am’ to a woman not from the south and she is bound to get down right irritated. Most say it makes them feel old. I have to admit than when a young man, say in his 20’s, answers me with a yes ma’am, it does kind of make me feel old because it tells me he noticed a distinct difference in our ages and that he was acknowledging it. But with respect.

Southern women will often say ‘yes ma’am’ to each other which is a subtle nuance of language that could easily be substituted for ‘You betcha’ or ‘Not a chance’:

“Did you buy those shoes on sale?”…”Yes, ma’am I did, aren’t they gorgeous?”

“Are you going to let your daughter go to the party?”…. “No ma’am, she’s on restriction.”

I grew up the daughter of a career Navy pilot, and so all nine of us children were required to say sir and ma’am always. Some of us find ourselves still saying it at times to our father.

Friendship Fountain

When Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl in 2005 the one thing that kept being repeated in newspapers across the country was that we were all just too damn friendly.  All those volunteers in the yellow jackets smiled too much and were too eager to be of assistance. Friendship and southern hospitality is our hallmark and we’re very proud of it.  We even have a city landmark named  Friendship Fountain.

As I write this, I’m seeing multiple statements on Twitter about how obnoxious Philadelphia Eagles fans are while playing the Jaguars on our home turf. Somehow I can’t imagine the folks in Philly treating Super Bowl fans with the same hospitality they received in Jacksonville.  Mild temperatures, golf courses, beaches, friendly folks. Makes Detroit  or Philly sounds like punishment.

A friend of mine moved down here from New Jersey and said her teenage daughter remarked that if one more person in the grocery store said hello to her she was going to puke.  When did being friendly become repulsive? I have friends who won’t grocery shop on Saturday because they say they can’t get through Publix in less than two hours because they run in to so many friends there.  I live in Ponte Vedra Beach now, a section of Jacksonville known for its wealthy transplanted northerners. My mother warned me, “Watch out at the Ponte Vedra Publix, those Yankees will run you down with their grocery carts.”

At the same time, I remember going to a concert to hear the NYC Philharmonic on the Great Lawn of Central Park and remarking to a friend, also from Jacksonville, how absolutely amazed I was at how silent the enormous crowd was when the music was being played.  You could hear a pin drop. We agreed that it would never happen in Jacksonville. At a summer Jacksonville Symphony concert  at the TPC, I was shocked and mortified at the number of people who talked and laughed right through the concert at a regular speaking volume  as if the Jacksonville Symphony was merely background music. It was not only rude to the other guests, but especially to the musicians.  And I bet that half of the people in attendance grew up in the north.

Jacksonville will always maintain its southern hospitality, being South Georgia and all.  The many northerners moving our way won’t change that. No ma’am.  For every native knows that in Florida, the farther north you go, the more southern it gets.

(Note – This column appeared in the October 10 issue of skirt! in the Florida Times Union under another title.)


2 Sep

I’ve made no secret that I am a Verizon girl to the bone. I love their service and they own me forever. AT& T couldn’t lure me back to its regular serving of dropped calls and no service whatsoever sitting in my own home. No, not even with  a fourth version of the iPhone. 

I’ve never been one who needed to own the latest gadgets and fancy cars. If it can just do the necessities, I’m a happy camper. For instance, I once asked my husband to buy  me a simple stereo so I could listen to music while I cooked dinner.  What I got was a complicated surround sound system that only he could operate.   

So my Verizon and Blackberry loving self was recently invited to join a new kind of marketing event.  A local PR agency arranged a “Chevy Secret Mystery Tour” competition between Jacksonville PRSA and the Social Media Club. The one requirement was that we had to have a smart phone to Tweet and post on Facebook our experiences before and after. 

We went forth in four teams in four different Chevys driving or riding in each one throughout the course of the competition while following clues, driving all over town and having a blast. 

What I noticed along the way, however, was that those with iPhones seemed to be able to react and post much more quickly than I could with my little Verizon Blackberry Storm.  (Speed of posting was a judging criteria.)  So as we went along I found myself rather good at the game, and I tweeted away. Trying to go back and forth between Twitter and FB was too daunting while racing down the road and figuring clues. But not for the iPhone peeps. 

Liz Lemon led us to Lemon Freezes at The Lemon Bar

The goal of the game was to not only experience the Chevys and share that with the world,  but to figure out where our final destination would be and then be the first to tweet it. For our first stop at First Coast News, one of the clues – masks of Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock – immediately set off my light bulb moment, and I knew the final destination would be the Lemon Bar in Neptune Beach. (It was also just a few blocks from where out cars were parked to start the race.) Absolutely sure of my guess, I told the ringleader I was posting it immediately!  I know me some Jacksonville.

So we left there and gorged on lemon CamiCakes at Tinseltown and then watched the men of the group get bronzed at Sephora at St. Johns Town Center. And yes, we found our way to the foot of Lemon Street at the ocean in Neptune Beach for awards and Lemon Freezes. 

But guess what – none of my tweets registered. Not even the winning tweets. As luck would have it, various judges saw me announce that I was tweeting the winner and so my team was indeed announced by judges call as the winner. But it was the other team of PRSA mavens led by Bonnie Upright with their iPhones who took the prize for fastest and most frequent posting. 

So the moral of the story is that I can keep on keeping on with my Verizon Blackberry Storm and put up with all the silly hijinks it sometimes requires to do routine tasks. As long as not too much is required of me, I’m alright. I covet my neighbor’s iPhone, but not enough to ever have to deal with AT&T again. The new hot-shot Droid did have a lot of cool tricks, but most of them I’d never use. The email, however, was much more cumbersome to retrieve. And email is my fuel. 

So I’m sticking with my Storm until the smart phone gods favor Verizon.