Loretta Twiggs got the cake. A hearty slice of homemade lemon pound cake, to be precise.
“This is my third disc,” Twiggs confided Tuesday morning with a chuckle. “It’s delicious and also made from scratch. That’s the good way … to die for cake.”
Twiggs is quickly becoming a regular at the newly opened Crazy Beans Coffee in the heart of JTA’s regional transportation hub in LaVilla. She discovered the bright, cozy café when she switched buses on the daily commute to and from her house in Grand Park to her job on the Southside at the transportation hub.
The restaurant worker was among the first customers after the cafe opened earlier this month. Then she tried the lemon pound cake. A few days later, she returned to Crazy Beans to look for another piece – but they were all sold.
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Twiggs hit the dessert jackpot on a Tuesday morning.
“He had two slices up there on the counter and I said, ‘I’ll take both. Give me both, please,'” Twiggs said, noting that she resisted the temptation to try a piece of cheesecake instead.
The restaurant is the first for LaVilla in years
Crazy Beans Coffee is believed to be the first new restaurant in LaVilla in more than 15 years.
“It’s really important to the community,” said Reggie Gaffney, councilor for Jacksonville, whose LaVilla district is part, of the cafe Thursday. “You haven’t had anything like this in a long time.”
Gaffney, who couldn’t remember the last time a restaurant in LaVilla opened, praised both Crazy Beans and JTA for bringing the cafe to the neighborhood.
“It shows vision. And I think this is the beginning of something special that will last for many years,” noted Gaffney, saying the company could be a catalyst to attract more restaurants or shops to LaVilla.
Realizing that many local residents are among the café’s customers, he said, “Whenever you get the community to support your business, it will usually be successful.”
And for some residents of LaVilla, Crazy Beans is a welcome haven.
“I love the coffee and I want to try their soup,” said Sean Harris, who lives in LaVilla, and had a cup of organic coffee at the cafe for the fourth time in five days.
“I’m very happy for them. I was afraid they wouldn’t have a business because so many low-income families come here to take the bus, but they seem fine,” said Harris, a dishwasher.
“The coffee is rich and has a good taste. It’s not that cheap bitter stuff,” he said.
The transportation center opened in May 2020 at 100 LaVilla Center Drive downtown near the Prime Osborn Convention Center.
On an area of 67,000 square meters, the regional hub with a volume of 57 million US dollars was built as a new bus transmission system and administrative center in downtown JTA. The center also has direct links to the Skyway and Intercity bus stations serving the Greyhound, Megabus and RedCoach lines.
Crazy Beans is located on the first floor just around the corner from the customer’s waiting area in the facility.
The café is owned by brothers Edgar and Herbert Bartley, whose business motto is “Crazy Beans is not just coffee, it’s a culture.”
The cafe is an intersection that brings together bus drivers from all over Jacksonville, residents of the historic LaVilla and Springfield neighborhoods, and JTA and other office workers in the downtown area.
“Every great transportation terminal has a place to relax, have a cup of coffee or something to eat, and that’s what we envisioned for the JRTC at LaVilla from the very beginning,” said Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., CEO of JTA said the Times Union on Thursday.
Ford said the COVID-19 pandemic “forced us to focus on more pressing operational needs when we opened the JRTC,” but they never stopped plans for the cafe.
“Throughout this process, we strongly believed that any partnership must be with local entrepreneurs who share our vision and desire to create a community space,” said Ford.
“There’s no question that they took a leap of faith in our corner of LaVilla, but they also saw the potential,” said Ford. “Not only do they have thousands of customers and hundreds of JTA employees working through the JRTC every day but also hundreds of residents within walking distance and more in the pipeline. This will be a gathering place for the community for years to come. “
Ford also said they “are proud to support a small, local and minority company that has chosen to invest in the historic LaVilla neighborhood.”
Around 16,000 to 18,000 people ride JTA buses every day, including many that pass through LaVilla’s regional terminal, David Cawton II, the JTA spokesman said.
Almost 1,200 residents live within half a mile of the facility. In addition, the café is an option for around 800 JTA employees. So there is a built-in clientele for the cafe, said Cawton, who had lunch at the cafe five of the six days he was in his center office.
Remarkable creative power of the pastry chef behind the new restaurant
The respected pastry chef and chocolatier Erika Cline from Jacksonville is the general manager and executive chef of Crazy Beans Coffee.
The original Crazy Beans Coffee opened on Fleming Island in Clay County in 2016 and closed in February due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was moved to the JTA center because they wanted to focus on building the Jacksonville business, Cline said.
“Our specialty is making sure everyone leaves happy and everyone leaves on time in their bus,” said Cline of the café.
The café is also about sharing the love of coffee and good food. It’s also about targeting a wide range of customers, said Cline, who was one of the original chef candidates at Bravo’s Top Chef Just Desserts in 2010.
“We want to make sure we are offering what is needed and something they never expected like chocolate chip cookies,” said Cline. Lots of people have never had chocolate chip cookies and now they sell out at the end of the day, she said.
Cline is also a James Beard alumnus who served as the head chef at James Beard House for dinner in the West Indies in 2017 and 2018 for an all-female chef dinner. In addition, she has her own online chocolate shop.
“Coffee and chocolate go hand in hand,” she said.
Cline was a co-owner of the former Bleu Chocolat Cafe in historic Springfield, which held handmade chocolates, baked goods, coffee and a rotating selection of Caribbean and soul food products before it closed in January 2020 after more than a year of business.
The JTA Regional Transportation Center in LaVilla – adjacent to Springfield – provided the opportunity to serve both downtown communities and people from across the city, Cline said.
Crazy Beans offer more than just coffee
Chicken salad on a croissant, soup, breakfast rolls, quiche, pasta and vegetable salad are all popular with customers, said Don Ashton, the cafe’s deputy manager.
Ashton is responsible for making the chicken salad using a recipe that is a closely guarded secret. All he’s going to say is that there is a hint of Scotch Bonnet Pepper in it, but “the seasoning we use for our chicken is the secret.”
You will go through at least 12 chicken salad sandwiches a day. Multiple customers receive at least two sandwiches at a time, he said.
Popular beverage offerings include organic coffee with hot and cold infusions, espresso, matcha tea, chai, various lemonade flavors and mixed drinks such as smoothies and frappes.
Look in the dessert case for lemon pound cakes, baseball-sized pecan cinnamon buns, blueberry and banana muffins, chocolate scones, blondies or dark chocolate brownies, cookies, and vanilla bean cheesecakes.
Menu prices range from $ 6.25 for breakfast rolls to $ 5.50 for a Belgian waffle with whipped cream and strawberries. $ 5 Pecan Cinnamon Buns and Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Slices; and $ 5.50 for chicken salad on croissant.
“You get a lot to eat for what you pay for,” said Alicia Trejean, an office worker who got a blueberry muffin and iced coffee while she hurried to catch the bus to take her downtown to work.
Crazy Beans Coffee is open Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We’re happy to be part of the Lavilla community, to be part of Duval County, to share, educate and give something extra to our coffee culture [spark] for people’s day with our coffee, our pastries and our food, “said Cline.
Times Union writer Gary T. Mills contributed to this report.