The Kountry Kafe Jacksonville buffet restaurant in Arden is closing for good

A popular Mediterranean comfort buffet, considered by many to be a Jacksonville landmark, closed its doors for good on Monday after 19 years of business.

Arden’s Kountry Kafe is known throughout Northeast Florida for its Fresh Roast Chicken, Seared Kountry Steak, “Smothered With Chicken”, Salisbury Steak, Chicken and Dumplings, Cabbage, Mac & Cheese, Tomato with Okra, Roast Beef , baked chicken and other classics from scratch.

The two co-owners Arden and Michelle de Saussure announced on Monday that they were reluctant to close the restaurant at 8299 W. Beaver St. in the Marietta district.

“We did our best. We gave it 100 percent,” said Arden de Saussure on Monday to the Times Union.

Your catering business – Arden’s Katering – is flourishing. It stays open and still fills out orders. Soon it will be moved to a smaller location that is not finished yet, she said.

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“People can still get Arden’s great homemade food. We’ll just deliver it to them,” she said. By closing the restaurant, you can dedicate yourself “100 percent” to the catering. “It’s financially more feasible for us in the future.”

On December 24th, the restaurant and catering business closed for the couple’s two-week vacation. Both stores were slated to reopen on January 11th, but for now it will only be catering.

COVID-19 did what hurricanes and a recession couldn’t

The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated loss of business made it impossible to keep the restaurant open.

“The restaurant wasn’t that profitable. When the pandemic broke out, we lost 50 percent of our business,” said Arden de Saussure. “We have our loyal customers, but the bottom line is we have to pay the bills and we can do that with our catering business.”

Your catering business is thriving. “It’s just non-stop,” she said.

To date, the restaurant has weathered hurricanes, the 2008 recession, and everyday problems and difficulties of business ownership.

Most recently, with support from the catering business, the restaurant survived the mandatory COVID-19 shutdown and restricted reopening of all Florida restaurants last year.

More:COVID-19, poor economy, forced some Jacksonville restaurants and shops to close permanently

They announced the closure of the restaurant on Facebook.

“We would hope and pray that all of our fans and supporters over the years will understand when they remember the great homemade food (especially the upwind chicken),” they announced.

Closing is one of the toughest decisions they have to make. They thanked their many customers, supporters and employees over the years.

“Family and friends we’ve all shared for the past 19 years! I’m sorry, it wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s for the best,” wrote de Saussures. “Thank you again for a wonderful 19 years, may God bless you all.”

She said her whole life changed on March 20 when authorities closed all restaurants and catering businesses in Florida to reduce exposure to COVID-19.

Arden’s Kountry Kafe turned around for takeout while the shutdown was taking place, selling $ 10 boxes of food the diners had selected from the buffet. Those $ 10 boxes helped keep the restaurant going, she said.

More:Jacksonville Reopening: Buffet restaurants are struggling to recover from COVID-19

When the state allowed dine-in service to resume, the restaurant followed social distancing, capacity restrictions, and implemented improved cleaning and disinfection protocols. They also limited the number of people who could be at the buffet at the same time and changed serving utensils every 15 minutes.

But it wasn’t enough. The couple’s long-standing dream of running a restaurant continued to wither.

Co-owners (left) Michelle and Arden de Saussure at their restaurant, Arden's Famous Kountry Buffet, as the restaurant was called in 2009 when this picture was taken.  Since then, the Southern Comfort Food Restaurant has evolved into Ardens Kountry Kafe and has moved to its current location in Marietta.

“My heart was in this restaurant for a few years,” said de Saussure, “that it’s a piece of me.” It is sad. I am sad not only for myself but for all of my customers because we have made so many friends over the years. “

Prison friendship led to business partnership

The women founded the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant in 2002 after meeting in prison.

Back then, Arden de Saussure was jailed after her ninth DUI arrest while Michelle de Saussure was addicted to cocaine. Both were determined to “fly straight ahead” to help each other with their release.

They served the good old-fashioned southern comfort food they all love, and over the years built a café and catering business with a loyal following that included multi-generational families, truckers, police officers, teachers, workers and even one or two bankers and lawyers belonged.

“People need Mediterranean comfort food, and they have to be able to feel comfortable where they are eating,” de Saussure previously told the Times Union.

Such a tariff is essential for life in the south.

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“People have to have home cooking. Mentally, you are facing a financial, mental, emotional, and comfortable challenge that will help you, ”she said at the time.

But as hard as they tried, the closure was becoming inevitable, said de Saussure.

“Last year we struggled. It was a struggle not only financially, but also emotionally and mentally. I feel like we have to stop fighting. And we have to focus on the positive now, our catering business,” said you.

Still, the decision to close the restaurant was one of the hardest they have ever made, especially for them, said de Saussure.

“Michelle and I looked at each other and said ‘it’s time,’ she said, noting that she doubts the restaurant industry, especially buffets, will ever recover from the pandemic.

“It’s just sad that the world is the way it is now,” said de Saussure.

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