By Jan Norris
Boynton Beach is seeing a mini boom in restaurants — with many locally owned choices — signaling a shot at becoming a destination for area diners.
Driftwood is one of the prominent ones gaining critical attention. Husband and wife owners Jimmy Everett and Ilia Gonzalez took over Scully’s five months ago after its owner retired. They turned the concept 180 degrees to fresh and locally sourced foods in a modern American setting.
“Our focus is on the quality of the food, drinks and service,” said Everett, who’s also the chef. “We’re particular about sustainable sources. We work with farmers and seafood providers who have respect for their product and who handle them well.”
He admits it’s a struggle — a new restaurant trying to make it in the dead of summer while trying to attract a following, especially one that appreciates the type of foods he’s doing — not exactly the Scully’s crowd, he said.
“They don’t understand why a dish costs $2 or $4 more than what they were paying before. They don’t always understand the fresh aspect and sustainable foods.
Everett, who grew up in Lake Worth, worked in New York City, Nantucket, Hong Kong and Los Angeles before moving back to Florida.
Most recently he was at the noted Valentino’s Cucina Italiano in Fort Lauderdale, but was looking for a restaurant of his own when a friend told him that Scully’s was for sale.
“The opportunity to buy the land was a plus, and the location has good visibility,” he said.
The couple had a hand from the Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency.
“The CRA was very helpful and we probably wouldn’t have made it through all the delays if we didn’t have their help,” he said. His contractor pulled out early, leaving him with a half-done restaurant. He finished it himself, throwing all his savings into it. Grants offered to him as a Tier 1 business — a full-service restaurant with more than 50 seats — gave him money to remodel the interior, landscape the exterior and get new signs and an awning.
It’s part of an extensive grant program offered to restaurants small and large and other businesses as incentive to locate to the downtown CRA area.
Boynton’s CRA awarded $305,524.50 in economic development grants to restaurants in 2017-18.
Restaurants “create foot traffic and incentives to having a thriving downtown,” said Thuy Shutt, assistant director of Boynton Beach’s CRA.
Growing number of choices
Sweetwater has drawn a lively crowd for a few years. The Twisted Fish, a seafood spot opened in the former Backyard Bar by the owners of the Fish Depot on Federal Highway, is gaining a following as well.
Several other new or revitalized restaurants have received grants in the last two years, Shutt said, which can be as much as 50 percent matching money for renovations, with other grants able to be layered for plumbing and hood and fire equipment or rent reimbursement.
Restaurants must adhere to a number of conditions to qualify, including a specific longevity clause to keep them around.
A diverse group of large and small restaurants, bakeries, ice cream shops and cafes with a variety of cuisines have sought to be in the CRA district.
Among those granted money is Boss Taco, which expanded to a new location to add air conditioning and restrooms at its spot along Federal Highway.
That’s Amore, a casual Italian spot on North Federal, was opened in 2016 with a CRA grant’s help.
Troy Davis built a sit-down restaurant for his popular Troy’s BBQ, once available only from a take-out shack along the railroad tracks. Longtime waterfront hotspot Banana Boat renovated extensively with help from a grant.
Marina Cafe opened this spring in the city’s marina with a rent reimbursement grant to help kick it off. Wakey Wakey Eggs and Bakey is slated to open in the fall at 126 W. Boynton Beach Blvd. with another grant involved.
Others include the Del Sol Bakery and Jamerican Cuisine, both already open on North Federal.
Two potential restaurants in historic properties are in flux, Shutt said. The Oscar Magnuson property, once slated to become a restaurant, was recently given back to the city in lieu of repayment for the sale by the developer. A lawsuit was imminent from the CRA, which spurred the resolution. Now, however, it’s in limbo again.
The former Little House tavern and cafe property, the Ruth Jones cottage, was planned as a tapas restaurant when sold at the same time as the Magnuson house and land.
“It’s no longer our property; it’s in the hands of a private developer,” Shutt said. “We don’t know as to the timeline, or for getting a new tenant for that space. ... (The staff) are reviewing the reimbursement of the grant funds.”
Shutt, who has been here for about a year, is impressed with the number of restaurants popping up, however. It shows growth and potential, adding to those staples like Hurricane Alley, Frankie’s and Two Georges.
Prime Catch — the big seafood spot on the waterway that draws from the oceanside condos especially — is still going strong.
Josie’s, which now boasts a James Beard award-winning chef, and Sushi Simon in the same plaza are typically packed, especially on weekends.
Marketing tips included
The businesses in the program also benefit from the CRA’s help with social media to promote the area and themselves.
As grantees, they’re tied into the CRA’s websites and get marketing tips on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Shutt said.
“We find that mom and pop places don’t have the marketing dollars the big restaurants and chains do,” Shutt said. “We provide a training module to help them manage all the social platforms and a website. They also can cross-promote with other businesses.
“It’s what’s unique about downtown — we have local businesses that are unique.”
Internet-savvy diners use Google and Yelp to find restaurants and other businesses; the CRA is giving them a hand-up to draw those diners to Boynton.
Boca Restaurant Month is in full swing till the 30th. Diners who visit the listed restaurants (bocarestaurantmonth.com) get a choice of three-course meals from $36 to $40. Lunches are between $21 and $25. …
Taylor Morgan’s Quisine Club, a $9.99 monthly subscription loaded onto a card, gets diners 20 percent off checks — alcohol included, but before tax and tip. For details, go to quisineclub.com. …
Through September, Flavor Palm Beach offers diners discounted prix fixe menus at more than 50 restaurants in the county. Three-course lunches are priced at $20, and dinners start at $30. Reservations are suggested and can be made at FlavorPB.com’s OpenTable link. The program benefits the Palm Beach County Food Bank. For venues and menus, visit FlavorPB.com.
Jan Norris is a food writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thom Smith is on vacation and can be reached at email@example.com.