by Matthew Shaw
Jacksonville, Fla., is a deceptively large city. Its population of over 800,000 — twice that of Miami — is scattered across 885 diverse square miles of rivers, marshlands, beaches and subdivisions. Rather than sprawl, urban straggle is a more apt description. The city’s urban core is relatively sparse and foreign to much of the metropolitan population, with irregular and messy development throughout much of the area. For some perspective, Jacksonville may have the only major city center in the United States without a Starbucks.
Despite this, the city’s core is not devoid of good, even great, coffee. Sturdy retail operations like Bold Bean Roasters and Brew Five Points saw the relatively vacant landscape as an opportunity for the city to define itself anew. Although these businesses reside in Riverside, which technically lies on the fringes of downtown, low rents, proximity to nature, and a population of progressive, free-thinking city folk eager to support local businesses, have made high-end coffee a viable pursuit here.
Now comes Juan Pablo (a.k.a. JP) and Mariah Salvat. In an attempt to inject further life into the growing scene, the couple has opened Southern Roots Filling Station at 1275 King Street in Riverside. Aside from serving an array of drinks using Miami stalwart Panther Coffee, Southern Roots also serves house-made baked goods and open-faced sandwiches. The couple plans on offering a large selection of bulk goods.
“We saw the shop as a great opportunity to grow and expand on a blossoming coffee culture,” says JP, a Miami native by way of Colombia. “[The culture]’s so new here, you don’t really have to abide by any rules.”
Southern Roots drink menu reflects that open playing field. You won’t find a cappuccino or latte, but you will find a well-crafted espresso, café con leche, and a version of a cortado Southern Roots is calling Black Panther: 6 ounces of espresso with steamed milk over a morsel of locally made dark chocolate. Of the drink menu, JP says, “We wanted to be inspired by people doing cool things in other cities, while drawing on things that may be a little more uniquely Floridian.”
After traveling all over the world, the couple’s return is a homecoming for Mariah Salvat. The shop’s name, Southern Roots, is a nod to the couple’s ties to the area. “There’s a charm and sweetness in the South that is hard to find elsewhere,” Mariah says. “I think it’s Southern hospitality, and try as I might to get away, keeps bringing me back.”
With reclaimed wood walls, exposed concrete floors, up-cycled lighting fixtures, tables made of old doors, and driftwood decor, Southern Roots interior is a sort of beachy, rustic, mixed-bag of simplicity. “Just about everything in here is reused or up-cycled,” JP says. “And everything from the food and drinks to the design really came from our travels.”
There are Spanish-style beamed ceilings, a long communal bench inspired by the kinds of functional furniture the couple admired in Croatia, and a reclaimed wood wall plucked right from their favorite West coast neighborhood.
“When we took a van trip to California a few years ago, we stumbled on Trouble Coffee and the General Store on Judah Street,” JP says. “We were really taken by the simplicity and beauty of that area.”
Freshness and simplicity inform the food menu, as well. Cornbread with jams or seasonal greens and Wainwright Dairy cheese with either a house-made pumpkin seed pesto or smoky seed spread atop toasted local bread represent just two of the Southern Roots’ earthy offerings.
“Greens on everything is kind of my motto,” says Mariah. Spreads, sourkrauts, and prepared foods will also be refrigerated and ready to take out in the bulk foods section, which also includes bins filled with herbs and spices, oils, extracts and pasta. Says JP, “We think the bulk foods kind goes with our overarching ideas of bringing more variety to the neighborhood and city.”
With Vagabond Coffee and a new Urban Grind (Jacksonville) location also moving into brick-and-mortar establishments in the city’s core in 2015, Southern Roots has quickly established itself as part of a larger movement. “We think having a lot of coffee options is necessary for a city to really thrive,” Mariah says. “I think, as people kind of living outside of the box, we all have to be supportive of each other.”