Nesbit Restaurant is one of the oldest continuously operated restaurants in Jacksonville.
In 1919, Nathan Nesbit, Sr. was born in Parkers Ferry, a small community just west of Charleston, South Carolina. In 1946, he married Hattie Mae Jenkins who had been raised in Ridgeville, South Carolina before attending college at Florida A&M University.
The newlyweds settled into a LaVilla residence at 1246 West Monroe Street. Here, Nesbit found employment as a baker’s helper with the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P). Dating back to the 1920s, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) had operated its Southeastern headquarters at the Beaver Street viaduct, just west of the neighborhoods of New Town and LaVilla. Located across the street from the Jacksonville Farmers Market, A&P’s industrial complex included a bakery, coffee plant, dry storage warehouse and produce packing operation. The bakery that employed Nesbit dated back to 1932. Here, baked goods produced by A&P included everyday desserts and cakes under its iconic Jane Parker brand.
Nesbit’s Donut and Sandwich Shop originally opened in one of these storefronts at the intersection of Myrtle Avenue and Kings Road in 1961.
By the 1960s, desiring to advance up the economic ladder, Nesbit decided to leave his job at A&P to become an entrepreneur of his own. Along with his wife Hattie, he opened Nesbit’s Donut and Sandwich Shop in 1961. The new restaurant was located in a storefront at 1305 North Myrtle Avenue, near its intersection with Kings Road, where the neighborhoods of LaVilla, New Town and Durkeeville came together. Specializing in fresh baked donuts, Nesbit’s new business was open 24 hours a day. This was possible because the Myrtle Avenue corridor was a beehive of activity during the 1960s.
The business in a 1963 city directory. (Jacksonville Public Library)
Just west of downtown and immediately north of where several railroads converged, the corridor developed into an industrial district employing thousands after Henry Flagler formed the Jacksonville Terminal Company in 1893. Major employers feeding Nesbit’s with customers included the Moore Dry Kiln Company, Florida Machine & Foundry, Winn & Lovett Grocery and the Railroad Express Agency’s (REA) packaging terminal. With capacity for 250 railcars, it was believed to be the largest REA rail yard in the country.
After witnessing a customer walk in to get her order dressed in a bathrobe, Nesbit wanted a more convenient way to serve his customers. As a result, in June 1964, he established a drive-through service for his 24 hour a day restaurant at 5913 Avenue B. At the time, Northwest Jacksonville was home to several early African-American night clubs and juke joints. Specifically in a triangular shaped area, formed by Avenue B, Moncrief Road, and 45th Street, known as Royal Terrace. Located outside of the city limits of Jacksonville, Royal Terrace developed during the 1940s as an African-American neighborhood featuring streets named after historic Black colleges. As the area’s African-American population dramatically increased, so did the juke joints and Chitlin Circuit venues including the Two Spot, Havana Nite Club, Mac’s Bar & Liquors, Trotter Liquors and the Silver Star Lounge.
A year later, the restaurant was expanded to 2,517 square feet to include a dining room. Still serving donuts 24 hours a day, the menu was expanded to include fish, chicken and hamburgers. Following desegregation, many of the nightlife venues in the vicinity of Nesbit went out of business.
Waiting in line at Nesbit’s Restaurant.
Although the area’s economic decline would result in Nesbit’s no longer maintaining 24 hour a day operating hours or baking donuts, sixty two years after its founding, Nesbit’s continues to survive, making it one of Jacksonville’s longest continuous operating restaurants. Now open evenings, Wednesday through Saturday, the cash only restaurant is well known in the surrounding Northwest Jacksonville community for its fried shrimp, oysters, fish and crab patties.
The Seafood platter at Nesbit’s Restaurant.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at email@example.com