Being one of the country’s larger cities, Jacksonville residents are offered a healthy sampling of various restaurant and dessert chains from around the United States. In recent years, the number of popular chain restaurants has rapidly expanded to accommodate the city’s growing population.
However, even with all the progress the city has made, there are still a few conspicuous absences within the First Coast.
Mrs. Fields Cookies
Closest location: Altamonte Springs, FL
Established in the late 1970s, Mrs. Fields Cookies has become one of the most recognizable brands in American food courts, offering dozens of selections of cookies and cookie cakes. The brand, however, is absent from all malls in the First Coast area, having only one location (Destin, FL) in all of northern Florida.
In 2005, it looked like that would change: when site plans were made available for the St. Johns Town Center, a Mrs. Fields Cookies location was featured as a kiosk in front of Maggiano’s Little Italy. However, the plans would soon be modified to remove the Mrs. Fields location without explanation, and today the originally planned Mrs. Fields Cookies is home to an Auntie Anne’s pretzel shop franchise instead.
After going through one bankruptcy and narrowly avoiding another, Mrs. Fields has now re-stabilized itself as a brand. However, no imminent plans exist for expansion into northern Florida any time soon.
Closest location: Panama City, FL
Schlotzsky’s Deli, a sandwich chain restaurant established in 1971, will be one of several entries on this list that actually were, in fact, present in Jacksonville at one point.
Schlotzsky’s Deli used to have multiple locations throughout the First Coast area, including one in Jacksonville International Airport. However, the company began to struggle financially in the mid-2000s, by which point at least one location (now a Whataburger on University Blvd.) had been shuttered. The airport location would be the last to bite the dust.
It seems unlikely that the restaurant will be returning to the First Coast any time soon. The chain was not hugely popular while it was here, and a recent franchising attempt in Tallahassee went under within a year, suggesting the demand in northern Florida for the sandwich chain simply doesn’t exist.
Closest location: Gainesville, FL
Founded in 1985 as “Boston Chicken”, Boston Market is a fast-casual restaurant specializing in “home-style” meals. The chain has over 400 locations nationwide, as well as having frozen options available in most grocery stores.
Boston Market also used to have locations in Jacksonville. Both closed in the early 2000s and were replaced by McDonald’s, who had purchased the chain out of bankruptcy in 2000 hoping to gain real estate assets.
The chain survived the McDonald’s takeover and would eventually make a strong recovery; however, the exit from the Jacksonville market has yet to be reversed.
A few years back, the company expressed interest in re-entering the market. Nothing has come out of those plans yet, but it remains an encouraging sign as far as the chain returning to the First Coast in the next decade.
Closest location: Texas
In-N-Out Burger, the famous California burger chain, is by far the biggest long-shot on this list. It also is probably the most-coveted restaurant on the list as well, as the chain is absent not only from Jacksonville, but from the entire eastern coast of America as well.
There are multiple problems with bringing In-N-Out to the East Coast, let alone Jacksonville. One such issue is the company’s franchising policy, or specifically the lack thereof; In-N-Out owns all of its locations and, at least currently, refuses to offer franchising. This is intended as a method of brand control, as the chain does not trust outside franchisers to uphold its strict standards. Another issue is also arguably the biggest reason for the chain’s success: the fact that they refuse to use frozen food. While the quality and freshness of In-N-Out is unmatched, this is because they are one of the only burger chains in the country that does not freeze their meat. As such, transporting it is essentially impossible, meaning all locations must be within a certain distance of one of their distribution centers.
While an In-N-Out location would obviously generate insane amounts of buzz for the Jacksonville area, it simply is not practical until a distribution center is constructed on our side of the country.
Closest location: Orlando, FL
Established in 1964 (also in California), Del Taco is a taco chain unique for its combination of Mexican and American cuisine, offering burgers alongside their collection of tacos and burritos. The chain has more than 500 locations, the closest being in Orlando.
Of the chains listed, Del Taco may be the first to show up in the area. In 2013, the company signed a franchising contract to bring Del Taco locations to Alabama and northern Florida. Specifically, they set the goal of opening locations in Tallahassee and Jacksonville.
As of this article being published, no such location exists in either city. There are two different factors that could be to blame for this. First, the company was recently sold and went public, which may have complicated the franchising agreement. Additionally, another well-known (and similarly named) taco chain, Taco Del Mar, lasted only a year in Jacksonville. The failure of another comparable chain may have created reservations toward the expansion.
Nonetheless, the franchising contract remains in place, meaning Jacksonville will likely see Del Taco pop up within the next five years.