Taco Lu has become a fixture in Jax Beach after just over a decade of business, but its current location was once home to an even more crucial element of “Jax-icana”: The Homestead Restaurant.
Though it went through many iterations and ownership groups over the years, The Homestead first opened its doors in 1947 within a two-story, pine-log building at what’s now 1712 Beach Boulevard. Its founder, Alpha Paynter, owned the building and had been utilizing it as a boarding house prior to opening her new restaurant.
Paynter, who also owned and operated the Copper Kettle Inn and Restaurant in nearby Atlantic Beach, grew the restaurant into a Beaches staple serving up a menu of Southern cuisine. She led the restaurant up until just before her death in 1962.
Shortly before passing, Paynter sold the restaurant to the Johansen family, who also owned La Chateau in Atlantic Beach. The Johansens owned the restaurant for just over a decade before selling it to Steve Macri.
Macri would ultimately become the eatery’s longest-tenured purveyor, operating The Homestead for over twenty-five years. It was during Macri’s tenure that a one-story addition was constructed on the front of the building, adding seating and bar space that was referred to as the Copper Top bar, named for its copper bar top.
But the turn of the century brought about turbulent times for The Homestead. The restaurant briefly closed its doors in late 2001 before being sold to the Marvin family; this marked the first of three changes in ownership within a decade for the restaurant. The Marvins lasted until 2007, when the restaurant again closed its doors. Another new owner launched a revival in 2008, but this time the eatery lasted just two years before closing again.
The property was sold yet again, and this time the restaurant was rebranded as Copper Top. The loss of the iconic Homestead branding didn’t help the already-struggling restaurant, which lasted just one year with its new name before closing permanently.
In 2012, Mexican eatery Taco Lu moved into the building, having outgrown its existing location further down Beach Boulevard. It’s occupied the building ever since, becoming a Beaches staple in its own right along the way.
One last attempt at reviving The Homestead in a new location, this time led by its former chef Bo Johns, opened in 2018; it closed later the same year.
Today, the sole reminder of The Homestead’s existence comes in the form of its old building – occupied by Taco Lu, but largely unmodified on the inside from its time as The Homestead.
Although if you believe local legend, you might run into its original owner, Ms. Paynter, in the women’s restroom, still overseeing her building to this day as something of a friendly apparition.