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Another Restaurant Closes At 220 Riverside As HOBNOB Restructures And Unity Plaza Struggles

HOBNOB co-owner Ellen Cottrill told employees Tuesday morning the restaurant portion of her business is closing immediately, although the events venue portion of the business will continue.

The restaurant opened in March 2016 during the heyday of the Brooklyn neighborhood revitalization. Unity Plaza, which is the park in front of the 220 Riverside apartment complex, was supposed to serve as the community and entertainment centerpiece of Brooklyn.

The non-profit space was originally envisioned as a community gathering spot that would quickly catch on with year-round programming including concerts and arts events.

“When we opened we thought it would be the perfect place, based on things that were promised to us and what the Plaza would be, and of course everyone knows pretty much none of that was delivered,” said Cottrill.

She said HOBNOB adjusted hours and tried a variety of tactics to accommodate what she said was much lower attendance in Unity Plaza than was envisioned. But in the end there just wasn’t enough business.

Cottrill said she was told there would be hundreds of days of programming per year at Unity Plaza.

“I would say probably 99 percent of that never came to fruition,” she said. “The developers — Hallmark — behind Unity Plaza, was very short sighted in what was needed,” said Cottrill.  Hallmark Partners was the developer for 220 Riverside and Unity Plaza.

Although critical of Hallmark, Cottrill also praised the company for its original vision.

She also said Unity Plaza Executive Director Jennifer Jones Murray did a great job getting the events programming off the ground, but when Jones Murray announced her resignation in February of 2016, things declined.

The Florida Times-Union reported in 2017 that the city kicked in $2.6 million for Unity Plaza’s construction and formed a partnership with a non-profit, Jacksonville Unity Plaza, which agreed to maintain the plaza and schedule events.

Cottrill contends there wasn’t enough funding to realize the original vision for the Plaza, a vision that took another hit in July 2016 when neighboring restaurant Sbraga and Company abruptly closed. Sbraga lasted less than a year.

Fewer than 20 people worked at HOBNOB. There were three full-time employees. The rest were part-time. Cottrill said HOBNOB will go forward with honoring the private events that have already been scheduled at the facility.

Cottrill said she is actively pursuing future events for HOBNOB. She believes there is more of a chance of success at this point as an events venue, rather than as a full service restaurant.

See Also: HOBNOB's Announcement To Customers

Current employees will be given the opportunity to work at the remaining events, and Cottrill said she will reach out to Jacksonville’s culinary community to try to help her employees find new jobs.

Cottrill said she had taken over event planning for Unity Plaza on her own because her business depended on it.

As for future events in the Plaza, Cottrill said, “If I step away and do nothing, I don’t see anyone else coming to fulfill that.”

Brixx Wood Fired Pizza is the only remaining restaurant open to the public at 220 Riverside.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

Bill joined WJCT News in September of 2017 from The Florida Times-Union, where he served in a variety of multimedia journalism positions.