This article was intentionally timed to launch on the night of their last day, today May 29th – they didn’t want a fuss, just business as usual with their amazing customers and staff as they said goodbye to Grove Market Café.
Over the past two decades, Leon County natives David and Elizabeth Gwynn have become fixtures of the Tallahassee restaurant scene as the owners of Cypress Restaurant, Vertigo Burgers & Fries and Grove Market Café. While determined to bring unique concepts to each of their restaurants, they all have one common thread running through the soul of their ventures: dedication to providing guests with an unforgettable experience, gracious hospitality, and offering chef-driven menus that infuse ingredients of the highest quality.
After closing their second location of Vertigo Burgers & Fries in 2017 to reimagine the space as a new concept, they opened Grove Market Café in May of 2018. The Gwynn’s maintained their trio of restaurants over the next two years until they decided to close Cypress Restaurant after two decades of serving their customers. When asked, “how did life change with running two restaurants rather than three” David responded, “a third less stress”!
Now, two years after that decision, the Gwynns have reached another milestone: selling Grove Market Café.
The Market Street based restaurant gained a large and loyal following, offering a menu of signature items that included Sweet Pig Hash, Avocado Toast, Chicken Pot Pie, the Grilled Yard Bird Club, a wide variety of gluten-free options as well as great coffee from Sweetwater Organic Coffee.
In David’s estimation, Grove Market Café was successful because of the consistent quality of their products as well as their service. Even with that success, however, David and Elizabeth were hungry for change. “When we sold Cypress, Elizabeth and I decided to start slowing down,” David says. “Someone approached us about the Grove Market space, and here we are.”
That “someone” was Jeri Madden, owner of several eponymous concepts herself, including Jeri’s Midtown Café and Simply Entertaining by Jeri. Having launched Jeri’s Midtown Café a mere seven months before COVID hit, she pivoted to meet the challenges of a world in quarantine and again when she expanded into catering. The moves seemed to come in quick succession, and soon she was staring at another possibility in taking over ownership of Grove Market Café, rebranding the space as her own concept.
“Everything just happened all at once!” Jeri notes. “The transition to Simply Entertaining was easy because I already had a built-in catering team for daytime and after hours with Jeri’s Midtown Café, and we also had a lot of the same customers as Simply Entertaining.”
“For Grove Market Café, David and I have always gotten along great and know a lot of the same people. So it was natural. My philosophy is ‘Go big or go home, no regrets!’ You can’t let your brain take over before you make a move. You’ve just gotta go for it. I don’t want to wake up one day thinking, ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda.'”
“Driven” is a word that would neatly describe Madden, a Tallahassee native who started in the restaurant business at the age of 16, waiting tables at Shoney’s. After attending Keiser University, she graduated from the FSU Dedman School of Hospitality in 2012. In her tenure as the owner of her own hospitality businesses, Madden has adopted the “Love on a Plate” concept from her time at the now-closed Paisley Café, whose space is now occupied by Jeri’s Midtown Café.
And with the upcoming changes to Grove Market in its reimagining as Jeri’s, “Love on a Plate” is something she plans to continue there. “We’ll be serving our awesome lunch and brunch menu like we have at Midtown Café but adding breakfast,” Madden says. “It will be a full-service restaurant with all the servers and sweet staff serving ‘Love on a Plate.'”
In addition to the expansion of her little empire, Madden plans to make a change to Midtown, converting the restaurant to a fast-casual café with a “full-service feel.”
Just how Madden manages to juggle it all comes down to organization. “I keep a mean calendar!” she says. “I also believe in the importance of training. Plus, I have an amazing support system, starting with my fiancé Bryan, my family, my friends and all my sweet staff!
I am now working towards steering the ship instead of driving the boat, and my team is going to allow me to do just that. I want to be able to be at work and not work a shift but engage 100 percent with my customers, employees and the community. This will allow me to be able to give all the love back to this great city that has supported me for so long and to love on and mentor the younger generation coming up.”
Over the next five years, Madden hopes to “lean in and help spread the love throughout my community with ‘Love on a Plate,'” she says. “Long term, I can definitely see some more expansions; but for now, I’m good.”
Likewise, the Gwynns are in what they consider a good place. While they are not retiring, the scale back to ownership of only one restaurant-Vertigo Burger-will allow them to take some much-needed time for themselves. “We’ll eventually look for an opportunity that suits us,” David says. “In the meantime, we’ll catch up on traveling.”