Favorite lunch spot for politicians makes way for gas station

 Favorite lunch spot for politicians makes way for gas station

Not many businesses have the opportunity to go out on top.

Judging by the number of recent and long-time customers who are dismayed that Two Doors Down shut its door on Nov. 25, Norman Abraham had a great run.

“We built a great following here, the business has been wonderful,” said Abraham, a Lakeside resident. “We have great customers and filled a void in the area.”

Where patrons once took a seat to fuel themselves with a hearty lunch, soon they will pull up to fuel their vehicles. Ware Family Realty, owners of the property where Two Doors Down serves home-style breakfasts and lunches five days a week, sold the property to Gate Petroleum.

Abraham served Jacksonville a blend of Middle Eastern and Southern cooking for more than 40 years, most recently at Two Doors Down, located at 436 Park St. The restaurant’s name came from its location two doors down from the original Tad’s restaurant at 400 Park St.

Tad’s, named after the owner, Tom A. Davis, opened in 1951 and Abraham became its third owner in the mid-1980s, purchasing the restaurant from Bernie Hoffman. In 1997 the Florida Department of Transportation took the property to widen Forest Street. Abraham relocated Tad’s to Lane Avenue.

After Tad’s closed in 2005, Abraham worked with a local fast-food chain until opening Two Doors Down in 2009, in what was originally Catanese Florist, two spaces down the block from the original Tad’s site.

Both the Park Street Tad’s and Two Doors Down, were long considered “the place” to nosh at noon for city officials, judges and politicians. Abraham credits former Mayor Tommy Hazouri, his first cousin, and Harry Frisch, owner of Beaver Street Fisheries, for helping establish that following.

“Harry has been my biggest advocate, has probably brought more people in here. It’s a great meeting place for him, it’s close [to his business],” said Abraham. “Harry told me ‘I can come here, eat in 45 minutes and not have to worry about traveling and parking.’”

Frisch’s 92nd birthday was celebrated at Two Doors Down, where he has his own nameplated booth. “Customers know that it’s Harry’s lunch spot,” Abraham said.

When Abraham had to move Tad’s in the late 1990s to Lane Avenue, most of the downtown lunch crowd fell off. “They would come, but not like they used to,” he said. “Those former two- and three-day-a-week regulars would come the distance on Thursdays for the Arabic food. They would pack the place out.”

“It’s a great place to meet, greet and eat,” said Abraham. “If you come here, you’re going to see people you know here. No matter where you sit, you see people coming in the front door.”

The beginning and the ending

Abraham was born in Brooklyn, on Dora Street just a few blocks away from Tad’s and Two Doors Down. His family moved to McDuff Avenue, and he attended Robert E. Lee High School. His first company, National Business Systems, manufactured peg-board systems, which allowed a bookkeeper to write checks and make check-register entries simultaneously by using special checks with a carbon strip on the back and a peg board to position each check accurately on the register.

“There were a lot of account receivables in that business,” said Abraham. “I got into the restaurant business because it is strictly a cash business, no worries about account receivables.”

Two Doors Down was fifth in the line of restaurants Abraham owned, including Tad’s, the Thompson House (where bb’s is now located), the Rib Shack and Players Café in Ponte Vedra.

In 2009, Walter Ware, who owned Ware Family Realty and the nearby Johnstone Supply, asked Abraham to come back to Park Street and open another restaurant. Abraham signed a five-year lease with an option for five more, but after Ware passed away in April 2013, things started to change.

“Brooklyn started getting busy, the companies in the area were expanding, the timing was right for Gate Petroleum,” said Abraham. “On June 29, I was told ‘You have six months to get out.’”

Abraham has another month to sell and remove his equipment. After that, in January or February, he will undergo a knee operation, then has plans to travel with his wife, Carol. “We were married 53 years in November,” said Abraham. “We’re going to do the things we haven’t been able to do for the last 40 years in the restaurant business. The restaurant business kind of ties you down.”

But after taking some time off, the 74-year-old restaurateur said he would consider his next steps. “I have no plans, but I know I will do something. It may not be restaurants, but it may be consulting. Something may come along,” Abraham said.

Most of Abraham’s staff of seven have been with him for decades, moving from one restaurant to the next. And, if he were to do it again, several are willing to go along for another ride.

“If any opportunity comes along and I feel it’s right, my people are like the Minute Men. I can pick up the phone, say ‘We’re doing to do it again’ and they are ready. I’m blessed to have them,” he said.

Then again, “maybe this is the chapter of my life that God says, ‘This is Carol’s time. You have enjoyed life together and given back to the community,’” Abraham concluded.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News 

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