–Ortega businesses are counting on military expansion; The restaurants and other stores cater to a military clientele–
About a dozen uniformed military personnel recently chowed down at Tijuana Flats in Ortega around noon.
Among them was Lt. Cmdr. Steve Mauro, who said he and fellow Jacksonville Naval Air Station employees frequent the nearby burrito joint for its good grub and twice-weekly military discounts.
“When making a decision on where to eat lunch, it’s nice to go where people recognize you,” Mauro said after finishing off a red sauce-soaked burrito.
Tijuana Flats, which opened about two years ago at 5907 Roosevelt Blvd., caters mainly to military.
“By far, the military keeps us going. And it feels great to give back to them,” said Scott Benson, assistant manager of Tijuana Flats in the South Ortega Village shopping center.
Benson and other Ortega-area business owners eagerly await the Navy’s expansion plans expected to bring thousands more troops and up to 450 military housing units within a year, off base, across the street from South Ortega Village.
Meanwhile, another boost may come from an $829,000 Venetia Town Center project slated to begin in February, according to Kenny Logsdon, senior city planner. The beautification project includes new street lights and sidewalks. It also involves redesigning the fork on Roosevelt Boulevard at Ortega Boulevard to slow traffic that sometimes barrels down that residential street.
Clint Murphy, a broker, developer and president of Murphy Land and Retail Services Inc., is thrilled about the developments to come in Ortega. Two years ago, Murphy built the South Ortega Village, a 9,600-square-foot shopping center north of Jacksonville NAS.
“Ortega is one of Jacksonville’s most stable areas. It’s got a strong residential element and more than 30,000 federal jobs that aren’t going away.
That work force has to eat, rent homes,” said Murphy, adding that Ortega has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the Jacksonville area.
When construction of the Super Target began to the south, Murphy decided to buy 1.5 acres on Roosevelt, formerly home to a manufactured home sales office. He’s filled it with tenants with two bays left.
Willard’s Barbecue Junction and Tuptim Thai Cuisine are slated to open by Nov. 1. Both of those owners said they are totally optimistic.
At Tijuana Flats, army boots hang from the ceiling, and camouflage uniforms and medals adorn the walls. There are thank-you letters from troops overseas to restaurant owners for their hot sauce care packages.
Kayti Ostromecki, marketing coordinator for Jacksonville’s five Tijuana
Flats’ locations jumped from table to table shooting photographs of military visitors to frame and hang on the walls. She said the restaurant also caters events on base and throws welcome parties to new troops coming in.
“We want them to be pumped up to come here,” Ostromecki said. “We visit the base often to give out coupons, free chips and salsa. We go out of our way to visit them. We want them to feel welcomed, comfortable and appreciated. We’re trying to make this their home away from home.”
One uniformed lunchgoer, Navy reservist Peiny Allerton, called it a business ploy.
“I’ve seen a lot of places with the military motif,” she said. “Maybe if the owner was a veteran, this would be more sincere.”
However, most others interviewed said Tijuana Flats is appreciated on base.
“It’s really nice, convenient,” said Chief Petty Officer Craig Wallace, who eats at least twice a week at Tijuana Flats. “I love it here.”