Tom Gray has led an accomplished career as a chef. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he’s earned two James Beard nominations, led kitchens across the country and most recently completed a successful 13-year run at the critically acclaimed Bistro AIX in Jacksonville, Florida. But, Chef Gray wanted more: more challenge, more room and more connection to people. Together with his wife, Sarah Marie Johnston, Chef Gray envisioned a place where design, food and ambiance work together holistically to create a special and welcoming experience. In the fall of 2013, the husband-wife team will open the doors to Moxie Kitchen and Cocktails, a restaurant and bar designed by ai3.
To have moxie means to have gusto and exuberance, which is the precise word to describe how Gray and Johnson feel about their new venture. After 20 years of criss-crossing the U.S. to study, work, and travel, Gray is eager to channel all the stories, recipes and relationships into one inviting space.
The design team at ai3 created Moxie from the ground up. The result is a signature space, one that is as bold and inventive as its owners. It also reflects the sustainable and flexible goals that Gray and Johnson set out to achieve. From the outside, Moxie announces itself to be hip and fresh. The 2-story building features an exterior clad with reclaimed wood and brick with large letters that spell out “MOXIE.” A covered patio on the second story overlooks an adjacent waterway. Organic elements such as wood, brick and translucent glass mix with bold angles and exposed structural steel to demonstrate Moxie’s slightly organic, but thoroughly modern attitude.
Located in a high-traffic shopping district of Jacksonville, ai3 designed Moxie for flexibility, developing a layout and functional space that could handle diverse crowds. There are multiple dining and gathering spaces that range from outdoor patios to a private dining room. Round leather tufted booths clad with metal exteriors are a focal point in the dining room. Banquettes warm the space with texture, pattern and bold red and gold accents. The private dining room is more intimate with dark painted brick and a custom wood projection wall. Columns help divide the space and wood veneer panels overlaid with screened maps to bring personality and narrative to the space.
Details throughout Moxie reveal clever infusions of the owners’ personality. Artwork and storage are central to the design. Custom murals were sourced locally and created by friends of Gray and Johnson. Creative storage for Moxie’s wine collection is another central element. It also helps to define the space with shelving and cabinetry throughout. A wide range of decorative lighting adds to the character and interest. Metal sconces and blown glass pendant light fixtures work in tandem with the natural light and textured glass clerestory windows that are part of the design.