He was at Max & David’s from 2007-2011 and then became a private chef in order to spend more time with his two young children. At the same time, he helped his friend Scott Clarke with Blue Monkey catering.
“It was a quality of life choice,” he says.
Three weeks ago, he took an even bigger step with quality of life in mind by moving down to St. Augustine, Florida. He says he instantly fell in love with the area two years ago when he went to visit his mother.
And it was finally time to open up his own place.
“As I stepped foot here, I knew I wanted to raise my kids here. For a about a year [when he would visit], I was looking for a location within a 50 mile radius of St. Augustine. Then I saw an ad on Craigslist and then I’m riding up the coast looking at beaches, national wildlife preserves. And I’m thinking of what it was like driving on the boulevard and on the Schuylkill [expressway in Philadelphia]. And I get to the restaurant and it’s already set up—all the equipment is there. Essentially, if all codes are ready, I can start cooking tomorrow. It just felt right,” he says.
As for the concept, he says, he’d been playing with different ideas for ten years, a time in which he says he has rebuffed the approaches of various investors.
Besides the timing not being right then, he says, “I feel that if you go into something, it has to be all or nothing. When I was envisioning opening a business, I was thinking I just wanted to be happy. I wanted a better place to raise my kids, better schools, and I wanted to go fishing on the beach.”
So far, he has adapted well to life way down south.
“Florida life is awesome. I’m really feeling it. I’m finally starting to understand relaxing, taking it easy,” telling me that before I called him [last Saturday morning], he caught a pompano and a red fish earlier in the day.
“Living in Philly, it’s always fast-paced. Even driving to work [here], there’s the opportunity to breathe in the fresh air and see all kinds of stuff that we didn’t grow up seeing,” he says. [My relocation was from Northeast Philly to sunny South Philly]
McDonough is bringing Philly with him, however, by introducing his neighbors to the level of sandwich love we have in the 215. His concept is gourmet sandwiches, with nods to Philly classics included, that draw upon the various cuisines he’s been exposed to in the roughly 20 years he’s been in the restaurant industry. Going with the name Flavor Palette, he’ll give customers the option of choosing from a set menu (his core sandwiches) or to piece together their own sandwiches between a few initial choices (type of bread, meat, cheese, hot vegetable) and an “international bar” with sauces, pickled vegetables, and condiments (think everything from chimichurri to kimchi).
“Part of it is encouraging the customer to be more creative and to play a little bit,” he says, while adding that “anything that I make is going to be full of flavor. The flavor is going to speak for itself.”
I spoke with McDonough over the phone this past Saturday, 11/5, about his concept, what informs it, and how his business will fit into the local food scene he now finds himself in.
Brion Shreffler: How far away are you from opening?
Tom McDonough: I signed my lease, I made my agreements two weeks ago. I’ve been meeting with contractors because I want to do a front of house renovation—basically a face-lift. I’m going for a more modern, clean look. If all goes well, I’m looking to be open January 1st.
Do you have the same concept since the last time we talked?
Same concept but I tweaked it. Now, I have about ten signature sandwiches that will be the heartbeat. I’m thinking of working in banh mi’s, Cuban sandwiches, cheesesteaks, possibly po’ boys, a burger. And I’m also thinking of doing monthly specials to highlight one or two international sandwiches. That would be the complete package, though I’m still formulating.
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