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The Many Projects of Local’s Jeff Johnson

Johnson talks about his new food truck and two new restaurants.

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Jeff Johnson - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson of Local in Overton Square and downtown, recently began his two-week vacation with a meeting to discuss expanding the brand to the Nashville market. He's also finishing up the installation of a 48-tap draft beer system and raw bar at the Midtown location by the end of the month.

Oh, and he just launched the food truck Parish Grocery; is in the process of rolling out two restaurants, Oshi Burger Bar and Agave Maria; and recently formed the consulting group RFJ Concepts (as if crafting his own multitude of projects doesn't keep him busy enough, a point Johnson laments with a certain tongue-in-cheek pride).

Parish Grocery is a Cajun and Creole-themed food truck operated out of an Airstream. The truck was started as an extension of Johnson's catering company.

The menu includes Louisiana staples such as red beans and rice, gumbo, crawfish étouffée, and barbecue shrimp po'boy sandwiches as well as bread pudding and potato salad. There are four beer taps set into the exterior wall of the Airstream, which was included with events and private parties in mind.

Johnson projects a mid-to-late July launch for Oshi Burger Bar, which is in the old Dream Berry space on South Main.

"From a design element, there's an Asian influence, and even on the menu, there are some items that have a slight Asian homage to them, but it's not a Japanese restaurant," Johnson says. "It gave us the ability to make it more unique and to put our own spin on it. To make it more memorable."

The small menu will focus on alcoholic milk shakes, cocktails, hand-crafted sausages, and locally sourced hamburgers custom-ground from brisket, short rib, and sirloin.

Some of the sausages will include chicken, wild boar, lobster, and sweetbreads.

"We're taking the basic fundamentals of a burger and making it your own and running with it and using different ingredients," Johnson says.

The launch of Oshi, which already has been pushed back several months, will start the countdown to Agave Maria, an upscale Mexican bistro and tequila bar set to open in late September.

"We're taking Mexican street food, and we're refining it and using better ingredients. We're taking street food to the next level," Johnson says.

Johnson promises Agave Maria will set itself apart because it won't offer the same five ingredients packaged in different ways.

He'll incorporate fresh local produce, peppers, and a labor-intensive mole sauce into Agave Maria's tapas, tacos, tortas, and enchiladas.

Johnson has six other concepts he's "toying around with" and may initiate one day. He says it's the success of the Locals that has allowed him to expand his reach.

The desire to breathe life into brands and to make something interesting out of nothing is a core motivation for Johnson, and the food truck and the new restaurants hardly satiate that appetite.

"I just like creating these things. That's why I formed the consulting group," Johnson says. "We've got a couple of consulting proposals out on the table to help some other companies solidify their brands. I enjoy putting this stuff together and that was just another outlet to create."

The group at RFJ Concepts includes Graham Reese, who will focus on architecture, and Ben Fant, who will focus on branding and franchising.

As for Johnson's "vacation." He's spending it visiting several cities to do some market research on culinary trends.

"I thought the opportunities were great, and I didn't want to pass that up," Johnson says of starting so many businesses at once. "It's certainly not ideal for me to open up one restaurant two months away from the other. It's twice the headache. Twice the challenge. But the truck was a no-brainer. That was just too easy."

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