Monday was Grand Opening for Metro Diner

300-METRO-DINERThe popular Jacksonville eatery, known for its signature fried chicken and waffles, opened its St. Augustine store Monday and the 3,500-square-foot space has been packed ever since, according to employees at work Wednesday.

The restaurant, in a highly visible location that fronts US-1 and intersects with SR-207, has turned out an average of 600 covers both days — pretty impressive considering the business is open only for breakfast and lunch from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

“It’s been pretty amazing,” co-owner and operator Mark Davoli told reporters this morning. “We’re seeing a lot of repeat business already — so yeah, the local crowd seems to be really enjoying it.”

That’s in addition to the hundreds who filed through between last weekend, when the restaurant held a soft opening to give its employees a dry run before opening Monday morning and held a charity fundraiser on Saturday to benefit the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine.

The St. Augustine Metro Diner is the first opening of a much larger expansion planned by Davoli and his father, who 15 years ago converted an old restaurant in Jacksonville’s San Marco into a regional phenomenon based largely on word-of-mouth and a reputation for large portions of Southern comfort food in a retro, laid-back atmosphere. The eatery was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” in 2010.

That location spawned four more in Jacksonville and, now, its sixth location — and the first Metro Diner outside the metro — in the Ancient City. A seventh, in Orange Park, is slated for opening in late May, and another, in Tampa, in July.

To hear Davoli talk, he and his partners are in full expansion mode and those plans could even extend nationally. A partnership with venture funding groups in the food service industry has helped fuel the expansion outside Jacksonville’s borders.

“We’re looking at another location in Tampa and also one in Savannah right now,” Davoli said. “We clearly think we’ve tapped into a kind of blueprint for success, Metro Diner also wants to stay true to its humble, slightly quirky origins.”

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