Joe Abston likens his entrepreneur skills to those of an artist.
“For some artists, there are things in their body they need to express,” Abston said. “I feel like I have to get this done.”
What Abston has done since the opening of downtown’s Hopjacks in 2008 is open additional locations on Nine Mile Road and in Mobile, Ala., The Tin Cow on Palafox and Hopjacks Filling Station on Cervantes.
Not only have the restaurants given locals more reasons to be downtown after hours, but the local job market has also been given a boost. Abston estimates, off the top of his head, that he has 155 employees under his belt, most of them in Pensacola.
“My whole focus is jobs,” he said. “If I could add another 100 jobs by 2013 then I will.”
Abston is looking to open more Hopjacks restaurants in 2013.
He said he’s always been an entrepreneur and a chef by trade. He worked alongside some of the best chefs in the culinary world before he began revitalizing Pensacola’s nightlife and adding to downtown’s food options.
“I asked ‘What does this area need?’” he said of opening Hopjacks. “I’m not going to put a pizza place next to a pizza place.”
Abston truly believes in the future of downtown, and makes sure to note the business owners who landed there first.
“New York Nick’s, Intermission, Jackson’s, Global Grill. They believed in downtown before there was a downtown,” Abston said. “Nick Zangari came hell or high water—and he had high water during Hurricane Ivan.”
In Abston’s vision of Pensacola’s future, Hopjacks and The Tin Cow will be just a pit stop for downtown goers.
“I see turning Palafox corridor into a walking district from Friday to Sunday,” he said. “Make downtown not just a bar industry, but retail industry. Families can park the car and walk to Distinctive Kitchens, have lunch at The Tin Cow, go to The Spotted Dog. Really just change the nature of downtown.”
Abston would also like to see more young people take up residence in the downtown district.
“The city needs affordable housing for single individuals and couples of a combined income of $60,000,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be $3,000 for a 1,200 square foot apartment.”
Although Abston is quick to note what he wants to add to downtown, he does give downtown credit for how far it has come.
“Four years ago we said, ‘If we could just become like Mobile’s downtown,’” he said. “Pensacola has surpassed that.”