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Woody’s BBQ Owners Take On New Restaurant at Bull Creek Camp, With County as Landlord

| February 3, 2014

It's been closed for 15 months, but the restaurant at Bull Creek Campground just landed a new lease and will open by spring for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Carl Laundrie/Flagler County)

It’s been closed for 15 months, but the restaurant at Bull Creek Campground just landed a new lease and will open by spring for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Carl Laundrie/Flagler County)

Travel to the end of County Road 2006 in western Flagler County and you end at the appropriately called Dead Lake, a thumb-up protrusion of water north of the Haw Creek Preserve, half-way between Mud Lake to the east and the much larger expanse of Crescent Lake to the west. The attractive, out-of-the-way location is a fisherman’s haven. It is Flagler County nature at its most authentic and least disturbed.

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Charlie McCraney sold the property to county government in December 2007, for $1.8 million, and with it a boat ramp and dock, a restaurant, a bait shop, bathrooms and a park ranger’s office. The restaurant and bait shop have had a checkered history, with the county having to take over the bait shop operation in June 2011 and the restaurant closing ion October 2012. It’s been idle since. The county even considered replacing the restaurant with an overnight lodging facility.

Monday morning, the Flagler County Commission unanimously approved leasing the restaurant and bait shop to a three-man consortium that recently formed as JMC Food Company. The county is charging $1,000 a month for the first five years, with rent rising by increments of $100 a month in each of the five successive years. Out-of-county park usage fees (but not RV camping rentals) will be split 50-50 between the county and JMC, and a minimum $20,000 investment in the property by JMC is required.

JMC, which plans an investment of $30,000, plans to add a general store and may branch out with eco-tourism type offerings such as kayak rentals, fishing tournaments, wildlife tours, “motorcycle rides and any event that showcases the natural beauty and unique features of the area,” a JMC memo outlining the business plan states. Oh, and yes: beer and wine.

JMC forms the first-name initials of the three owners, who are no strangers to the restaurant business: Joe Rizzo and Matt Crews, owners of Woody’s Bar-B-Q in Palm Coast, and Chris Zwirn, who joined the Rizzo-Crews partnership last May after eight years as district manager, overseeing three Wendy’s restaurants locally.

“The place has functioned and been successful before,” Crews said this afternoon. “There’s more people out there than you think, and virtually all of them, because of their secluded nature, are accustomed to driving quite a ways for virtually anything. So we feel we’ll have a considerably bigger physical demographic area than typically you would with a restaurant. At the same time our intention is to offer very good, quality food, and ultimately to turn the restaurant into a destination-type place.”

That is: a place people go to specifically rather than incidentally. JMC expects to open in mid-April or early May, and expect to employ some 15 people to start, with the three principals dividing their time between Woody’s and the new restaurant. It’ll open at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast, and will operate through 9 p.m. and lunch and dinner, seven days a week.

For the county, securing a tenant for the Bull Creek facility would extend a modest but solid streak of successes with restaurant businesses taking over county property—Hijackers at the county airport, Captain’s BBQ at Bings Landing, and now JMC at Bull Creek.

Commissioner Nate McLaughlin described how residents on the west side, the district he represents, have been craving a restaurant there since the previous one closed. “I commend staff for finding a qualified group of people to come in and do something,” McLaughlin said. “A lot of people want to do these kinds of things and they want to start from scratch. It’s very difficult. It takes an amount of capital to make these kinds of projects work and this particular project, where it’s out on the lake, it’[s going to require some advertising and such for this group and the investors to push their clientele out there, rather than drive by and those sorts of things. So this is quite an endeavor.”

It wasn’t a given that the place would find an operator. It was more like JMC found the county. The county placed the property out for bid. JMC was the only legitimate bite at the bid. “Everyone else that’s contacted us over the last year or so,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said, “has either turned out to have criminal backgrounds or had no restaurant experience and or no money to invest in really making the restaurant grow. Just like we did with Captain’s Barbecue, they made a substantial investment out there, and they were in it for the long haul, and that makes us feel more comfortable, because as you know we were talking about demolishing this particular facility because it does flood and has some other issues.” Coffey added: “If this vendor doesn’t make it work then we’ve got to revisit demolition at that point because then it may be the location is not suitable for it. But if you look across the [lake], Three Bananas, it’s been a long landmark and in existence for many years, and this has potential to be a Three Bananas.”

Commissioners were insistent on pressing the new owners for an energetic marketing plan, but Commissioner Barbara Revels, no stranger to the west side or to farmers’ past habits, reminded her colleagues that when the restaurant was open, it was busy with farmers. “I have had numbers of calls not from the public looking for it, but from those people that wanted to apply to do it,” Revels said, “and let me tell you, there were some scary people who wanted to run this operation, and they just felt like they were going to make an awful lot of money on the county’s dime. I just think it’s great to have a really good, well-managed entity with experience, with a great format, known to our community, invested, live here, the profits stay in the community, that’s huge. It’s not some franchisee going somewhere else.”

The food, Crews said, will be “high-end continental,” with burgers, shrimp and oyster po boy, catfish sandwiches, fresh seafood, steaks, salads and a lot more (including all you can eat pancakes for breakfast).

Crews said he and his partners “are entering into it with the realization that this is not going to be an overnight success.” At the same time, all three are experienced and can rely on a reliably, trust-worthy staff, two of the three have deep roots in the community, the third is growing those roots, and all three intend to live out their days in the county. They’re in it, Crews said, for the long haul. “We’re not entering into it with blinders on or star spangled eyes to so to speak,” he said. The broader economic climate has been encouraging, with sales steadily and sustainably growing at Woody’s, for example, an indication of positive trends. “People are optimistic, people are looking forward to the future, people are looking forward to positive things,” Crews said.

The owners of the new restaurant hope views like this will make the place a destination for many. (Carl Laundrie/Flagler County)

The owners of the new restaurant hope views like this will make the place a destination for many. (Carl Laundrie/Flagler County)

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17 Responses for “Woody’s BBQ Owners Take On New Restaurant at Bull Creek Camp, With County as Landlord”

  1. orphan says:

    Can I hear an ‘AMEN’?
    That location has an excellent chance to make a restaurant successful, based on my observations over the past decade.
    Bless these three gentlemen for having the foresight AND the capital to make something happen out there! What a beautiful piece of heaven at ANY time of day, and if you haven’t visited Bull Creek, do yourself a favor sometime.
    I want to thank the county personnel who were involved in making this happen, also. It seems a win-win to me!

  2. Outsider says:

    While I don’t live quite as close to the location as I used to, it will still be on my list of places to eat, as long as the food is good. Good luck guys, and I will see you soon!

  3. hey boo boo says:

    Eco-tourism: good idea. Kayak rentals: bad idea. There are so many huge gators in Dead Lake & Crescent Lake. Maybe they could sell tickets to watch the kayakers together with the gators. Now that would generate visitors!

    • Willy says:

      Big gators? yes. The likelihood of an unrpvoked gator attack? 0%.. That place has natural beauty and potential, a good location for a 6 mile canoe/kyak run from Russell Landing to the resturant down Haw Creek. I think the gentlemen involved are both smart and motivated. This is definitely a good investment for them, and a stable, secure, paertnership for Flagler County.

      A side note don’t let the name “Dead Lake” discourage you from a visit. The lake isn’t named after the dead. In the late 1800’s the St. Johns park development received its Mail by steam boat or “mailboat” via the St, John’s river and Crescent Lake. St. Johns Park was the “Dead Last” stop on the line, Hence the name Dead Lake.

      • Outsider says:

        I beg to differ. Paddle a kayak near a gator nest or male during mating season and the chances are definitely not “0%.” While unlikely, I wouldn’t want to play that lottery.

  4. Moe Syzlak says:

    Good luck to Matt and Joe.

    • BobbyD says:

      A good gator hunt will take care of the gator problem. I hope this works out,, good food will bring the customers. I wish them luck in their new venture.

  5. Frank Zedar says:

    Back in the early 2000’s, I used to ride my motorcycle there with friends for Saturday morning pancakes. Haven’t been in many years. This venture will lure me back!

  6. Devrie says:

    I’m excited about this too. On a side note, there is something being built near the Citgo station (The Country Store) on C.R. 305 and some folks on a Mondex/West Bunnell Facebook page are saying it’s going to be a pizza and sub shop. If you look up the plot of land on (the property appraiser’s website), it says that the plot is owned by these same business owners.

    Any info on that?

    I grew up here and now live here. I know that between the migrant farm workers, the residents, the transient boaters, the nearby hunters, and all the through-traffic from service workers such as cable and satellite installers, pest control people and others, such a venture would do well if managed well.

    • Christine Telega says:

      A while back in the paper, it said someone was going to build a fried chicken restaurant there, but the area has been cleared for months and nothing has been done so who knows?

  7. Florida Native. says:

    I’m just happy to see county money go somewhere else besides Palm Coast and Flagler Beach. Great job guys!

  8. Salute says:

    Let’s see…Woody’s Bar-b-Que and Dead Lake gators?????? OK, who’s doing the cooking here?

  9. rhweir says:

    Have to wonder if there was an competition for the location from other restaurants. I doubt it. They’re going to have to haul everything out there. Hope it’s not Woody’s food, that stuff is well not so good. Does anyone know if Crescent is navigable with a 23 ft deepvee and are there any marinas out there? My boat is out in Astor and I don’t like taking it out on Lake George, too many snags and posts.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes it is navigable with your boat. I have seen 30 foot plus out there. Great fishing for bass and crappy and catfish. Beautiful country.

      Good luck guys, looking forward to another place to enjoy good company. Keep the beer cold.


  10. OldCdog says:

    I used to love going out there for lunch years ago.. A great unique location that is so serene.
    I wish the new owners well and hope they use their expertise to attract business there!

  11. Christine Telega says:

    Well, the restaurant at Bull Creek has opened and I give it a year of struggling before it closes. We west siders do need and want a restaurant but the people who open this location never learn from past mistakes. We ate there last week and were very disappointed. First, they don’t have menus and don’t wait on the tables and customers must stand in the front and read the menu, order and pay first. The prices are steep too, for the type and amount of food they serve. Then, they hand you a napkin wrapped around a plastic fork and knife and let you find a table. The drinks come in styrofoam cups, the meals come on plastic plates or on a piece of paper in a plastic basket and if you need to cut something, it is very difficult to do so with a plastic knife. The food was not very good either, my shrimp was obviously frozen shrimp, the french fries were frozen and my dining companion’s “beef tips over rice” tasted like Zatarian’s rice out of the box. The only thing fresh was the broccoli but it came in such large chunks, that unless one likes shoving huge amounts into one’s mouth, it needed to cut up and with a plastic knife, this was hard to do. There was no bread or hushpuppies with the meal and no one offered any seasonings or butter to go with the broccoli at all. There was exactly one table other than ours that was occupied and I can certainly understand why. Every new tenant at this place makes the same mistakes and even we “country folk” out here in Western Flagler don’t want to pay high prices for food that is not as good as we can get a concession stand. If they want to succeed at all, first they need to ADVERTISE that the place is again open, since it has been closed for so long. Second, serving frozen, microwaved food will not work. It didn’t work for the other 4 or 5 operators and it won’t work this time either. Third, plastic dinnerware is not what you want to get when going out to eat and paying their very high prices. We will not return. I can only imagine what the breakfasts are like served on plastic, with plastic utensils and the coffee in styrofoam cups will certainly be horrid. I didn’t order any coffee, because I could see that if they did indeed have it, it would most certainly be old and coffee in a styrofoam cup is undrinkable. I only hope that they see the mistake and start using real dishes and silverware. It is also very wasteful to use throw away plates, cups, and PLASTICWARE. The one bright spot was that the place was very clean and the new restrooms are a vast improvement over the old ones. Other than that, I see nothing to make people want to return.

  12. Alan says:

    I too ate there and could not help notice the lack of patrons, at least for weekday lunch. (Perhaps they do far better on weekends) I do indeed agree that the plastic plates, cups, and PLASTICWARE eating utensils is a complete turnoff for the prices being charged.
    The quality and taste, however, of the fish of the day was great and cooked to perfection. The real beauty of the place is the serenity of that gorgeous, yet somewhat remote location. I hope they do get away from that blackboard / fishbait type of front door ambiance if they really intend to succeed as a destination restaurant and continue to wish them well.

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