Players Grille expands in Jacksonville with wings, burgers, family fun
A Jacksonville husband-and-wife team of entrepreneurs has launched their game plan to take a popular neighborhood sports bar to major NFL cities nationwide.
Nearly eight months after buying Players Grille in Miramar, owners Phil and Megan Visali have opened their second location in Mandarin, at 10140 San Jose Blvd.
The restaurant's grand opening on Aug. 12 coincides with the Jacksonville Jaguars' first pre-season football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Texas.
The family-friendly sports bar with its pub grub, prominent Jaguars football decor, high-definition televisions and kids' activity area has been in the soft opening stage since mid-July. It's about seven miles south of the original Players Grille at 4456 Hendricks Ave. in Miramar.
The Visalis soon will open two more Players Grille restaurants in the Jacksonville area. Their ultimate goal is to expand the sports bar brand via franchising to major NFL cities.
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"We're building the team now and I believe Players Grille can be in many states over the next couple of years," Visali told the Times-Union. "We may focus on the NFL cities first and then other communities."
Next in the opening lineup is Players Grille at 1075 Oakleaf Plantation Parkway at the Publix-anchored Oakleaf Commons shopping center near Orange Park, they said.
"Oakleaf is scheduled to open Aug. 15. It's going to be our express version concept. It's going to be more of a pizza, burgers, wings and beer place. It's not a full bar. It's 64 seats and more of a takeout place," said Visali, noting it will be the smallest Players Grille concept.
Then, the Visalis will turn their attention to Players Grille planned for the ground floor of the new Home2Suites by Hilton hotel in the historic Brooklyn neighborhood. The 100-room hotel is in the final stage of construction.
Visali said the hotel's Players Grille will be about 5,000 square feet with at least 150 seats inside and out. Currently, the couple is working through the final stages of the layout with the architects. The restaurant could open in January 2024, he said.
A fan favorite for 24 years, the original Players Grille in Miramar has drawn crowds for college football on Saturdays and Jaguars games on Sundays. It's also been a popular lunch and dinner spot throughout the week since opening in 1999.
When they bought Players Grille last December, the Visalis already were looking to expand the restaurant in Florida and beyond.
The first phase of that expansion happened in May when the couple bought out Time Out Sports Grill in Mandarin, which had been operating at the San Jose Boulevard site — previously a Village Inn restaurant — for a little more than a year. The original Time-Out Sports Grill remains open at 13799 Beach Blvd.
Although new to the restaurant business, the couple are experienced entrepreneurs. Visali founded an insurance group in 2009. Through his franchising experience, they grew that business to about 250 units in 30 states before selling it in 2021, he said.
Having a sports bar or fine dining restaurant, he said, was a longtime dream. They approached the idea from the perspective of customers and the parents of two children — ages 5 and 17 — noting they wanted a place with "great food, great service and fair pricing."
Players Grille offered that opportunity, said the couple who live in Mandarin and are Jaguars season ticket holders.
The Visalis renovated the Mandarin building. They kept the original tables, downsized the bar and upholstered the booths in the Jaguars team colors. A life-size portrait of Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence poised to pass the football adorns one wall near an alcove with a video golf game.
Buffalo Bills decor also has a prominent place in the new sports bar. Bills Backers of Jacksonville will be making the restaurant their clubhouse for Bills fans on game days, Visali said.
The indoor kids' play area features claw toy machines and pinball, Megan Visali said. They also have 20 Buzztime game tablets available for youngsters or adults to play electronic games.
Players Grille is known for its chicken wings and burgers. The initial Mandarin menu is smaller than at Miramar, but more offerings are being added, Megan Visali said.
As soon as the equipment arrives, pizza will be available at all Players Grille locations.
"We've already added a bunch of dips — Buffalo chicken dip, artichoke dip, pretzel and beer cheese," she said. "Miramar is a lot of entrees and we thought it might be a little more fun to have some samplers, appetizers and finger food in this [Mandarin] location."
Smoked, Jumbo and Boneless wings top the Players Grille signature offerings. Jumbo wings range from five for $9.99 to 10 for $14.99 and 25 for $31.99. Smoked are five for $10.99 to 10 for $16.99 and 25 for $35.99. Boneless wings are $7.99 for five, $12.99 for 10 and $25.99 for 25 wings.
Players Grille offers 11 wing sauces, including classic mild, medium and hot plus Cajun Ranch, Kickin' Bourbon, Honey BBQ, Mango Habanero, Sweet Chili, Garlic Parmesan and Teriyaki. There also is Lemon Pepper dry rub.
Burgers, also a customer favorite, include The Build Your Own Burger ($16) with choice of two add-ons: ranging from jalapenos, onion rings, bacon and avocado to a fried egg, relish or sauteed mushrooms. Cheese options include American, Swiss, Cheddar and Provolone.
Players Grille is open from 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday through Sunday. Once Monday Night Football begins, it will be open from 4 p.m. to midnight on Monday. Until then, it is closed on Monday.
Times-Union writer Gary T. Mills contributed to this report.
Teresa Stepzinski is the dining reporter for the Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter @TeresaStepz or reach her via email at [email protected].
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