When Chelsea Harrelson walked into the first-ever Maple Street Biscuit Company in San Marco for a job interview, she told the nice man she met, if hired, she would not be there long. She just wanted to see how someone goes about opening a restaurant.
Three years later, Chelsea runs her own store, and she credits that “nice man” – Maple Street founder and owner Scott Moore – with saving her life.
In 2012, Maple Street Biscuit Company was Moore’s dream along with his business partner Gus Evans. It was coming to life right before their eyes in San Marco’s bustling neighborhood while they constructed the inside of the restaurant. Chelsea only knew of it as that new place down the block. The 20-something had just lost her bartending job nearby, because the place went out of business. She quickly found another gig tending bar, but she was looking for a second job.
“I was there to make money to afford food,” she said.
She remembers walking into the new biscuit place, which offered early-morning work shifts that appealed to her. She could work 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. almost everyday.
Within the first two weeks, she was working nearly 80 hours a week and catching two-hour cat-naps in between shifts.
Concerned, Moore and Evans sat her down. She remembers them asking, “What do we need to do for you to be okay?” Caught off guard by the level of compassion, Chelsea remembers being uncomfortable and rendered speechless. After all, this new restaurant had only just opened within weeks itself. Then that compassion went a step further. They offered her a raise and the promise of more responsibility.
Chelsea knew she had told Moore she wouldn’t be there long and that it was her dream to one day run her own restaurant, and yet, good things were still happening for her.
“Honestly, I think initially, my honesty got me the job. And for some reason, I still don’t know why, but Mr. Scott saw something in me,” she said.
A few more weeks passed, and Chelsea received another raise and a new title: assistant manager.
She was still behind on bills, but she was quickly getting caught up. Then one day Chelsea remembers Moore asking her to step outside alone. Panic and anxiety set in. After all, those one-on-one chats with your boss are 99.9% bad news, right?
Moore again took a concerned approach. He’d noticed Chelsea had worked holes into her shoes, noticing she’d sometimes wear red socks to camouflage the holes in her favorite red Toms. She remembers him saying, “You look scared.” She recalls admitting she was nervous, thinking he was going to fire her for it. She just didn’t have the money for a new “luxury” item like shoes.
What she didn’t realize was Moore still wanted her to be okay. He walked her to a boutique down the block and bought her a new pair of the red Toms she so adored – no strings attached. Chelsea remembers being so awe-struck she couldn’t bring herself to wear the new shoes for a week.
Today when she tells the story you’ll hear, “Mr. Scott is my mentor, not just my boss. Boss doesn’t do it justice. Through mentorship, he’s helped me better respond to life, both personally and professionally. He’s helped me to set a budget, to be a better listener, to open up and not be so shy, and to have a vision for the future.”
That future found her helping fellow director Chris Sears open the company’s second location in Jacksonville Beach. Then came the opportunity of a lifetime. Moore told Chelsea he’d found a perfect spot in Jacksonville’s Murray Hill neighborhood for the company’s third community based store location — a spot he’d picked just for her.
On opening day, July 17, 2014, she cried. No longer living just to work while struggling to afford food and shoes, she was now given the opportunity to help others, just as Moore and Evans had done for her.
“It’s the best opportunity in the world to be able to help somebody,” she shares. “Sometimes, it still feels surreal.”
Murray Hill is a community on the mend, desperate to overcome neighborhood blight and crime and ready to embrace revitalization: much like Chelsea found herself when she found her way to Maple Street.
While still under construction, Chelsea remembers a car tearing up to nearly the front door and a passionate woman jumping out to hug her and exclaiming, “Welcome to the neighborhood!!” The soon-to-be new customer was just joyful to have new business to help give the community an economic facelift. Another customer has told Chelsea she hopes the store will help turn the neighborhood around so she can one day sell her house.
A tall order, she admits, but Chelsea graciously states, “I’ve just never felt so welcome before.” Her store is now a meeting place for church groups and a spot to host surprise birthday parties, baby showers and bridal showers, and of course the best spot around to grab a warm biscuit and some locally-brewed Red Leaf Maple Tap coffee.
Waking up at 5 a.m. never gets easy, she will tell you, but she comes alive when she walks through her store. So much so that Chelsea even comes in all alone to the store on occasion when the biscuits aren’t churning just to reflect on how far she’s come.
“I gave a (a team member) a Christmas card this year to tell him I was proud of him. He came and hugged me and cried and said no one had ever told him that before.”
A full-circle moment not lost on Chelsea Harrelson.
Chelsea’s Maple Street Favorite
Well, they’ve all been her favorite biscuit at one point.
If she had to pick, currently, it’s the Garden Egg.
Oh, and she’s obsessed with our bacon. She eats it every day.