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Fonville Forever

When Fonville Press closed in 2019, it was not only the loss of coffee, but also of community that saddened residents and visitors in and around Alys Beach. For Jeremy Walton, it was personal.

“I had the good fortune or bad fortune, however you want to look at it; I was charged with closing it down, but we were able to coincide that closure with the opening of some other amenities like ZUMA and the Beach Club,” Jeremy said. “But, it was still a huge disappointment to many. 

“One homeowner said it best when they closed down, they were obviously very upset, but they were like, ‘This is kind of like the front door to Alys Beach,’ and had been for the better part of his life,” he continued. “I think everybody didn’t really appreciate it until after the fact, that sense of how people had endeared themselves to it.”

Fonville Press, in its original iteration, opened its doors in 2004 — the first true amenity inside of Alys Beach for people to enjoy. Its namesake, John Fonville, a one-time magazine editor, was a neighbor of the Stephens family who founded EBSCO Industries and Alys Beach; Elton B. Stephens’ wife, Alys, is the whitewashed community’s namesake.

Jeremy grew up working for EBSCO at its corporate headquarters in Birmingham. Due to its proximity to the Florida Panhandle, he and his wife, Angie, also grew up vacationing in the area.

“We knew Mike [Ragsdale] before there were ever 30A stickers on 400 million cars,” Jeremy said, with a laugh. 
By 2014, he had moved to the area permanently and took the job as vice president of resort operations for Alys Beach, a full circle moment in his career. A number of years later, Jeremy found himself sitting down with the people he’d worked with for so long discussing moving from VP to tenant. That conversation led to the opening of The Citizen at Alys Beach, a modern coastal tavern the Waltons describe as a “city restaurant at the beach.” 

After The Citizen opened its doors in 2021, the Waltons turned their attention to the proverbial elephant in the room — Fonville Press.

“I was talking to a homeowner and he said to me, ‘I just can’t believe they would do this [close Fonville Press]. Why would they do this?’ And, I had a moment of weakness and kind of said, in jest and maybe with a little bit of frustration, ‘If I had my way, I would reopen it in the ground floor of The Lucian and add a market and a bar.’

“And that guy came back to me later and ended up becoming an investor. He said, ‘If you’re serious about doing that, we’d like to help you,’” he continued. “I remember the last day we closed it down so it was kind of a cool moment to be able to turn around and bring it back.”

The Waltons’ plan for Fonville Press was to pay homage to the original business but expand on the idea.

“We wanted to keep part of Fonville Press for the homeowners and everyone, but we also wanted to add our own part to it and Jeremy’s great-grandfather owned a grocery store so we wanted to make it somewhat personal,” Angie said. 

“The No. 1 thing on the homeowners’ survey was a market so we knew that was going to be a desire to have that convenience and that option,” Jeremy said. “And, we don’t really draw this comparison intentionally, but every developer in the country who does some kind of community market and they always mention Modica and Oakville Grocery in Napa [California] because they’re just so iconic.”

The goal with the new Fonville Press was to bring back pieces of the old, iconic coffee shop and gathering spot and kind of a community center,” Jeremy said. “But, we wanted to expand on that. The market was the next logical piece.”

To satisfy homeowners and visitors alike, Fonville Press has become less of a full-service experience and more of an offering where you don’t need a plan. You can order takeout, homemade baked goods, partially-prepared family meals that can be finished at home, grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches, drinks at the indoor-outdoor bar and more.

“The market has really transformed into the Swiss army knife of restaurants,” Jeremy said. “Everybody should be able to have cocktails while they grocery shop.”

“Or, sit outside in their bathing suits,” Angie added.

Fonville Press opened its doors in October, welcoming tourists, remote workers and Alys homeowners, some of whom the Walton now see two, three times a day.

“They’re going to sit at a particular seat at the bar for breakfast. They’re going to come back and have lunch. They’ll order takeout for dinner or they’ll swing by and pick up something to take home and cook,” Jeremy said. “We’re seeing people use it the way we’d hoped.”

Jeremy’s part in bringing amenities to Alys Beach is part of a bigger picture for the beloved beach community.

“I think Alys, for so long, people wanted a reason to be there. There just wasn’t enough to do to keep you there,” he said. “The Town Center was the thing that was always missing.

“There weren’t enough shops. There weren’t enough restaurants. You could walk the property and it was always fun and you could go to the doughnut truck,” he said. 

Having worked and visited large cities across the country, the Waltons were exposed to so many great things they wished to have on the Emerald Coast.

“We’ve kind of now adopted this policy of, like, well, O.K., let’s just do it,” Jeremy said. 

The Citizen and now Fonville Press are just the beginning.

“To describe Fonville, it’s a mouthful,” Jeremy said. “We were just trying to bring together the old and the new into a place where everybody could just bump into each other and I think we’ve accomplished that.”

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2 Responses to “Fonville Forever”

  • I love Fonville Press. I loved having coffee under the green umbrellas and now love having coffee under the pink umbrellas. The staff is very kind and helpful. It’s a great new place.

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