Shandon Benjamin Fox has tried to shed the misconception that southern cuisine cannot be nutritious.
When she opened 1 Foxy Lady restaurant in Springfield in July 2020, she wanted to provide meals that fused the southern style she learned from her mother and grandmother with the culinary options she did not know existed during her childhood in Moncrief.
The vegan breakfast gyro, vegan sandwich and spin-off on grits and sausage have been menu staples for years. Wednesday, they became the foundation that helped 1 Foxy Lady become the first local Blue Zones-approved restaurant.
“These are things that we’ve always offered our customers, but we just made it a Blue Zones special,” Fox said. “So, yeah, because their initiative is to come in and they don’t want to make drastic changes, they just want to fit it into a situation where we offer our community healthier options.”
Blue Zones Jacksonville works with residents in five ZIP codes on the Eastside, Westside and Northwest Jacksonville to make choices that will help extend life expectancies. Fox said Blue Zones did not try to change the menu but emphasized dishes that are conducive to a healthy lifestyle.
Brittnay Camps, an organization and well-being lead for Blue Zones Jacksonville, says working with established restaurants like 1 Foxy Lady means the project can have a broader effect due to the trust consumers have with the restaurant.
“You’ll have an increase in customers, as well as most importantly just an opportunity to be part of a community-led well-being initiative that is in the process of working with the residents of Jacksonville for transformation,” Camps said.
One of those residents, longtime local marketer and business advocate John Wyche, connected Camps and Fox.
“I’m blessed to be the first person,” Fox said. “They worked with me hand-in-hand. This will give us exposure to those items that we’ve always offered … and giving our community something that sometimes people don’t always offer.”
Camps said Blue Zones Jacksonville plans to approve four additional restaurants by June 2024.
Fox grew up in Moncrief near Soutel Drive — an area that is inside one of the five ZIP codes where Blue Zones is active.
Fox said her mother, Shirley Ann Benjamin, and grandmother, Carrie Bell Sharp, made cooking the crux of community. She graduated from Ribault and Edward Waters and spent more than a decade as a math educator here.
When she wasn’t teaching elementary school students fractions, she was building a culinary career one dish at a time. First it was meals she would prepare at home and deliver to people in the parking lot of the Rutledge Pearson Post Office. Fox expanded into catering for people and businesses before her husband, Tommie Fox Jr., strongly encouraged her to open her own restaurant so they could enjoy their home once again.
In the years since the brick-and-mortar opened, customers have brought fox-themed mugs, pictures and even books to help the native Jaxson decorate her restaurant.
“At the end of the day, we have to think about our community as a whole,” Fox said. “We want it to be profitable. But we also want to be conscious as far as our community and the longevity of us being here.”
Lead image: The menu at One Foxy Lady Cafe features a vegan sandwich, breakfast gyro, grits and vegan sausage combination as well as an anti-inflammatory drink. The dishes were created by Jacksonville native Shandon Benjamin Fox. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today