Story Archive

people walking in market

Staying local with the locals at RAM

Story by: Kaitlin Ward

Photo by: Kaitlin Ward  

The riverside arts market, also known as RAM, happens in Jacksonville every Saturday from 10am to 3pm. The market was founded in 1974 and is located under the Fuller Warren Bridge. With the tagline “loyal to local,” RAM showcases a variety of small businesses and local artists.  

Residents come out each week for the local art and Farmers market. Jacksonville resident Nicole Catania is one of them.   

“I first came a couple years ago when I was visiting Jax, but I’ve been coming every weekend since I moved here a couple months ago,”  said Catania.  

Catania says the reason she goes each week is to get her favorite cookies from vender Olive Affairs. She also enjoys supporting local businesses, especially those selling trinkets and jewelry. RAM highlights a variety of different artists and they have something for everyone.  

Photo by: Kaitlin Ward 

Local performers are given the opportunity to show off their talent on the River stage. They have had dancers, singers and musicians of all ages on their stage, and each week show case someone new. Some RAM attendees enjoy coming out just to watch the show and enjoy delicious food from different venders. UNF student, Sarah Haggerty uses RAM as a way to try out different food trucks here in Jax that she hasn’t yet been too.   

“I like coming because each week I like trying different types of food so this week I went with fusion which is Thai food,” said Haggerty.  

With food trucks from all over, this week Haggerty got to try a meal from Fusion, which was voted “Best food truck in Jacksonville.”   

Food trucks aren’t the only place you can find food offered at RAM. Farmers Row is filled with the agricultural arts. The freshest produce can be found here, with Farmers coming in from all over.  Riverside resident Dave Misola sells his microgreens here each week.  

Photo by: Kaitlin Ward 

 “We moved here in Riverside and so we saw and knew we had to be a part of it” Said Misola.  

Every week he is able to educate people on what microgreens are. Misola says that broccoli has been his best seller.  

Even if you have visited RAM in the past, each week you are sure to find something you have never seen before.  

For more information on attending or showcasing your art, go to  

brown fedora hat in selective focus photography

How Sunny Life Hats is Trying to Make a Difference

Story by: Giana Mercado

As bands rocked out at the Seawalk Music Festival last month, vendors and food trucks set up camp to advertise what their unique businesses are all about. One of the vendors tabling was Sunny Life Hats with a display of dozens of colorful hats. 

Not only is their mission to protect people getting active in the sun with their UV hats, but to create relationships with their workers.  

Sunny Life Hats specializes in selling hand-made hemp hats made by a women’s crochet collective in Nepal. From fibers, spools, and looms, everything is sourced out of the Himalayan mountains in Nepal. Sunny Life Hats works with over 100 farmers, weavers, dyers, and artisans and ensures equitable trade and social services are provided.  

The business has a huge impact on the community in Nepal by sponsoring healthcare assistance, school supplies, clothing, disaster recovery, and more for their workers.  

Sunny Life Hats at the Seawalk Music Festival, Jacksonville Beach. Photo by Giana Mercado. 

Sunny Stefan helped create the Sunny Life Project around seven years ago when he was traveling the world. He said met a family that had a concept of love for people and eco textiles that inspired it all.  

“I found myself getting closer and closer and building relations with folks out there in Kathmandu, Nepal,” said Sunny Stefan. 

Sunny Life Hats had humble beginnings bootstrapped out a backpack and a table at a farmers’ market. Now, Sunny Life continues to travel and make connections with different communities around the world. Sunny Life Hats regularly vendors at music festivals around the country, including ones in Jacksonville. The business also has plans to travel to other cities in Florida to vendor at and meet people. 

Traveling and creating authentic connections with positive interactions is one of Stefan’s passions in life. “My favorite part about moving around and sharing the Sunny Life Hat project is meeting so many beautiful people. Being inspired and being inspiring; we all want to be doing the good stuff,” said Stefan. 

Sunny Stefan helping a customer try on a hat. Photo by Giana Mercado. 

friends toasting their drinks

The Beers are Back in Town

Story by: Judd Barczak

Tabula Rasa Brewing Company located on Corbett street in the middle of the Jacksonville Raid District, is one of the newest micro breweries to grace the River City scene. The company’s owners are looking to bring a breath of new life to their little branch of Jacksonville. 

This family owned company originally started off as a hobby for owner Randy Peterson, after his wife Jackie bought him a book focused on brewing in the early 90’s. After years of practice and the family sharing their brew with friends and family, their product seemed to gain traction. Through hard work and dedication the family has been able to give this hobby a life of its own. 

Randy and Ryan Peterson, a father and son duo and now co-owners of Tabula Rasa both still work day jobs in addition to their work at the brewery. Both of them have experience in construction management and refrigeration, which has helped them to start up their business. 

Ryan explains how their experience in their day jobs has helped them with “everything from permits, to machine maintenance.” While their day jobs still take precedence for the Petersons, they have allocated Saturday mornings as their dedicated brew day.

Another distinguishing element for Tabula Rasa is their newly refurbished tapyard and their focus on local artists. The tapyard is where patrons are encouraged to enjoy various brews outdoors. Ample seating and well groomed plants enhance the overall experience. 

The walls of the taproom are adorned with various paintings from local artists. Patrons are not only able to enjoy the art, but are encouraged to purchase the works to support the artists displayed. 

The Peterson family has had to overcome plenty of challenges when starting the brewery, ranging from supply chain shortages to picking a location. However, when it comes to these issues, the family has mentioned that despite these difficulties there is “nowhere else that they would rather be.” When asked if there is anything that patrons should know, Jackie Peterson responded with, “we’re just excited for people to know that we’re here.” 

Tabula Rasa is open Tuesday-Sunday with Happy Hour from 3-7PM.

Bottlenose Brewing

Replacing former favorite beer spot World of Beer, Bottlenose Brewing on Southside Blvd. opened a little over a year ago. Although they’ve been up and running for some time now, Bottlenose Brewing just made the decision to begin brewing their own craft beers.

We spoke with Chas Nemecek, the brewmaster at Bottlenose Brewing Company, who gave us insight into the short history of Bottlenose an what heir future looks like.

We just started brewing and had our beer release on February 3. We are currently working on a bunch of different styles,” said Nemecek. “We have five beers total right now, with our most popular being our Pale Ale.”

But Chas wasn’t worried about the small brewery having big shoes to fill after it replaced World of Beer. Instead, he thinks its important to please the local crowd with his creations.

“I guess we’re not trying to be huge or like the next distribution brewery, we’re not shooting to get cans into Publix or anything like that,” Nemecek said, “At the moment we’re just going into putting good beer on tap, focusing on growing a good environment to drink beer in, but I think we are pretty happy just creating good beer for Southside and people around here.”

Chas is the one that gets to call the shots on the beer flavors, and with his nine years of experience behind him, he’s ready to let his creativity fly with exciting tastes like Chocolate Peanut Butter and Pineapple. He explained to us the different methods of putting those flavors into a beer — and making it work.

For example, the peanut butter flavor in Chocolate Peanut Butter comes from peanut butter powder that he incorporated into the mix. Pineapple, however,comes from the actual fruit. Chas prides himself in including real, natural flavors to enhance the flavors of the beer he crafts. He looks forward to experimenting with more interesting tastes to test out the local’s palette.

Other than a bright future lined with unique brews, Bottlenose is creating an environment sure to turn into a beef lovers’ hotspot. In addition to the craft brews, they offer a selection of beer snacks to accompany their special creations, such as pierogies, pretzels, and fries smothered in beer cheese. They also hold Trivia Nights where participants can win money for house prizes, and Ladies’ Night where they have $1 wine specials.

Bottlenose Brewing Company is content with the direction their business is headed in, and continues to search for new ways to bring happy customers.

Humane Society

image1The future of the Jacksonville Humane Society shines bright with the completion of their new $15 million facility back in November 2017. The 2018 Mutt March marked the first time the society held this event in their new space. 

The Mutt March is an annual fundraiser hosted by the organization to raise money for the animals. It signifies community engagement and overall support for the Humane Society.  

The community has been essential to the growth of this organization after a devastating fire ravaged the facility’s ground 10 years ago. More than 150 animals were trapped inside when the fire began. Firefighters battled against 30 to 40 foot flames as they tried to save the animals. At least 80 pets were rescued, but the society lost 19 dogs and 67 cats. Adding to the sadness, four firefighters were injured in the fight. Fortunately, no human lives were lost.

“The new building is like a coming home for us. We lost our facility 10 years ago in a fire and just recently finally rebuilt and it’s everything we hoped we would be and we really see it as a center for the community,” said Amy Pierce, Development Director.

“A place where the community can come and enjoy themselves, and find a new friend and find the help and resources they need.”

The Humane Society could not have achieved such success without the help from their community. They use this facility to give back to those who helped them in their time of need.

“The community jumped right into action, and was able to help us right away,” said Lindsay Layendecker, Co-Development Director. “We have our community resource center which offers everything from free behavior counseling, we offer rehoming services, we have low cost vet care for the community as well.”

The Jacksonville Humane Society offers more than just pet adoption. They also provide services that include a children’s camp, reading program and dog obedience classes.

Michelle Trainor, a local Mutt March participant, is excited about all the society has but hopes that their main mission, pet adoption, is not ignored. She hopes it raises awareness about the need for adoption.

“I know for a long time they didn’t have any place to house animals indoors so this is really fantastic,” Trainor said. “I’m just hoping it raises awareness and makes more people aware of the need for adoption.”




The beer industry is no longer a handful of massive brands, churning out mass-produced beverages with little experimentation. The craft beer movement is sweeping the nation and inspiring drinkers to break out of their comfort zone to try something new.

This is exactly what Mark Stillman is hoping people will do. He owns a Jacksonville Beach-based brewery known as Green Room Brewing. It isn’t a massive factory in an industrial district, manufacturing millions of bottles. Instead, it’s a facility comparable in size to a house.

Stillman and his business partner, Eric Luman, got the idea to open a brewery during some “R and D; research and drinking,” says Stillman. The pair started off by brewing an India Pale Ale (IPA) known as Head High.

IPAs are beers that include additional hops, one of beer’s basic ingredients, to give a bitter flavor and aroma. These beers have gained extra attention by brewers due to their local popularity.

Once the team perfected a flagship IPA, they began to experiment with flavors. Stillman said they began adding chocolate to recipes to create the stout named Count Shakula. But the Green Room didn’t stop there. They created beers with fruit flavorings, mint flavors, peanut butter and even a beer made with salt water from their close neighbor, the Atlantic Ocean.

Green Room is able to produce and distribute their foamy beverages using industrial equipment on site. Although smaller than what will be found at a major brewing facility, it’s still larger and more expensive than what a person might want if they prefer their beer with a little more do-it-yourself kick.

DIY beer, or homebrewing, is the process of making beer in one’s home. This allows people to “take water, the blank canvas, and create something yourself,” according to Gary Solomon, a homebrewer and employee at beer supply store Just Brew It.

Solomon has been making beer with his friends for about eight years and his setup might be a little beyond the skill of somebody brewing their first batch. No need to fear, says Solomon. Just Brew It carries starter kits and supplies for homebrewers of all levels. The shop has equipment, ingredients, resource guides and some friendly expertise.

Thanks to stores like Just Brew It, people can make and enjoy beer from the comfort of their own home. While there are some people looking to brew for profit and business, that’s not the goal for most homebrewers.

“The best is usually made for the people, by the people that are actually about it,” says Solomon. Because of this, he believes that homebrewing is its own art form, or rather, its own craft.