Historic building, fresh concept

Historic building, fresh concept

Blakeman & Peak’s business to feature food, flowers

By Kyla Hurt

Ross Blakeman and Nathan Peak, Beardstown and Jacksonville natives respectfully, have big plans for the building at 326 W. State St. in Jacksonville that is most recently known as Gillham House.

Their plan is creating an experience by merging the two fields of flowers and food.

They will call it “Salt + Petal.”

Blakeman, 26, graduated from MacMurray College before moving to Champaign to work for a corporate-type company. He soon realized, however, that he wanted to do something he loves instead — because as he says, “Life is short.” He yearned for more creativity.

His grandmother had owned a floral shop in Beardstown and he recalls growing up and feeling that a boy isn’t supposed to have a flower shop. Still, it was something about which he always dreamed. Also, his father was sick, so he wanted to be closer to family. So, Blakeman moved back to Beardstown and opened up his flower shop, Rosebud & Co. in the fall of 2021 there, and it remains open.

Peak, 34, went to school for opera in New Jersey before working in the culinary field back in the midwest. “I grew up in the kitchen at home, Peak recalls.

Photo/Kyla Hurt The building at 326 W. State St. in Jacksonville is the future home of “Salt + Petal” and more.

Peak followed through professionally and started Biscuits + Brunch, affiliated with Three Twigs & Co. He was there two years as head chef.

He then opened The Foundry Pizza Kitchen at Anvil & Forge on Dec. 31, 2021. “So, that’s my second restaurant … and I met Ross [Blakeman] and we went on our first date nine days after it opened.”

The partners agree that their aptitude for business is part of what brought them together in the first place. Blakeman shares, “We are both ambitious … we discussed goals and how we wanted to move forward.”

Peak adds, “I want to say we spitballed in April or May of 2022 … just as a ‘wouldn’t it be cool if.”

Next, they came up with the name of their joint business,

Salt + Petal, a delightful play on words.

July 22 of 2022, Blakeman was diagnosed with testicular cancer. “It was actually while he was in chemotherapy, we were talking to a realtor about properties and all that,” states Peak. The two are happy to report that Blakeman is in full remission now. Still, they agree that it’s been a long road to get to this point.

The idea for Salt + Petal is to have a very intimate setting, all surrounded by live plants and fresh florals. Moreover, there will be a florist, Blakeman, literally making arrangements in the building.

Blakeman contributes, “I think the overall aesthetic of the building will be a floral experience with really good food.”

Peak notes, “We want to cater to everybody in Jax.”

The two plan to leave the floor plan similar to its current state, but will need to have buildouts and meet code to become operational on the main level.

The dreams for the end result of this central floor is a full-service flower shop with florist and a full restaurant with bar in the space. They also both want plenty of seating available for business meetings or gatherings.

Peak says he plans to focus primarily on breakfast, brunch and lunch for the food side of things. He describes the prospective menu as “middle America/southern comfort with a refined take,” adding, “That’s my bread and butter. That’s what I was raised on.” The idea is later conveyed as comfort-type dishes with a tweak. Peak reveals a desire to have a “General Tao’s Fried Chicken Sandwich” as a menu item, for example.

Blakeman and Peak only looked at Jacksonville properties when working to grow their venture together. They plan to live upstairs at the West State building initially, and are thinking of turning the other half of the upstairs into an air B&B or apartments.

Regardless, Blakeman will be keeping his Beardstown flower shop open, expressing, “Rosebud’s not going anywhere.”

Peak adds, “He’s still running his business and I’m still running mine.”

The four businesses, though, which were a part of Gillham House all have future plans in progress; Blakeman and Peak plan on keeping it known as Gillham House until everyone is out.

As for the timeline of Salt + Petal, the couple is shooting for the beginning of 2024, but also understand that there are a lot of moving parts.

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