by Kyla Hurt
Wielding an impressive culinary resume today, Andrew Deuel’s interest in cooking had already started simmering at the age of eight.
“One of my earliest memories is a little stove that my mom would pull out on rainy days, and it was a favorite toy of mine, but it was an antique from the 1960s and it says, ‘Little Stove’ … you plug it in, and it gets bright red hot … you can cook off it,” he recalls.
Deuel laughs as he reminisces – looking over at the same Little Stove children’s cooking toy, which was discovered on eBay and still works, “It was pretty funny to plug it in and watch it, and think … I cannot believe my mom let me play with this … oh, huge fire hazard … it’s so old it has one of the cords that are wrapped in cloth.”
He started frying eggs … again and again in the vintage toy stove. It had such an impact on his gastronomic beginnings that “The Little Stove” is the name of his and wife, Liz Tracy’s, new restaurant that is slated to open late September.
His career as a chef progressed astronomically from frying eggs. Deuel notes, “I really got into cooking when my family moved to Cincinnati, so between my sophomore and junior year of high school … I would experiment with favorite cookbooks, and I would probably mess up two recipes out of every three that I tried. I was very self-taught. I didn’t have my mother guiding me, but I would cook on a daily basis.” The following are some of the impressive experiences, positions and more in Deuel’s resume: a master’s degree in Italian cuisine; an internship at 2-mission star Ristaurante San Domenico in Italy in 1999-2000; sous chef at the Rainbow Room, which is located at the top of the Rockefeller Center; executive chef at Regional in New York City; and time at Giorgio Armani’s restaurant on 5th Avenue.
By this time, Deuel had met Liz Tracy and the two went together to Chicago for the expansion of Tom Colicchio’s 2015 Bravo series Best New Restaurant winner, Dolce Italian. Deuel had personally been asked by Dolce Italian’s executive chef, Paolo Dorigato, with whom Deuel has worked over the years, to run the new restaurant as its executive chef. “My mentor asking me to run his restaurant in Chicago was, well, pretty cool,” says Deuel.
In 2013, Liz Tracy and Andrew Deuel were married and in July 2015, they had their first son, Charles. About a year after running Dolce, DOT Foods in Mt. Sterling reached out to Deuel, asking him about helping with Hagel 1891.“We had Charles and he was young. We came and checked out Jacksonville and knew right away it would be a better environment for us and our growing family. Liz also had an opportunity in Springfield [career wise],” explains Deuel.
Deuel took the position as executive chef at Hagel 1891. Tracy started working in private practice at a law firm in Springfield as outside counsel and now is in-house legal counsel at DOT Foods. The growing family includes Charles (6), Avie (3 ½) and George (2).
Tracy says, “We’ve been talking broadly about the idea [of opening a restaurant] for about two years now. We started looking for downtown real estates in November of 2020 … and we signed a contract in January of 2021.” Tracy explains how it was important for their family to find more hours when the family could be together and to try to get Deuel out of “service hours.”
“The pandemic really opened our eyes as to how much time we were getting with the kids by having opposite schedules … everything really made Andrew and I rethink family time and the importance of family time. We thought of ways to make it work, so that’s where the retail first came about … the concept of modeling retail hours around the square,” explains Tracy. While it started with an idea of making products to put on the shelves to sell, as the two moved further into the idea, Tracy says of her husband, “He said no, I’m not ready to walk away from food service and I love the thrill of being in the kitchen and cooking for people and serving people right there in front of me.”
The two started thinking about experiences they’d loved in Chicago and thought of Eataly, an inspiration says Tracy because, “You walk in there and you can shop, you can eat, you can drink, you can drink while you shop … so, you come in and you have a cool sort of beauty retail experience where you enjoy it here but then you also take some things home to enjoy at home and maybe buy a gift as well on your way out.” The Little Stove is just that, a foodie retail concept.
Located at 72 E. Central Park in the northeast corner of the square in downtown Jacksonville, The Little Stove will fill the front of the property. Tracy describes how the interior will be set up. Walking in, a corner up front will be set up for kids. A bar and partial seating will next feature a counter with a display deli case where Tracy says, “You’ll see beautiful meats and cheeses and some premade sandwiches.” Next along the outer wall will be shelving with their retail products, including dry imported Italian goods as well as goods that Deuel puts together himself such as spices, pickles, sauces or cigars. Tracy outlines that the following section will be kitchen gadgets. She says, “These are all going to be endorsed by Andrew. They’re going to be his favorite things … his favorite peelers, his favorite garlic presses, little whisks, things like that.”
Last on that will be kitchen décor, such as hand towels or candles, for example.
Seating will continue along the bar and the kitchen equipment will be behind the bar in a working space. While not a stove in The Little Stove, one highlight and conversation piece of the restaurant will without question be the Mugnaini pizza oven. Weighing in at a beastly 3,600 pounds, its size and beauty will delight. Tracy and Deuel hand-picked tile and certain aspects of its aesthetics. Another fun piece is the wine kegerator, which enables eight wines to be on tap at all times.
Deuel says The Little Stove is Italian-inspired and will include specific food items such as pizzas, homemade pasta and charcuterie boards. Shareable plates will also be offered.
There is additional seating and they’ll be using more of an order and pickup system for dining. The two have added touches such as an archway going from the restaurant into what is a lobby-type space. It gives it a bigger feel. Tracy notes, “It’s like a transformative experience to Italy without leaving Jacksonville.” There is also a fashionable chandelier going up in the space and there are two single-use bathrooms.
The two other businesses are TLS Works and Stay TLS (TLS represents the initials of The Little Stove in both additional businesses). TLS Works is on the first floor just past the lobby area. It is a coworking space that will have keycard or touchpad access from the east door entrance.
Tracy shares, “This is going to be like a work sharing club, so you’ll pay a membership, and you will have this beautiful modern, open coworking space … very professional looking.” There will be a Zoom phone booth, conference room, projector, table spaces and Tracy noted that one perk for the work share club is that they plan to have programming once a month where a local expert could come and talk to entrepreneurs, for example. Another benefit is a member happy hour at least once a month.
Stay TLS is up the stairs from the lobby. Tracy describes it as, “an Air B&B inspired by the Italian homestead … we have three hotel rooms. [In each room,] there will be a really nice bed, TV, closet … each one will have their own beautiful bathroom, lovely … we want people to have sort of elevated hotel experience here.”
Then, during demolition, they discovered another couple feet of ceiling height, so that was a treat. Tracy exclaims, “We were so excited because when we first bought it, we thought it was pretty short and it felt small … but then we got the ceiling height, we realized that this could be a really cool place to stay downtown that feels very fresh and modern.”
Tracy and Deuel hope to open The Little Stove in late September. They expect to follow with the opening of TLS Works in October and Stay TLS in November. Tentative hours for the Little Stove are Tuesday-Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The restaurant will be closed Sunday and Monday. They will also have some pop-up dinners from time to time and are creating something called a Founder’s Club, which isn’t perfectly detailed but will be something along the lines of giving a certain amount of money as an investment in exchange for x amount of gift cards, invites to openings and special events, plus first choice at a pop-up dinner reservation.
About opening The Little Stove and accompanying businesses in Jacksonville, Tracy and Deuel conclude, “Over the past 5 and a half years, we have found great friends, culture and community in Jacksonville. We’re excited to start our business here in hopes of becoming a part of what makes this town so special!”