It started with the $5 mini chicken sandwich sold at a local coffee shop. Then Shelton Seraphin stepped up to a food truck and became the purveyor of Gainesville’s most famous chicken sandwich.
And now, the 30-year-old Haitian immigrant is seeking a bigger bite of the American business success story by opening his first sit-down restaurant on Thursday from 11 am to 8 pm Faithful customers can now gobble-up tasty sandwiches with names like the Rooster Deluxe, Blue Bird and Angry Bird at Germain’s Chicken Sandwich Shop.
“We wanted to make a staple in Gainesville,” Seraphin said. “We wanted to be a part of something that was growing, and Gainesville is always growing.”
Seraphin’s uncle, Germain, was furloughed from his job during the pandemic. The family saw it as an opportunity to start a business in Gainesville, which they had discussed before.
“We came together and thought about Germain’s chicken sandwich and what Gainesville was missing in the food scene,” Seraphin said.
And thus, Germain’s was born.
Although the new restaurant, located at 220 NW 8th Ave., is missing some furniture and finishing touches, one thing is certain – it’s very pink. This feature is thanks to Jessica Seraphin, who is Shelton Seraphin’s sister and the interior designer of the shop. She said she was inspired by Scandinavian interior design styles with minimal furniture and wooden tones – and she made her vision come to life.
“If you choose to paint it pink, you’re going to have to live with it,” she said. “If you’re going to go pink, go pink.”
The light pink color throughout the venue is not the original pink from the chicken sandwich shop’s branding. Jessica Seraphin said the team chose a lighter shade of pink because it is softer and more appealing to the eye.
“Red would have hurt your eyes,” she said.
She said this retro, art deco design is not typical in Gainesville. As her first commercial space design, she said this eight-week project empowered her to trust her gut and stop listening to any self-doubts.
Jessica Seraphin said she wanted to bring something fresh to Gainesville. Her goal was to curate a space where people are surprised by the modern take on a vintage, colorful design. She said she hopes to see her design as the background of the customers’ Instagram posts or TikTok videos.
Gabe Chavez, owner of Wyatt’s Coffee in downtown Gainesville, could arguably be Germain’s biggest fan.
“I truly believe it’s going to be a step up for Gainesville and the food industry altogether,” said Chavez. “It’s a wake-up call for everybody.”
Shelton Seraphin said the entire process has been challenging, especially financially. But he said he had immense support and guidance from family and friends. Some, like Chavez, he considers as his mentors.
The business’ first pop-up event was at Wyatt’s Coffee, and according to Shelton Seraphin, Chavez has been with Germain’s team since the beginning.
“We had a line wrapped around the building for several weeks in a row and it was incredible,” Chavez said.
According to Shelton Seraphin, they originally sold mini chicken sandwiches for $5 a pop while at Wyatt’s Coffee.
“It was one of the most beautiful things that I’ve seen with food here in Gainesville,” Chavez said on the verge of tears. “It is so sentimental, and it brings me so much joy to see these incredibly talented guys open their restaurant.”
One of the reasons Chavez said he felt choked up was because of his and the Seraphines’ immigrant stories. Chavez is from Ecuador, and the Seraphines are from Haiti. He said as an immigrant, creating your own business when moving to the United States is a primary goal. Doing so successfully and against all odds is a milestone, he said.
“I’m so proud of them, and I’m so proud of everything that they’re going to do,” he said.
The new restaurant will open next door to one of Gainesville’s many thrift stores, Flashbacks. Several employees in the plaza shared their enthusiasm about having Germain’s officially open nearby.
“They will be a good addition to the plaza developing here,” Amber Shabhai, a Flashbacks employee, said.
She said some of the thrift store’s employees eat at Germain’s whenever they come in for work, whether it be a chicken sandwich, french fries, a drink or all three.
Olivia Vitale, a University of Florida student, is among the group of Germain’s enthusiasts at Flashbacks.
She said the best part about Germain’s, besides the sandwiches, is the ambiance and the staff’s attitude. She said the local business has an energetic and friendly atmosphere that goes beyond the quality of food.
But she raved about her and her father’s obsession with Germain’s gourmet chicken sandwiches. Every time her father visits Gainesville, their first lunch spot has already been decided.
Vitale said her go-to sandwich is The Good Feather – a brioche bun, secret sauce, garlic parmesan, arugula, tomatoes and fries. While her dad’s is The Classic – a brioche bun, secret sauce, house pickles, lettuce, tomatoes and fries.
“It’s one of the best chicken sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life,” Vitale said.