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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Gainesville mourns closure of gourmet chicken shop Birdie Box Sando 

The restaurant has closed its doors after three years in Gainesville

Birdie Box pictured on Sunday, April 14, 2024.
Birdie Box pictured on Sunday, April 14, 2024.

The opportunity to eat a dripping hot chicken sandwich in a light pink double-decker bus has come to an end.

After three years in Gainesville, Birdie Box Sando, located at 2216 SW 13th St., announced April 2 it is permanently closing its doors in Gainesville. The closure was effective immediately following the announcement. 

The restaurant said in a statement on Instagram it decided to sell the brand, and the new owners will be taking the business to a new location. 

“This was not an easy decision,” Birdie Box Sando staff wrote on Instagram. “Knowing the owners will be taking the brand elsewhere made the decision even much more difficult.”

Ash Free, the co-owner of Birdie Box, said he was offered the opportunity to sell the business to an individual from Food Network. The new owners decided to take the brand out of state. 

Free said his decision to sell was partly influenced by the understanding that, as a business owner, to scale a brand one must look for more opportunities. The business had maxed out what it was capable of doing in the simple and small town of Gainesville, he said. 

“They’re taking the brand elsewhere because they believe in the brand and that it can grow, and in order for it to grow it would need to be,” he said. “They’re not saying they wouldn’t ever come back to Gainesville with it, but they have their own ideas of what they would like to do with it and grow it on the West coast.” 

Birdie Box has become a Gainesville staple known for its eye-catching display and crispy chicken sandos with toppings like applewood bacon, fried egg, shredded brussels, pickles, pimento cheese and house-made sauces. 

The brand has grown quickly since its start in Free’s backyard during the COVID-19 pandemic. After working tirelessly with co-owner Brian Cook, they eventually opened as a pop-up at Gainesville Country Club, 7300 SW 35th Way, and a food truck before opening a permanent location at Southwest 13th Street in 2022. 

Sarah Jenni has been making the trip from Clearwater to Birdie Box for about a year for the Nashville hot sando with pimento cheese. She said it has become a regular stop for her and her friends and they were upset to hear about its closure. 

“It’s a whole experience from eating in the double-decker bus,” Jenni said. “I’ve brought so many people to Gainesville to try it, and I pray we can keep this concept open.” 

Gainesville resident Quil Darling and his friends have been fans of Birdie Box since they discovered it when it operated out of the Gainesville Country Club in 2021. Darling said he could tell it was something special from the beginning, describing himself as an “occasional guinea pig” for the restaurant’s new recipes. 

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“Even when they got bigger and moved to their new location, they always made a point to say hello,” he said. “The food was incredible and the atmosphere was fun and cool.” 

The brand did not celebrate a formal sendoff because of the timeline of the closure. Darling said he wished he could have given the restaurant a real goodbye. 

“I think the thing I’ll remember about Birdie Box was that feeling of community,” he said. “I don’t even eat meat anymore, but I wish I could go one last time and get a Nashville tofu sando.” 

Co-owner Ash Free said he is currently working on plans for a new business, but he is not able to share his plans yet. He credits Birdie Box’s success to the student community in Gainesville.

“We had no idea it was going to turn into what it turned into through [COVID-19],” Free said. “Without the amazing students, we would never have been able to prove this concept. They kept us going alive and full of creativity.”

Contact Alexandra Burns at aburns@alligator.org. Follow her on X @alexaburnsuf.


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