Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Robert St. John: The Next Generation

 Check out this week's recipe.

This year marks my 40th year in the restaurant business. I got into this business after flunking out of college in 1981. Though I have always worked. I mowed lawns until I got my first, real, full-time job at 15 as a radio station disc jockey. When it came time to declare a major for my freshman year in college, I chose communications since all my experience was in radio to that point. However, I had no clue as to what I wanted to do with my life.

Flunking out of college after two years seemed like one of the worst things that had happened to me to that point. Actually, it turned out to be a blessing. I moved back home to Hattiesburg and got a job as a manager of a soon-to-be-opened delicatessen. I fell in love with restaurant work from day one. I am obviously wired for this business. I managed the deli during the day and started waiting tables at another restaurant at night. I couldn't get enough of the restaurant business.

Eventually went back to school and majored in hospitality management. I worked 40 hours a week while taking 18 and 21 hours in college. In between classes I spent my time in the library thumbing through all of the restaurant trade magazines dreaming of the future restaurant I hoped to open. At night after my server shift, I would stay up until two or three in the morning designing menus and floorplans for restaurant concepts I hoped to open one day. I still have a box filled with various restaurant concepts that I have created over the years. I was totally consumed by the restaurant business. I am still totally consumed by the restaurant business.

I opened my first restaurant in 1987 and never looked back. I have never regretted my chosen profession, and actually I've never even I had a day where I lamented opening a restaurant. That's not to say it's been easy. Actually, there have probably been more challenging and trying days then there have been rewarding days over the last 40 years. But I love what I do and couldn't imagine doing anything else. 

The restaurant business is a harsh mistress. It's nothing I would ever push on my children, and even though they have lived in and around restaurants all of their lives, I have never tried to force my love and hobby onto them. I have friends whose fathers were doctors or lawyers and pressed their sons to go out and be doctors and lawyers. Some of them are miserable as doctors and lawyers. It made no sense to press either one of my kids into going into a business as rough and brutal as the restaurant business.

Though, five years ago, my son let me know that he would like to go into the restaurant business. We sat down and talked about it for a while, and I didn't get too excited because plans can change, especially for 15-year-olds. Though, over his high school years he never wavered and still made plans to eventually go into the restaurant business. Three years ago, he started working in a few of our restaurants. Mostly front of the house stuff. No cooking. Though this past Christmas he started working in the kitchen of our New Orleans creole concept. First, he was working the fry station and then moved into the sauté station.

The sauté station takes some skill and he seemed to take to it immediately. I've told both of my children when they have worked in the restaurant that they are going to have to work harder than everyone else because everyone is looking at them and expecting them to get an easy ride. I've also told my managers to not cut my kids any slack when they are on the clock.

A couple of years after my son told me he wanted to go into the restaurant business I laid out a plan. It's actually what I wish I would have done before opening my first restaurant as I learned a lot of lessons the hard way and made a lot of mistakes on my own dime.

He will go to college for four years and get a degree in business, with a minor in accounting (he’s currently headed into his junior year). Then he will attend culinary school for two years at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York. Once he has earned his chef’s degree, he will spend two years working for other people in six months stints (called a stage in the restaurant business). He may end up working for a friend of mine in Italy for six months and then will probably head to New Orleans to work for three different restaurants owned by some of my friends down there. Then, and only then, I have told him he can come back and work in one of our restaurants. But he's going to start at the bottom. No matter what his degree says, and no matter his culinary education or experience in other restaurants, he will start at the bottom because there's no other way to gain respect from co-workers.

This summer he has been working in the prep area of the newly opened Tex Mex concept. We make everything from scratch in all of our restaurants and so prep positions are a cruicial key to our success. On his second shift I pulled our head chef aside and asked him how the boy was doing in the prep area. He said, “He just finished his first batch of black beans. Do you want to taste them?” I went back and stuck a spoon in the still-warm black beans, and they tasted perfect.

It's hard to describe my sense of pride in that moment. I'm not sure what to compare it to. I guess when a doctor has a son who has a son who performs his first successful surgery, or a lawyer who has a son who wins his first case, the feelings are the same. I’ll never forget it.

It was a five-gallon batch of black beans, but to me, it was perfection. I look forward to watching him grow in his chosen profession. My dad died when I was very young, so he never got to see how my life turned out. But my mom tells me often that my father would be proud of me. Now I know exactly how he would have felt.




Grouper with Black Bean, Corn, and Tomato Salsa

6 grouper filets, 6–8 ounces each (or any other mild, white, flaky Gulf fish)

1 Tbl kosher salt

1/4 tsp black pepper.

Season the fish with the kosher salt and black pepper.

Prepare the grill. Place the fish on direct high heat and cook until opaque in the center, about 8-10 minutes. Turn the fish once while cooking. Do not overcook.

Serve with the Salsa.


Black Bean, Corn, & Tomato Salsa

1 Tbl olive oil

1/4 cup yellow onion, minced

2 tsp garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp coriander

1/8 tsp dry oregano

1 can Rotel tomatoes (10 ounces)

1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup fresh sweet corn, cut from the cob

1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced

2 tsp fresh lime juice

Place the olive oil in a small stainless steel sauce pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, salt, cumin, coriander, and oregano to the warm oil and cook 5 minutes, stirring often. Do not brown. Add the Rotel tomatoes and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the black beans and corn and cook five minutes more. Stir in the thinly sliced green onions and lime juice and remove from the heat.

Best if made at least one day in advance. Allow salsa to reach room temperature before serving.

Yield: 3 cups



Anonymous said...

Can Robert St. John please tell us more about how great he is? I need a daily dose of look at me from him. He needs to run restaurants and shut up.

Anonymous said...

@10:06 AM Holy Shit! Glad I am not the only one sick of hearing this guy humble brag his life story each week. At least he is providing a service in some decent recipes each week though.

Anonymous said...

Gee, a guy pours his heart out on paper and y'all complain? Really cynical and petty. I enjoy them.

Anonymous said...

Robert is a good writer,I enjoy his stories.Like many of us ( myself included ,)he attaches greater importance to the events in his life than the events merit.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the stories. He is even a better speaker if you ever get a chance to hear him at an event.

BTW nobody forces you to click on the article! Is your life that meaningless?

Anonymous said...

Seriously, 10:06 and 10:24, are you so stupid as to not recognize the headline for St. John's articles? If you don't like it, skip it. But no, you prefer to bitch and moan. Maybe you too should hook up and double your misery.

Anonymous said...

St. John and now a wine columnist. I like what you are doing Kingfish!

I feel sorry for those who lead their miserable lives complaining about seemingly everything published here on JJ.

Anonymous said...

I first met RSJ when he returned to Hattiesburg after his self-acknowledged flunk out from MSU and before he realized he needed to quit drinking. I have enjoyed dining in his restaurants in the years since. My husband feels the same way as 10:06 and 10:24. Maybe Robert doesn't need to always remind readers of his path to get to where he is today, but his column appears in numerous publications and likely there is always a new reader who didn't know his backstory.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sir for an uplifting message!!
So few of today's kids want to work or have a clue about where they are going in their lives.

10:06 and 10:24> Go to Hell. Why are you jerks trashing this hard working family?? He has every right to be proud of his son's work ethic and determination. Are you simply jealous because your kids are in their 6th year of college majoring in Gender Studies or Basket Weaving with NO future??? Maybe you two should try to get a life.............

Anonymous said...

Great article. I wish I would have had someone to "coach" me to have a life plan.

Anonymous said...

If a trained chef shows up at the restaurant and agrees to run the dishwasher in the back of the kitchen, there will be absolutley no respect garnered.

Anonymous said...

10:06 and 10:24 - You are sad people.
12:35 - not if you are training to run your Dad's restaurant,silly.

Kingfish said...

When you achieve, get ready for bricks to be thrown at you.

GM said...

Great essay!

Onward RSJ !!

Anonymous said...

In the not so distant past, he was pissing and moaning in his column about how he would lose his house and businesses if the government didn’t give him money provided by tax payers. My first thought was he should have put more in reserve. And selling the $30,000 Rolex he wears could save his house (if it were actually in Jeopardy) at least through the end of the Covid restrictions. Of course when times are tight, the annual 2 week trip to Europe annually would be on the chopping block as well.

Now that he’s received MONSTER checks based on his GROSS receipts, not net income, and untaxed, and he doesn’t have to pay them back, and the checks total more than he ever actually earned in a given year, he’s back to writing columns about how great he is. A guy with as much success as he proclaims should be able to float their lifestyle and business for 2-3 or more years, much less one, without a taxpayer bailout. Complete with a humblebrag about sending his kid to an extremely expensive culinary school as well as sending him to live in Europe and New Orleans.

His restaurants are good, and he’s mostly a nice guy in person, but he comes across as a self-aggrandizing narcissist when talking about his businesses and achievements.

Anonymous said...

Bricks, KF? Really?
I applaud his success, just don't see the need for his "look at me, look at me".
The first 5 or 6 articles like that were enough.
You want to show you are a writer? Find something else to write about.

Anonymous said...

"He will go to college for four years and get a degree in business, with a minor in accounting (he’s currently headed into his junior year). Then he will attend culinary school for two years at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York. Once he has earned his chef’s degree, he will spend two years working for other people in six months stints (called a stage in the restaurant business). He may end up working for a friend of mine in Italy for six months and then will probably head to New Orleans to work for three different restaurants owned by some of my friends down there. Then, and only then, I have told him he can come back and work in one of our restaurants."

A lot of presumption on RSJ's part and a lot of pressure and planning for his son. I am curious how a stint in Italy is going to help him via-a-vie his father's decent enough but rather pedestrian joints, but that is I will readily admit between father and son. I will also readily admit that education is a good thing so even if he never makes a single cover of what he (hopefully) learned to make in Italy ever again, knowing how is not a detriment to his future. It's going to get interesting if young master St. John decides his future is investment banking, ditch-digging, or some other decidedly non-culinary vocation. I am slightly curious as to how young St. John's planned-and-brilliant future is going to be financed. Whatever happens, he isn't his father and I wish him happiness. With that, success on his own terms should follow.

Anonymous said...

The best way to learn your business is to do all the jobs at that business. Robert is showing his son how to own a business. Commendable!

Anonymous said...

Happy for the black bean salsa recipe!

Anonymous said...

Tired of hearing about him as well. His painter side-kick is a much more genuine person, in person, and in the media

Got a feeling you just want to be comp'd at his new places........

Anonymous said...

I think it's refreshing to read something useful, and not "woke".

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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