Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Robert St. John: Opening

  Check out this week's recipe.

We opened our first restaurant in 1987. When we started the work that September, we had no opening date in mind. I don't even think we set a goal or a target date. We had no idea about the opening date because we really had no idea how to run a restaurant. We were winging it on all fronts.

By the time everyone was hired, the equipment was in place, the recipes were all tested, and everyone was trained it was Christmas Eve. We knew enough not to open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but we chose the next Monday and opened on the 28th of December.

I have written often about that opening night and how we were busy from the moment we opened the doors. That was the case for the next several decades. We have been blessed. Though by the time that first summer came around in 1988 we realized that our team needed a breather. Since we were so busy opening the restaurant back in December, and had no time for a Christmas party, we decided to throw one in July at a local water park.

We were about seven months into the new venture and things were going well. There is something about an opening crew of a restaurant that is different from every crew and team member that comes in the later years. It’s an indescribable bond with those who gather together and go through the very stressful experience of opening a restaurant. Maybe it's bunker mentality, I don't know. But those who have worked together in the 21 concepts I have opened over the last few decades have always become friends and remained close in later years.

That first crew was certainly no exception. I stay in touch with many of them to this day. One of them still works here. For that Christmas in July party, we hired a guy to come and cook barbecue, people swam, we had a lot of beer available, and there was a band. It was a blast, and it was the release everyone needed after seven months of stressful restaurant work.

Fast forward to 2021. We have been dealing with 18 months of a global pandemic. Certainly nothing that I have experienced in my 40 years in this business could even come close to the challenges we faced during Covid. We were blessed to have gone into that crisis with a strong crew, and very strong management leadership. Over the course of a challenging year, we did all the responsible things, and all the CDC’s recommended things, closed completely on a few occasions, and offered carryout-only options sometimes. We did our best to navigate the uncharted waters we were facing.

I am forever grateful for those who stuck with us and faced those challenges on a daily basis. Not only did we feed the few customers who were ordering food from the restaurants, but we delivered free and donated food to health care workers in the COVID unit at the local hospital every day for six weeks.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we closed our flagship and longtime restaurant— the one that we opened back in December of 1987— not knowing that it would never reopen. When it became evident that the former business model would not work going forward, we decided to take the Tex Mex concept I had been working on for several years and to put it in that space. It would also include a large outdoor patio space in which we would have to convert a concrete and asphalt parking lot with no trees or vegetation into a lush tropical environment. Despite record-breaking rainfall, we did it.

Opening a restaurant is one of the most challenging and stressful things anyone will ever do. There are so many moving parts and there are so many ways to drop the ball. Doing it with severe labor shortages during the tail end of a global pandemic raises the difficulty level even higher.

The team that worked with us getting this new restaurant open— with about 50% of the staff we needed to open a restaurant— are champions in my book. They worked long hours under stressful circumstances. Many dropped off. Some left to take advantage of the unemployment benefits and some left for other jobs. Some just retired altogether. The ones who stayed, the ones who endured, the ones who face the challenges head on against all odds, will always be celebrated in my book.

Last year, we weren't able to have a Christmas party in December. Not because we had just opened a restaurant, but it just wasn't safe to gather in our typical Christmas party fashion. So, we did what we did 33 years ago and decided to have a Christmas in July party for our team. As hard as that first staff worked getting that first restaurant open (and I love all those guys, still) it can't even come close to comparing to what this crew has been through for the past 18 months. Even if you just look at the volume of business we were doing back then compared to what we do today.

I wanted to do something special for this crew. Last night a couple of the chefs put together a casual menu, a couple of bar bartenders stepped up to the plate and got behind the bar, we brought in a DJ, we shut the doors to the public, opened the bar for the crew, cranked up the music, and had a blast. About two-thirds of the team showed up. It seemed that everyone released a long, collective sigh of relief. It wasn't meant to be an event where people could recharge their batteries— that was never the purpose, it was just a showing of gratitude— but I believe that is the purpose it ended up serving.

We have once again brought a crew together and opened a restaurant. They’ve joined forces with the team members who were already here, and both have been on the frontlines fighting through adversity, daily.

That original Christmas in July party back in the summer of 1988 was special. Sure, it was nice to show appreciation to that hardworking initial crew. But it was also at that event that I saw the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was standing across the room near the band. Her name was Jill Johnson. She had come with a friend of one of our managers. Technically, she crashed the party. A couple of weeks later I asked her out. A couple of years later, in 1993, I married her. She came with me to this year's Christmas in July party. Maybe one of the team members this year will get as lucky as I did that year.

I am grateful to all the 10,000+ people who have worked for our company through the years. Each one played a part in getting us where we are today. But this current management team, the current crew in the back-of-the-house, and all the new and seasoned members in the front-of-the-house will forever have a special place in my heart.


Crawfish Potato Salad

1 cup               Mayonnaise

3 /4 cup           Sour cream

1 Tbl               Yellow mustard

3 /4 cup           Creole mustard

1 /2 tsp            Cayenne pepper

1 Tbl               White vinegar

1 tsp.               Creole Seasoning

1 tsp.               Hot Sauce

1 /2 cup           Parsley, chopped

1 recipe           Cajun Boiled potatoes (see recipe below)

1 1 /2 cups       Bell peppers, small dice

1 cup               Red onion, small dice

1 cup               Celery, small dice

1 lb                 Crawfish tail meat, cooked, drained

Combine the first 9 ingredients and mix well to form the potato salad dressing. Add cooked potatoes and the remaining ingredients and mix well. 

Yield: two quarts


Cajun Boiled Potatoes

6 cups              Red new potatoes, large dice (quartered), skin on

2 Tbl.              Crab boil (powder form)

1 tsp.               Salt

3 quarts           Water

Place potatoes, crab boil and salt in the water and simmer on a low heat until potatoes are tender. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool.



Fix the Pipes and Fill the Potholes said...

In the midst of such social and political rancor over the last year, it is affirming to hear about the success stories that otherwise receive little mention. I applaud RSJ's "glass-half-full" mentality.

Ima B. Lookin said...

Woulda never thought to put vinegar in potato salad. And, yes, there's an art (that I've not mastered) to know exactly when to take the potatoes out of the hot water.

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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.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

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.

Note: Security provided by INS