Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Robert St. John: On the Road Again

 Sometime in the next few weeks I’ll be opening a new restaurant, bar, and tiki bar in the Fondren neighborhood of Jackson, Mississippi. Those are all very familiar concepts to me. I have worked in the restaurant business for 40+ years, and over 33 years have been as an owner. 

The restaurant menu will be very similar to the menu at Crescent City Grill, our Hattiesburg concept that opened in 1990. The bar will take a lot from our Mahogany Bar, also a 31-year proven concept. We have a lot of experience in the tiki bar field as we used to host tiki takeovers in our cocktail bar concept, Branch. 


To add to the bona fides, our Jackson management team has all worked together for over 12 years. In many ways we are opening on third base when it comes to management and experience in the restaurant and bar side of things. The textbooks might advise, “Location, location, location.” But it my book the key to success in the restaurant business is, “Management, management, management.”


So, when it comes to menu development, production, concept design, mixology, and experience, we have all those bases covered. 


Though we are also opening a bowling alley and a movie theatre. I have zero years’ experience operating a theatre or a bowling alley. Granted I am a movie nut and usually go to at least two or three movies on an average week. But attending over 100 movies a year does not make me a theatre operator. That would be akin to all the people I have heard over the past four decades who say things like, “I know the restaurant business. I eat in a lot of restaurants. So, I am going to open a restaurant.” Experience eating in restaurants will give one about 5% of what one needs to know about operating a restaurant.


The same goes for bowling, and I have never bowled three times a week. 



So, for the past three years, my partners and I have hired the industry’s top consultants in those fields who will be guiding us along the way. We have also been attending conferences and conventions submerging ourselves in the movie theatre and bowling business. That is why I am writing this column from a hotel in Orlando, Florida.


I am down here for a trade show that covers a lot of ground in the family entertainment center field. It just so happens that my son was down here attending a music festival over the weekend, so he has joined his mother and me for a few days and will attend the convention with me.


He has chosen the restaurant business for a career and is currently working towards an undergraduate degree in business. Two years from now, when that phase is complete, he will go to culinary school to become a chef. Then he will spend two years working for other people in six-month stints (stages). It’s a plan that I laid out for him several years ago when he told me he wanted to get into the business. It’s actually the route I wished I would have taken.


Once he has completed the two-year period of staging with other chefs and restaurant owners, I told him he can go to work in one of our restaurant concepts, but he’s going to start at the bottom. No matter what his college degree states, or what his chef title is, or where he has worked, he’ll jump back on the line and work like everyone else. The degree to which he works his way up into management— or not— will depend solely upon him and his commitment, effort, and passion.


Either way it is nice to have him with us for a couple of days. We used to come down here and visit the various parks when he and his sister were younger. There was even one time when he was too young to come, and we came with his sister and left him home with the grandparents. This makes up for that, I guess.


There is something about hanging out with your adult kids that is very special. Granted, I loved every minute of their childhood years, and especially that period when he was around 10 years old, and I was like some kind of superhero in his eyes. That was special. But this is special too, and an entirely different kind of special.


It’s nice to just sit and share a meal and have adult conversations. Last night at dinner I was sitting across from the two of them and several times during the meal I just paused and did my best to talk a mental snapshot of the moment. These are the times that I don’t ever want to forget.


It took me a long time to finally figure out what life is all about and how to prioritize the things that truly matter. In my thirties and early forties life was mostly about material and monetary things. Once those two children came into our lives all of that changed. Life became about the relational and spiritual things. That is where true joy lies— with family and friends.





Eggplant Casserole


2                      Eggplant, medium size

1 /4 cup           Bacon grease (or canola oil)

1 cup               Onion, small dice

2 cups              Red bell pepper, small dice

1 cup               Tomatoes, diced, peeled and seeded

1 /2 cup           Celery, small dice

1 Tbl               Garlic, minced

1 tsp                Dried basil

1 /2 tsp            Dried oregano

2 cups              Mushroom Béchamel Sauce

2 cups              Corn flake crumbs

1 /4 cup           Butter, melted


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 


Place eggplant on baking sheet and bake 20 minutes. Rotate and continue baking 20 minutes more. Remove and allow to cool. 


Using a paring knife peel the skin from the eggplant. Cut eggplant into two-inch cubes. 


Place the bacon grease in a large skillet over high heat. When oil is very hot add eggplant to brown. Add onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, celery, garlic, basil and oregano. Cook for five to six minutes. Stir in Mushroom Béchamel Sauce and pour into two-quart baking dish. 


Bake uncovered 40 minutes. Combine the corn flake crumbs and melted butter. Spread evenly over top of casserole and bake 10 minutes more. Remove casserole from oven and serve. Yield: 10 – 12 servings

Mushroom Béchamel Sauce 

1 Tbl               Olive oil, light

1 /2 cup           Onion, minced

1 /4 cup           Shallot, minced

1 /4 cup           Celery, minced

2 tsp                Salt

1 tsp                Garlic, granulated

1 /2 tsp             Thyme, dry

10 oz              Mushrooms, cleaned, sliced (4 cups)

3 cups              Chicken broth

1 /2 cup           Butter

3 /4 cup           Flour

1 cup               Whipping cream


Heat oil in a three-quart saucepot over low heat. Add onions, shallots, celery, and salt. Cook vegetables until tender. Add mushrooms and increase heat to medium. Cook 10 minutes, stirring often. Add chicken broth, garlic and thyme. Bring back to a simmer and cook 10 more minutes. 


In a separate skillet, make a light-blonde roux by melting butter and stirring in flour. Add to simmering broth mixture. Cook three to four minutes and add cream. Freezes well. Yield: two quarts



Anonymous said...

I love your restaurants in Hattiesburg but I refuse to go to a place located in a city that has a high crime rate and an administration that openly mocks the victims of crime. For the safety of your patrons and staff I hope you will have armed security. I am buoyed by your constant optimism and wish you the best in a difficult market that struggles to even provide clean water to its businesses.

Krusatyr said...

RE: For the Mushroom Sauce, which I have patiently mastered:

Use chicken bone and skin stock, defatted, from a roasted chicken, not 'broth', which is junk; 16 oz (not 10 oz) mushrooms sliced 1/4", much less butter, less flour, more olive oil, develop med dark roux, add minced red bell pepper to saute' for deeper flavor, better color, otherwise very similar.

This sauce can also be a base for an incredible chicken vegetable soup.

Anonymous said...

All the best to you but NO ONE FROM MY BROOD will be visiting anything downtown at night. I also imagine that movie house and bowling alley will be taken over by idiots once word gets out. I also imagine it being overly expensive. My imagination is running wild and I do apologize but Jackson Mississippi , no matter where you are in it is a damn sh!thole. I'm sure the local libbies and old money kids will keep the lights on for yah.

Anonymous said...

Why anyone would open any kind of legitimate business in Jackson is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

I join others in welcoming you to Fondren. I will not be visiting your place because of the conditions in Jackson> If enough people stay at home business like yours will fail. What I hope happens is for this site to go viral and force you to show the city officials that if there are not positive steps to clean up the city more businesses will close or simply just stay away. This happened in Jones County. The judicial system was jackpot justice. Jury verdicts were crazy. Business stayed away and sent a message. Defeat Billy Joe Landrum or we have no interest in Laurel or Jones County Billy Joe was defeated and the judicial system in moving toward the center .

Anonymous said...

Robert and his partners are about to learn a very expensive lesson that it really is about location, location, location. As other comments essentially state, Jackson is not Hattiesburg. There are too many choices for food and entertainment outside of Jackson to make the risks of crime worth the experience.

Anonymous said...

I fear that in this instance location will be what controls, not management.


Anonymous said...

Opening any type of business in The Fondren is a fools errand.

Anonymous said...

If it fails, RSJ will continue to be the happy, gracious, serial entrepreneur that he is. And you'll still be typing your misery on a computer.

Anonymous said...

I wish you sincere success, though I must I agree I wont be a patron due to current racist city leadership.

(If the skin tone roles were reversed, withholding dollars from racist leadership would be celebrated as championing for a better society, but logic is no longer relevant so no use in that discussion)

I will give the benefit of the doubt that you have research that supports your reason for the location. Time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Hinds County is dotted with really good out of the way eaten spots. Bolton ...Learned.....even Edwards has a new place. Why anyone other than locals would go is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

The facade looks amazing! I'm sure the rest of it does too.

Anonymous said...

Damn, yall are some miserable people

Fondren Fan said...

This is for the commenters ragging on opening a business in Jackson. Is there crime, yes? But you obviously haven't visited a Fondren restaurant in the last couple of years. Walker's Drive-In, Saltine, Babalu, Barrelhouse, Rooster's, Basil's, Green Ghost Tacos, Pig & Pint, Brent's Drugs - all survived the pandemic and are frequently busy. Hopefully Robert and his partners will have armed security since they've pledged to have safe, convenient parking. I'd appreciate it if all the doubting Thomases and negative Nellies would stay home so it's easier for people like me to find a parking space and get a table faster.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I know how this will end and it won’t be pretty. No way am I visiting that area at night.

Anonymous said...

Mr. St. John: I wish you well with your new venture, but for safety sake, I will not go there. Since you say it is the same menu as your Crescent City Grill and bar menu as your Mahogany Bar, I'll just wait until I'm in Hattiesburg, patronize your restaurant and bar, and not have to be worried about being shot or mugged.

Anonymous said...

You Jackson haters on here that live in Rankin County are free to stay right where you are and eat at Olive Garden. My family will be eating regularly at Mr. St. John’s restaurant. I love his two restaurants in Hattiesburg, and his new one in Jackson will be wildly successful just like his other businesses are.

FYI, there are many other great, successful restaurants in Jackson, like Char and Bravo’s, but y’all stick with the Applebee’s in Pearl where you are comfortable and feel at home.

Anonymous said...

Robert, if you’re reading this, best of luck to you! Given your experience in the field, and the fact that you are local to the region, I imagine there isn’t anything anonymous naysayers in the comments section can tell you that you haven’t already considered.

I’m sure these commenters have a lot positive going on in their lives to devote so much time and energy to gleefully (whether they admit it or not) cheering when anything bad happens in Jackson. God bless you all. You need it. Stay in your trailer if you’re scared.

Anonymous said...

I plan to go there-probably only during the day. That being said, I'll also probably only go if there's a really close parking space. And I'm also prepared to defend my life at all times. The sad reality of using such force becomes a larger risk each day.

Armed guards will help keep the crime down. I'd hire at least one for day shifts and probably have 2/3 each night.

Sal and Mookies moving to the District was the best thing they could have done. RSJ, if he wanted to stay in Jackson, should have put this in Highland Village or the District. The 'safety bubble' in Jackson keeps shrinking thanks to the current mayor.

Anonymous said...

@12:40 and others. Did it occur to you that all of the "miserable" people spent the exact same of time as you writing and submitting comments? Maybe we don't live in trailers in Pearl but houses in Eastover that used to be worth over a million dollars. Maybe we own local businesses that have been broken into multiple times without recourse or consequence and have had to operate without running water for over a week. Maybe our aversion to the crime is not from reading a blog but from having friends and neighbors carjacked and robbed over and over again with no punishment for the known and repewtedly arrested perpetrators. The admiration for Robert and his craft is genuine and so is our concern for his venture.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you are 1:05, but I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

"Houses in Eastover" and those folks could have been holding the City accountable for years ! Going way way way back instead of ignoring the problems and putting sweet potato queens on high. This is a blog about Jackson Ms and this blog is generally reserved for bashing Jackson. It's not really about Robert hedging his bets and the coming tax write off.

Anonymous said...

Fondren is still a "safety bubble" neighborhood. For some reason, most of the notable crime lately has been in Belhaven neighborhoods, a fact most of the posters here chose to ignore. Also, Fondren is not "downtown Jackson". It is a relatively safe suburban area. Fondren is well policed, especially in the business part of the area. They have numerous destination restaurants. The only notable crime in the area involving a restaurant occurred at Walker's, where customers were besieged by rude, crazy pro-life protesters. Fondren has an open-air neighborhood celebration in the business area every first Thursday of the month. There have been no crime incidents at that regular event. Fondren has concerts at night at Duling Hall and no crime events yet. I look forward to the restaurant and movie theatre there; I'm not a bowler.

Anonymous said...

RSJ is not an “owner” in any sense of the word.

RSJ has invested others peoples money in this development and duped owners of the real property to pitch in.

I hope these places work and I imagine in the shirt term they will thrive.

Once the newness wears off who knows….

Anonymous said...

This same concept is opening up at the old Ritz in Natchez. I would feel safer taking the Trace down to Natchez and spending my money there. Jackson is literally a shit hole.

Anonymous said...

You got some pretty thin skin if you think these are negative comments.

I think most of these comments are sincere and wishing RSJ the best while acknowledging the factual obstacles he faces in this location?

Good lord. Its now "negative" to talk about crime.

Good luck Jackson. I genuinely want the best for you, but I don't see how pretending things are not bad is beneficial in the long run.

Anonymous said...

The Negative-Nellies here are clearly the Jackson defenders who resorted to name calling and insulting the poors on this thread.

Everyone prior to that was being factual and civil.

Open your snobby eyes and indeed, feel free to keep your city all to yourselves.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the men of Crescent City Grill, I don't see anything that seems appropriate for a tiki bar atmosphere. I was expecting a menu more like Shaggy's.

Anonymous said...

I concur with 1:15 that it is easy to claim that you're a resident of Eastover, as opposed to an occupant of a "trailer in Pearl" that spends his/her free time throwing rocks across the river because you "don't like democrats." If you are, indeed, a local business owner and resident, please feel free to identify yourself. But until then, if you act like you're an outsider trying to troll, people are going to assume that you are, indeed, an outsider trying to troll.

And no, x amount of time spent building something up is not the same as spending the same amount of time tearing it down. Nice try. Get. A. Grip. Feel free to leave for another state while you are at it. If you hate Jackson that much, you'll take the loss you claim you will take on your house. Also, Rankin County probably won't be far enough away for you, so you should move out of state.

Anonymous said...

You just have to laugh at these comments touting the safety of Hattiesburg, with a crime index of 5, compared to Jackson, with a crime index of 3. Crime is prevalent everywhere. Those who choose to live in their lilly white gated communities are just jaded.

Anonymous said...

@2:45 PM - Where Mr. St. John's restaurants are located in Hattiesburg is a safe place in a well-lighted parking lot with lots of people and activity. Jackson just isn't Jackson anymore.

Anonymous said...

Us po folks can't really afford any of RSJ's eaten places. When us po folks have extra money we spend it on fair food and crack. Maybe buy the kids a bag of off brand cheesy poofs. I am speaking for Hinds County po folks. Them Rankin ones got a Sams.

Anonymous said...

1:50, ain't no Ritz in Natchez. Sure wish RSJ would come on down and open up in the newly remodeled depot that was once home to Cock of the Walk. We ain't got no crime.

Anonymous said...

Are you a simpleton or a troll?
The old Ritz Theatre is on N Commerce right across from Planet Thailand.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"If it fails, RSJ will continue to be the happy, gracious, serial entrepreneur that he is."

From reading his columns, his next businesses ought to be a travel agency and a consulting firm to teach others how to live larger on OPM. Damnedest thing - JJ publishing his column has taken him from being a vaguely-known but generally well-thought-of restaurateur to being known as little more than yet another MS "businessman"-slash-grifter with a firm liplock on whatever tit he can find. I don't care whether this new place makes it or doesn't but if karma exists, he and it are in trouble.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the eggplant casserole recipe. I'm thinking of trying it but 2 CUPS of diced bell pepper sounds like too much. Can someone clarify if this is correct.

Also does anyone know if Broad Street makes their own desserts?

Anonymous said...

6:46. You mean that old boarded up store front with no roof? I thought you was confused with the Eola. Dickie Brennan is going to bring it back to life real soon. As for that old storefront, ain't nothing going to become of it. Still wish RSJ would come to town.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately Jackistan will be able to consistently provide him with quality potable water, right?

Anonymous said...

This is such a great column and St. John's Jackson project will be a huge success because that area continues to be successful for many quality restaurants. To each and every one of the negative commenters here trying to discourage people who have not experienced the truth about Fondren, I say this: Fuck you, fuck your mother, and fuck the horse you rode in on.

Anonymous said...

11:21 = tourism ambassador for The Fondren

Anonymous said...

@11:21 PM is choking on the Chowke kool-aid.

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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.

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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!!!

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