Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Robert St. John: A Different Kind of Welcome

 I first came to the city sometime in the mid 1960s. My grandparents lived here. My father had recently passed away and my mother drove my brother me up to stay with her parents for a few weeks. They lived in an apartment building somewhere around 72nd and 2nd. All I remember about that apartment is that they had a balcony that looked just like the one in the opening credits of Green Acres. As a six-year-old, the two things that impressed me during that initial New York visit were that they were filming a movie on the street outside their apartment, and automats. I was amazed by automats, and that is probably the earliest memory I have of a restaurant of any kind. 


The automats were marvelous, Jetson’s-like technology. A very simplistic everyday site in the city back then, but Hattiesburg, Mississippi didn’t have anything that offered sandwiches that came out of a wall that looked like a post office box. The next time I visited this city was in July of 1969. My grandfather took my brother and me to Yankee Stadium. The Yankees were playing the Senators. I can't remember anything about the actual game, other than at the top of the eighth inning, Bob Sheppard came over the PA and announced that the Americans had just landed on the moon. They played the national anthem. Later that night we watched the moonwalk on television in my grandparent’s apartment. My mother took photographs of the tv as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon


During all the subsequent trips to this city— between then and now— I've focused on restaurant research and development. When I got into the restaurant business in 1982, I started collecting cookbooks and reading every article I could get my hands on about the restaurants and chefs in this city. I had no money to travel but I dreamed of coming here as a restaurateur, as soon as I could, to eat my way through the city.


In the late 1980s, those trips began.


New York is universally considered the number one restaurant city in America I wouldn't argue that. I feel blessed to be a part-time New Orleanian which, for me at least, comes in at a strong number two, if not number one on occasion. The culinary energy in both cities is very strong.


Every trip I have ever taken to New York has been planned around restaurant reservations. Every other activity comes in second as the schedule always revolves around my restaurant to-do list. In the days before all the online services, the Zagat Guide was my gold standard for restaurant recommendations that I hadn’t read about in newspapers, magazines, or trade publications. These days, I mostly visit restaurants owned by friends. I guess that’s how it happens if one stays in this business long enough.


Though I am here this time for an entirely different reason than restaurant research and development. I was invited to speak at this year’s Welcome Conference at Lincoln Center. It's pretty heady stuff for a boy from South Mississippi. But I'm honored and I look forward to that speech.


I’ve delivered hundreds of speeches over the past couple of decades and have received a lot of gifts and honorariums. Though when it comes to giving guest speaker gifts, Will Guidara and his team at The Welcome Conference, best all others— by a mile. At a dinner for the speakers the evening before the speech, I was gifted a personalized autographed bowling ball from Jeff Bridges that reads, “To the Dude of Hattiesburg, Jeff Bridges.” Amazing! Unprecedented and mind-blowing! If that is the speaker gift, you can imagine how first-rate all details were for the rest of the conference.


When I was traveling here in the late 1980s and all throughout the 90s and early 2000s— doing research and development and bringing ideas to the concepts back home— I never could have fantasized that I would ever be asked to speak at such an event. Though, as far-fetched as that scenario is, I certainly couldn’t have dreamed, in the deepest recesses of my imagination, that I would travel to Hyde Park, New York to visit my son who is attending the Culinary Institute of America. As excited and honored as I am to deliver a speech to the Welcome Conference, it pales in comparison to the joy I had seeing my son on campus, seeing the pride he felt as he gave his mother and me a tour, and spending time over breakfast and lunch while talking about his food classes and future dreams.


On the train home from Poughkeepsie, I thought back to 40 years ago, when I spent all my spare time in the library at the University of Southern Mississippi, thumbing through the restaurant trade magazines and dreaming what a career in the restaurant business might be like. I wish someone would've pulled me aside back then and said “Robert, grab a pen and a piece of paper and write down what you think a career in the restaurant will be like. Dream big. Dream bigger than anything you can imagine. Then take that piece of paper, stow it away in a drawer, and get to work.” 


I would love to have that sheet of paper today, because, 40 years ago, I would have so undershot what a career in the restaurant business, and life as a restaurateur, has gifted me. I'm not talking about material and monetary things. Not at all. It's the spiritual and relational things. I am blessed to love what I do, and to have a son that hopes to follow in my footsteps while carving out his own niche in this industry. It’s my dream that he’ll do even greater things. I truly believe he will.


Granted, there aren’t a lot of spiritual experiences derived from dining out in restaurants (at least not for most). But speaking to an international audience about your journey and the one thing that changed your life is very spiritual. And as great as that is, seeing your son in an environment in which he is thriving is even greater.


When I get home I think I’ll call my son and have him to take out a pen and piece of paper and dream big.


No regrets.



Apple Cobbler


Apple Filling


8 cups Granny Smith Apples, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 cup flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup water

2 Tbl unsalted butter, softened




1 1/2  cup flour, sifted

1 1/2  cup brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs, slightly beaten


Preheat oven to 375


For the filling:

In a large mixing bowl, combine the apples, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, salt, vanilla extract and water. Using one tablespoon of butter, butter a 9X14 baking dish. Spread the apple mixture evenly into the prepared baking dish. Dot the tops of the apples with the remaining tablespoon of softened butter.


For the topping:


Combine the sifted flour, brown sugar. Baking powder and salt and blend well. Blend in the butter and beaten egg. Drop the batter into 12 portions, over the apples, spacing the batter out evenly. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the apples are tender and the crust is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and allow the cobbler to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with cinnamon ice cream.


Anonymous said...

Japan keeps the Automat dream alive because it is a low-crime, high-trust society. Lots of YouTube videos about “restaurants” with a dozen hot and cold food vending machines, with corresponding microwaves to heat your food. They also have Redbox-style automatic pizza machines all over Tokyo. The pizza’s are more authentically Italian than a pie here in Mississippi. Again, check YouTube. Meanwhile in Jackson, you can’t even have a coke machine guarded by CCTV on the streets of Jackson.

Robert should really expand his travels outside of Europe.

Anonymous said...

Here is a YouTube video someone made when sampling a Japanese Automat

Anonymous said...

How does a real business owner play as much as St. John does? Just speculation that he just licenses his name.

Stuff About ZeroBear PolyBear said...

Good words, Robert.

Peach Crisp:


2-3 peaches
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon lemon juice
a pinch of salt

For crisp topping:

2 Tablespoons Old Fashioned Oats
2 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
pinch of salt

To Serve:

A nice shot of whipped cream or a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream


Peel and cut up the fruit. Freestone peaches pull apart easily to allow removal of the peach stone. Cling peaches will not do this and the fruit must be cut off of the stone. Since you need to remove the skins from the peaches. Here is a trick. Start with a boiler of boiling water. Dip the peaches in the water for maybe a minute, then remove and ease the skin off with the edge of a knife. The hot boiling water blanches and causes the skins to release from the fruit. This makes it so much easier to remove the skin without the waste that peeling sometimes causes.

To the cut up fruit, add 1 Tablespoon flour, 1 Tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Mix together well and then put the fruit into a well buttered (or Pam sprayed) baking dish.
Mix the crisp/crumb covering using 2 Tablespoons Old Fashioned Oats, 2 Tablespoons flour, 2 Tablespoons butter (at room temperature), 1 teaspoon sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix the topping together well, then sprinkle over the top of the fruit.

Bake for 30-4 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Pull when the top has browned slightly.

Serve with a shot of canned whipped cream or a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Anonymous said...

12:07, in other words how is he so successful?

Anonymous said...

12:07 he is a successful businessman. He organizes, prioritizes and delegates. He experiences and learns as he "plays".
Don't be so jealous.

Anonymous said...

How much in State money did he receive for the bowling alley et al? (or the 2 developers - haven't seen the amount posted anywhere)

Anonymous said...

Enjoyable story and best wishes to your son as he begins his dreams. NYC is the best city in the world, notwithstanding the current problems. Sad how many jealous people post on this gentleman's posts.

Anonymous said...

I am not jealous of Robert because I have my own success. I just did it without exploiting college kids or reminding everyone for 50 years that my daddy died when I was a boy so please buy my $30 enchilada plate.

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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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