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At R.J.'s, service is the key
Randy Nessmith: No plans to slow down after 25 years
Randy NEssmith-biz mon.
Randy Nessmith stands in front of the restaurant he founded 25 years ago - R.J.'s. - photo by MICHELLE BOAEN/staff
    For 25 years, RJ's Seafood and Steaks owner Randy Nessmith has had the same priorities when it comes to running a restaurant — good service, high food quality and a clean restaurant.
    "The reason I put service first is that people can get good food at home," Nessmith said. "They go out to be treated."
    That philosophy has paid off as RJ's has remained a vibrant part of the community and has helped make the restaurant a destination point for its customers.
    Nessmith recalled when the restaurant first opened in September 1981, saying it was within a week of the first Georgia Southern football game played at Statesboro High School.
    "We wanted to keep it quiet, but somehow word got out and we were packed," he said.
    Also during that time, Highway 301 was "in its hey day" serving as the primary route for motorists driving north and south along the East Coast. In fact, Nessmith said he and his partner, James Brannen, looked along Highway 301 for a location for their restaurant before settling on the current location.
    The 11,000 square-foot structure has essentially been the same size as it was when they first bought the building. The only addition done was early on when they added a room for to accommodate banquets and other similar events.
    In the mid-1980s, Nessmith bought out Brannen to become the sole owner of the restaurant.
    During the early years of running RJ's, Nessmith said it wasn't uncommon for him to work 100 hours in a week, but those days have passed, he said.
    "I was much younger then," he said with a laugh.
    "He's probably one of the best restaurant people in this town," said Bruce Yawn, owner of Snooky's Restaurant. Yawn cited Nessmith's concern for his customers and the quality of his food as reasons for RJ's success.
    "He really looks after his business," Yawn said.
    And even after being in the restaurant business for 25 years, Nessmith said he has no plans of retiring. In fact, he said he hopes to keep going for another 25 years.
    Around nine or 10 years ago, Nessmith said much of the development in Statesboro was moving away from Highway 301 and towards the area around the Statesboro Mall. That, in addition to the fact that Highway 301 had lost some relevance as more drivers used Interstate 95, created new challenges for Nessmith.
    He was among the first people to contribute to the Averitt Arts Center in Downtown Statesboro because he saw that as the beginning of a revitalization of Highway 301, which he's said has happened.
    "You can't pick up the paper on Monday (when Business Monday is published) and not read about something happening on (Highway) 301," he said.
    Also 10 years ago, the restaurant underwent a major renovation to improve the appearance of the front of RJ's and make other changes as well. And now, 10 year's later, he said they'll likely do another renovation in the next year or two to replace the carpet and make a few other changes.
    Yawn said he and Nessmith are both friends and "friendly competitors," though he said he really doesn't consider RJ's as competition.
    "We eat out at each other's restaurants," Yawn said. "If I eat out, that's where I go and he'll come here to get away from his place for a little while," Yawn said.
    In addition to quality service, Nessmith says he serves only the highest quality foods, citing a few reasons for that.
    "We try to be better than the chain restaurants," he said. "I try to serve the best quality product available. I think that helps."
    The steaks are cut daily in house and are in the top 10 percent of USDA Choice cuts, he said.
    "We do all our frying in canola oil with zero transfats," said Nessmith.
    And for all the things he does to make RJ's successful, Nessmith said there's he couldn't have done any of it without his employees.
    "I attribute all my success for 25 years to having a great, quality staff," he said. "I've just loved RJ's and serving our customers."
    "I've got to have a great staff to achieve what we're trying to achieve. So far been very fortunate to have had that over the years."