For its first 30 years, RJ's Seafood & Steaks served only lunch and dinner. Then, when Snooky's, the iconic restaurant around the corner, closed at age 41 in February 2012, RJ's adopted its orphaned breakfast.
Breakfast regulars - including more-or-less informal clubs who had met at certain times and certain tables for decades - made the transition. Elements of SnookPac, the semiserious political action committee, relocated to RJ's. So did the 10:30 Coffee Club, whose members are known as Rollers for their tradition of throwing dice to decide who buys coffee for the group.
After a year and a half, "Snooky's Breakfast at RJ's" is doing OK. But the number of patrons still has not equaled the old Snooky's breakfast crowd, admits RJ's owner Randy Nessmith.
"Breakfast is kind of a habit, so you have to get people in the habit," Nessmith said. "We're developing habits right now."
He believes Snooky's Breakfast has added to RJ's total appeal.
"It has helped overall," said Nessmith. "A lot of people who hadn't thought about us are thinking about us. We feel like there's going to be an excellent future."
RJ's hosted a one-year Snooky's reunion party in February. Nessmith is suggesting another reunion event for February 2014. In the meantime, he wants to build the everyday breakfast crowd for the future of RJ's.
Currently, about 100 breakfast patrons, including some who order only coffee, is typical for a morning. At that rate, the breakfast is making a little money for the restaurant, according to Nessmith. But it's not quite at the level he would like to see.
"If I could pick up about 20 percent, that would be wonderful, 20 to 25 percent," he said. "It's Ok now, but if I could get about another 25 percent, we could handle it with the same help we've got now, and that would be very successful."
So RJ's landmark sign, out front on U.S. 301, currently proclaims "Breakfast Served: Mon.-Sat. 7-11 a.m." Nessmith is also offering monthly breakfast specials. A simple one proved popular in August: two eggs, two pieces of bacon, grits and toast for $4.99. So he has decided to continue it through September. August brought an increase in breakfast business as summer vacations ended.
Other breakfast selections include three-egg omelets, pancakes, cheese grits, a fresh-fruit bowl, English muffins and French toast. The menu remains virtually unchanged from Snooky's.
In contrast to RJ's lunch and dinner, where customers order in the service line, breakfast Monday through Friday is exclusively sit-down menu service. This is another legacy from Snooky's. Saturday brings a choice of a breakfast buffet or menu orders.
Even the two breakfast grills were brought over from Snooky's.
Nessmith and former Snooky's owner Bruce Yawn, two of Statesboro's most experienced restaurateurs, have long been friends. Nessmith, who managed local restaurants from the mid-1960s founded RJ's with a partner, the late James Brannen, in 1981 and has been sole owner since 1986. Yawn, meanwhile, had opened Snooky's with his father, the late Vivian D. "Snooky" Yawn in 1971.
When Bruce Yawn decided to sell his building and retire, he and Nessmith arranged for the adoption. Snooky's closed on a Saturday, and RJ's put some of the Snooky's crew to work serving breakfast the following Monday.
Of the six Snooky's employees who made the transition, three remain. Jackie Dickey has now been a waitress at RJ's for 19 months, after seven years at Snooky's and before that, 27 years at another historic eatery, Franklin's. Breakfast cook Rosa Hagins prepared meals at Snooky's for 15 years. Assistant cook Joseph Stephens has now equaled, at RJ's, his year and a half of Snooky's experience.
While fostering traditions, Nessmith is looking to the future. RJ's Seafood & Steaks recently added some new lunch and dinner entrees, as can be seen on the restaurant's Facebook page. He will consider changes to the breakfast menu around Jan. 1, when he traditionally reviews all RJ's menus.