Over the past three decades, Statesboro has seen the transition slowly evolve from a community dominated by locally owned, landmark restaurants to a community being dominated by national franchises.
There are only a handful of locally owned restaurants in operation and just two that remain owned and operated by the founders, Dingus Magees and R.J.s.
To continue to survive in this ever changing market, both of these restaurants are much different today than they were when they opened. If you have visited R.J.'s recently, you have noticed dramatic changes. Late last year, they changed the name from R.J.'s Steakery to R.J.'s Grill.
When you walk in, you notice a completely different look. The entrance has been renovated and you are welcomed by a hostess. New paint, carpeting and a more open and inviting atmosphere greets you. No more line service, salad, soup and potato bar. But don't worry, all of your favorite soups, salads, steaks and seafood are still available. But now the waitresses are full service and will bring it all to you. Soon, they will add beer and wine.
"The thing that continues to set R.J.'s apart from other's, in addition to our incredible, high quality, delicious food, is our willingness to listen to our clients and make the changes necessary to remain competitive in a tremendously competitive environment," said Randy Nesmith, owner of R.J.s Grill. "Great food is important, but an atmosphere that is inviting is equally important."
If you have eaten at R.J.'s, then you have met Randy. He is the hardest working man in the restaurant industry locally. His energy, enthusiasm and always optimistic outlook is admired by every patron who enters the door. He listens and is not afraid to step out when it is necessary to keep his restaurant fresh and inviting.
Established in 1981 by Randy Nessmith and James Albert Brannen, hence the name R.J.'s, the restaurant quickly became a local favorite. In 1986, Randy bought Brannen's share and has owned the restaurant ever since. It has been an interesting lesson of survival looking back at how Randy has made additions and adjustments through the past 34 years.
When other longtime favorite restaurant owners either sold out or closed, Randy got bolder. The first change was the addition of the banquet rooms, which remain tremendously popular. R.J.'s continues to be a location for meetings from two to two hundred. With the additional space, he added the now famous Sunday buffet.
For a short period in the late 80s, he created a fine dining restaurant called Julian's that operated in the meeting room areas. Along with the creation of the second restaurant, Randy increased the kitchen capacity, which allowed him to ramp up catering services. Catering remains a huge part of R.J.'s business.
In 2001, his clients were requesting vegetables and more home cooking for lunch. With this he introduced the popular daily blue plate lunch special. Then after Snooky's closed, he introduced the Snooky's breakfast, expanding his hours of operation and adding many of Snooky's favorite breakfast items.
Throughout the evolution of R.J.'s, Randy has never compromised quality or service.
Their steaks are selected from the top 10 percent of USDA choice beef, which is naturally aged and chargrilled. The seafood is fresh, hand battered and deep fried in canola oil that is served by a wait staff that knows you as family. Nessmith said this has been the foundation of their success and one that will remain unchanged.
"Throughout the restaurant industry, things like line service, salad bar and soup bars are a dying trend," Nessmith said. "Customers want more options and they want to be waited on through the entire experience. With this in mind, we have taken out the line, removed the salad and soup bars, redesigned the entrance to make it more inviting, opened up the front section to allow more natural light to come in, repainted and re-carpeted the entire restaurant."
Behind the scenes, R.J.'s made improvements to the kitchen and converted to a new computer ordering system. Waitresses even take your payment when you are done, another change from the old line service concept.
In addition to menu favorites, Nessmith said they expanded salad offerings and added items to the menu that already are popular. The R.J.'s Trio Salad Fruit Plate, which includes chicken, tuna and crab salad on a lettuce bed with seasonal fruit is a healthy new addition. One of Randy's favorite new additions is the crab cake dinner.
"We are so grateful for the continued support from Statesboro and all the surrounding communities," he said. "We really appreciate your patience and continued support. We know you are going to love the ‘new' R.J.'s Grill and we invite you out to enjoy our new options. Even though we have taken our time to roll the changes out, we are continued to perfect, train and work through this transition. Each visit will be better than the last, I promise! I also want to thank my incredible staff who have remained very loyal to me and each of you. They love serving you and look forward to seeing you often."
Change is never easy, but it is necessary. When most of us started eating with Randy, we had never heard of cell phones, the internet and very few of us even owned a credit card. The primary currency of the day was checks or cash. Our choices of eating out were limited, but from day one Randy set the bar. It is impressive that instead of throwing in the towel and moving into retirement he is launching forward with an exciting new chapter for R.J.'s and our community.
I know he will continue to delight and satisfy our taste buds for years to come. I encourage you to head out today and check out the "new" R.J.'s Grill.