As RJ's Seafood and Delete - Merge USteaks approaches its 30th anniversary, owner Randy Nessmith is grateful for the success that the restaurant has seen over the last three decades.
Founded in 1981 by Nessmith and James Brannen, Statesboro's largest restaurant has become a South Main Street institution. Nessmith bought Brannen out of the restaurant in 1986, and has operated it as its sole proprietor ever since.
"We have always been so blessed," Nessmith said. "We have a steady clientele that has supported us, and as challenges continue in the economy, we are very grateful for that support."
From banquets to catering and in-house dining, Nessmith said he has always tried to provide great service and a great product in addition to being active in the community. Statesboro Exchange Club president Garth Long said his club depends on the service that they get at RJ's for each of their bimonthly meetings.
"We love holding our meetings at RJ's," Long said. "The service is outstanding. Miss Libby (Lewis) takes great care of us, and has everything ready and in place for each one of our meetings. She puts out the banners, podium, gavel, and bell, and the food is ready to go."
RJ's hosts several service club meetings each month in their banquet area. The Rotary Club of Downtown Statesboro has been holding their Thursday morning breakfast meetings there for the last ten years. Recently installed president Jim Davis said some of the club's members get to RJ's as early as 6:15 to visit over coffee before the meeting.
"We have both our morning and occasional night meetings at RJ's," Davis said. "The service is top notch, and the food is very good. You really couldn't ask for anything more. I know that our members are very pleased."
At the locally famous Sunday buffet, Nessmith can be found carving roast or walking around the dining room greeting guests on a first name basis.
"I know that these are my customers, but many of them have become my friends," he said. "You want to please your friends and provide them with the best that you can. We try and do that day in and day out."
Nessmith has found a unique way to acknowledge regular customers who have come in several times a week over the last several years.
"For years, I went to RJ's three or four times a week and would always sit in the same booth," said Statesboro resident Burtt Higgins. "One day, I came in, sat in my booth and there was my name in a frame over the booth. It had become my booth. I told Randy that he didn't have to put my name on the booth, and he just laughed and told me to keep coming."
Higgins said he appreciated the recognition that has been afforded him by Nessmith, but he is truly grateful for Nessmith's generosity.
"I belong to 14 service clubs in Statesboro," Higgins said. "There are occasions when I have to come to Randy for a donation. Over all of these years, he has never turned me down. He is a wonderful man, and a giving man."
As far as business is concerned, Nessmith said it is a very difficult time, because the price of food is being sharply affected by market forces that were unforeseen. He said that corn is being diverted to ethanol production resulting in a higher price for cattle feed, thus a higher price for beef. Also, the oil spill in the gulf is sending the price of shrimp significantly upward.
"Our biggest seller is beef which has gone up, and our second largest is seafood," he said. "A large portion of the seafood we sell is shrimp. No one really knows what the price of shrimp is ultimately going to be. But, if it goes up significantly, then people are not going to want to pay that price, and restaurants such as ours won't be able to offer it. I am not sure how we will be affected."
Nessmith appears to be taking all of it in stride.
"When we opened this business in 1981, South Main Street was a main thoroughfare for people coming through Statesboro," he said.
"Now that has changed, and the majority of the traffic goes towards the mall area. I have considered moving, but the cost would be prohibitive, so we are going to remain right here. We have dealt with that, and we will certainly do our best to deal with these unforeseen challenges. I really hope that people don't think that I am complaining. I just don't want to see certain food costs go as high as we have heard that they may. When your bread and butter has been offering a certain menu, and the cost of the core items continue to rise, it's very, very challenging."