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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Regrets? I Have A Few

July 15, 2013

I am currently finishing up a complete makeover of our 25-year old restaurants. For the past nine months I have had a large construction wall erected around our business as we remodeled the interiors, added completely new kitchens, built a wine cellar, private dining room, and opened a new bar. It has been a daily challenge. We operated one restaurant for three months without a front entrance.

The process has been tough on everyone, but I don’t regret any of it. It was necessary to our long-term growth and viability.

There are a few small construction regrets I have— decisions that I wish I could have taken back or things I would have done differently now that the process is over. But for the most part, I am extremely happy with the end result.

Yesterday, however, I was having lunch with my son at the bakery across the street and we were looking at the restaurant building. “I wish I would have stood my ground and made the change to the true butterfly roofline,” I mumbled to myself.

“What?” my son asked.

“Oh nothing, just a decision I didn’t press for during the construction process.”

“What’s a butterfly roofline?” he asked. I explained to him that we were at a critical part of the construction process and I regret not pushing for an architectural detail that I wanted. This opened up the topic of regret.

I started looking back at a 30-year restaurant career and searched for things I might regret. There are some things I would probably do differently, but I hope, for the most part, any mistake or harm I might have done was completely unintentional.

I don’t live in the past and I don’t dwell on mistakes. But I do believe they are there to teach us lessons and if we don’t learn from them then we are destined to keep making the same mistakes.

Sitting in the bakery, talking to my son, I realized that the biggest regret of my life is not spending enough time with my grandparents when I had the opportunity.

My maternal grandfather was my primary father figure. He retired from AT&T and left his job in Manhattan to move down here after my father died. He was a great storyteller, a self-educated and well-read intellectual, and an avid outdoorsman. I spent a lot of time with him in my youth. Though as I grew into my later teen years, time with friends took precedent over time with my grandfather. He developed Parkinson’s and spent his final two years in a nursing home— a place that, I am ashamed to say, I didn’t visit very often. He died during my sophomore year at college while I was away.

My paternal grandmother was an amazing woman. She was well educated (valedictorian of her class at Belhaven College), a schoolteacher, well travelled, kind, compassionate, and a perfect Southern lady— the last of a breed. During my later college years and during the first few years after opening my first restaurant, I lived in a detached garage apartment behind her house.

Late at night, at the end of a long day, I could see her sitting in her chair in, what she called, “the sunroom,” watching television or reading the paper as I drove down the alley on my way to the garage. Many nights I would go inside the house and visit with her. We would spend 30-45 minutes talking about what each other did during the day, or of family history, and then I would kiss her goodnight, excuse myself, and go out to the garage apartment. She loved those chats and I suspect stayed up later than she wanted hoping I would come into the house and visit.

Many nights I was tired after a rough day of work and didn’t feel like a lengthy visit. Those nights I would go straight up to my garage apartment. I could look through the windows to see that she was still sitting in her chair. She would usually give it 15 minutes to see if I was going to come inside for a visit, and then, when I hadn’t, turn off the light and go to bed.

Sitting here today, as a 51-year old man, not going back inside of that house to spend time with my grandmother every chance I had the opportunity is my main life regret. I would give anything I own for one more visit.

The problem with time-not-spent-with-family regrets is that when family is gone, the opportunity is too. Nothing is as permanent— and as painful— as lost time with loved ones.

So spend time with parents, grandparents, and siblings. If you are a grandparent and your children and grandchildren are too “busy”— or frankly, too stupid— to spend time with you, force yourself on them. They might not like it now, but they’ll be grateful one day.

At the end of the day, we won’t regret not working those extra hours or not playing another round of golf. We will surely regret not spending time with family and friends.


Ginger Soy Salmon

6  salmon filets (6-8 ounce each)

1/3 cup no-stick grilling marinade for seafood (optional)

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 Tbl minced ginger


1 recipe ginger soy butter sauce

Combine the seafood marinade with the soy sauce and ginger. Use a pastry brush to coat the filets. Allow the filets to marinate at room temperature for 45 minutes

Prepare the grill. Cook the fish on direct high heat until it is just pink in the center, about 7-9 minutes. Turn the fish once while cooking. Do not overcook.

Remove the fish from the grill, top with the ginger soy butter sauce, and serve.

Yield: 6 servings



No-Stick Marinade for Seafood

4 Egg Yolks

1 Tbl Dijon Mustard

1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar

1 cup Canola Oil

1 cup Light Olive Oil

Warm water as needed

2 Tbl Lawry’s Season Salt

1 Tbl Onion Powder

1 Tbl Paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne Pepper

2 tsp Garlic Powder

1 tsp White Pepper

1 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 tsp Dry Mustard

1 tsp Dry Oregano

1 tsp Dried Thyme Leaves

Place the egg yolks, Dijon mustard, and vinegar in a food processor. Blend on medium speed for 1-2 minutes.

Slowly drizzle oils into the mixture, one tablespoon at a time. If the marinade becomes too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons of warm water. Once all of the oil has been incorporated, add seasoned salt, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, white pepper, black pepper, dry mustard, oregano, and thyme until incorporated.

Store covered in the refrigerator until needed.

Yield: 2 1/2 cups


Ginger Soy Sauce

2 cups orange juice

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup white wine

1 Tbl garlic, minced

1 Tbl shallot, minced

1 orange, cut into slices

2 Tbl fresh ginger, chopped

1 jalapeno,  seeds removed and rough chopped

1/4 cup whipping cream

1 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes and then chilled

2 Tbl soy sauce

In a medium saucepan, place orange juice, vinegar, wine, garlic, shallot, orange, ginger, and jalepeno over medium heat and reduce to a thick syrup. Be careful; mixture burns easily.

Lower heat and add cream. Bring mixture back to a simmer. Start adding butter, stirring constantly. Add more butter as it dissolves until all butter is incorporated. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and finish with soy sauce.

Yield: 2 cups

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