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Robert St. John

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

The Best Kind of Date

February 19, 2020

It’s amazing to me how some parents have it figured out automatically and from the start. Some just get it. I don’t know if parenting was an intuitive thing for me or not. I feel like I was pretty good at it. If I wasn’t it wasn’t for lack of trying. I think I focused on the things that needed to be prioritized during my kid’s childhood and teen years and spent a lot of time with them.

I sit at the same seat at the counter of my breakfast joint every morning I am in town. From that vantage point, I can see most everything that is going on in the kitchen and dining room. If the scrambled eggs coming up in the window look overcooked, I can address that issue immediately. If table eight is looking around as if they are ready to pay the check, then I can let their server know to head that way.

I have restaurant eyes. It’s a curse or a blessing depending on how you look at it. After almost 40 years in the restaurant business, it’s almost automatic. Though I have had restaurant eyes since I started working as a server in college in 1982. Restaurant eyes notice that small piece of paper on the floor that servers have stepped over for the past two minutes. Restaurant eyes can detect when there’s not enough ice in a tea glass, or the expression on a guest’s face when they are anxious. You can’t turn restaurant eyes on or off. They are always engaged whether I’m in one of my restaurants or someone else’s.

Restaurant eyes are a crucial asset for an independent restaurateur. They can also be an annoyance when dining out with your wife. “Honey, this isn’t your restaurant. Stop worrying about the (fill in the blank— bright light coming in the blinds, angry man at the table in the corner, drink straw that fell behind that ladies’ seat, people who have been waiting at the hostess stand who haven’t been greeted yet) and just enjoy your dinner.”

Restaurant eyes can also detect the parent s who “get it.” Nothing pleases me more than seeing fathers having breakfast with their young daughters. From my seat in the breakfast joint, I get the pleasure of seeing fathers bring their young daughters to breakfast before school. Those are the best daddy-daughter dates.

Every time I see a father with a young daughter, I think back to the breakfasts my daughter and I shared when she was young. She was a fan of pancakes and patty sausage. So much so, that the waitress at the restaurant we frequented gave her the nickname “Patty Sausage.” I don’t think it’s a moniker that she appreciated, but the lady was sweet, and I thought it was funny.

I never make positive or negative assumptions about our guests in the restaurant. I know better than to judge a book by its cover, and I am grateful that— with all of the dining choices out there these days— people chose to dine with us. But one thing I know from experience is that fathers that share a meal with their young daughters are making a lasting positive impression on that little girl.

Almost every morning I see a father sharing breakfast with his daughter in our breakfast joint. Sometimes they are eating before high school, junior high, or elementary school classes. Many times, it’s a daughter so young that she hasn’t started school yet and maybe they’re even out of the house for an hour to give mom a break with the younger sibling. We are located across the street from the University of Southern Mississippi, and I often see a father having breakfast with his college-age daughter before class.

Today there was a father and daughter team waiting in the car for us to open our doors at 7:00 a.m. They are currently sitting across the counter from me and seem to be enjoying each other’s company. Whereas I am happy to see this father-daughter team dining with us, I’m just a tad envious. My daughter and I ate breakfast together early on, but she started valuing her sleep fairly early on. Around that time, my son was old enough to start going out to breakfast and I was granted a few more years of breakfasts with one of my children.

I can remember sitting in Broad Street Bakery in Jackson years ago, seeing local high school students eating breakfast together before school. I can remember thinking that I would one day love to own a place where kids could eat breakfast before school. When I was developing my breakfast concept, I kept that in mind. While we don’t feed as many high school students as Broad Street does, we serve our fair share. What I do see a lot of is fathers dining with their daughters to begin the day. I’ll take that trade any day.

Yesterday we had a visit from one of our regulars, a college freshman named Mallory who used to dine with us every morning before classes began her entire senior year of high school. She moved out of town to attend college last fall, and we haven’t seen her much, lately. Yesterday she walked in with her father and our servers were so excited to see her it seemed like a long-lost child finally finding her way back home. They were fired up.

As I write, two more fathers have come into the restaurant to dine with their daughters. I love my job.

I don’t know if I did a great job as a father, but I once heard a man say, “You can’t fake good kids.” And, so far, our kids have turned out pretty good. I’ll divert most of the credit to my wife whose parenting skills come as natural as breathing. There are many things I aspire to be in my professional and personal life. Being a good dad trumps all others, and it’s not even close.


This week’s recipe: Egg in the Hole

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