Skip to content

Robert St. John

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

Wandering Westward Vol. III

September 9, 2020

Life on the road is all about attitude. I have never minded road travel. I was raised by a single mom who funded our very limited— but wonderful— lifestyle on an art teacher’s salary. We didn’t have a lot, but I felt like I never missed a thing.

If we traveled somewhere it was by train in the early years of my life, and by car thereafter. The drill was always the same, my mother behind the wheel, my older brother in the front seat, and me bouncing off of the windows and doors the backseat with my mind and mouth racing at probably the same speed that registered on the odometer. As a kid I was never officially diagnosed with ADHD, though had that been a thing back then, I would have been the poster child for that particular disorder. The doctors just told my mother, “He’s hyperactive.” And we probably left the doctor’s office and bought a bunch of sugar-laden snacks at the Minit Mart on the way home.

It must have been hell to travel with me in those days. I can remember on one specific trip to Jackson, my mother— who had apparently reached the end of her patience with me that morning— offered a crisp $5.00 bill if I could be still and quiet for the next 15 minutes. I remember it well because $5.00 was a lot of money to a eight-year old in 1969. It was right around Piney Woods School that everything that had been pent up inside me for the previous ten minutes came blurting out in one big, long, rapid-fire, arm-flailing, leg-kicking, vowel movement. I don’t think my mother ever thought she was going to have to give up the $5.00, but she was grateful for the 10-minute respite from the back seat.

It’s just the way I am. I’m hyperactive, I have the attention span of a gnat, and I accept it. Big deal. Everyone has problems. I just look at mine helping me to become a multi-tasker. There are probably dozens of positive benefits that I gain from being the way I am. I don’t remember ever being truly tired until I was in my late 40s. Seriously, I got into the bed one night and commented to my wife, “I think I’m tired. This must be what ‘tired’ feels like.” True story. I don’t ever remember feeling tired before that. I could stay up late, wake up early and go for days like that. I was just blessed with a lot of energy, I guess.

Conversation with me is probably no cakewalk because I interrupt a lot, but— on the bright side— we’ll cover a lot of subjects in a short amount of time. Oh yeah, I’m not a great listener either (that’s one I truly try to work on).

In my teen years and very early 20s, my quirks manifested themselves in a few negative ways with alcohol and drug abuse, but that hasn’t been a problem since 1983. I sincerely believe that my early success in business was due to the seemingly limitless energy I possessed in my 20s and 30s, and the fact that I seemed to be able to tackle several projects at once (or at least get them all started and halfway finished until one of my team members could pick up the reins and see it through to completion).

In my late 30s and mid 40s my restlessness developed into a hardcore case of wanderlust and my wife and I began to travel. Our daughter was born in the late 90s and we didn’t slow down a bit. She was an excellent travel companion and the first four years of her life took her all across the country. When our son was born things changed a little. His early behavior was a lot like my early behavior and likely God’s little payback in that arena, which slowed us down for a while. We still travelled, it was just more measured, and we had to make sure it was child-friendly travel.

Then, when my son was 10-years old and my daughter was 14-years old, we took the ultimate trip— six months in 17 European countries in 72 cities. I’ve written about it often, so there’s no need to cover that trip again in this space, other than to say that my personal and family travel ramped up in a big way thereafter.

Though what I have learned is that travel begets travel. As a result of that extended trip to Europe— namely the 10 weeks we spent in Italy— a new business emerged, and as a result, I have spent three months a year in Italy for the past several years.

I feel 100% that I was born to be a restaurateur. But I also feel that the skills I developed— and continue to develop— over this almost 40-year restaurant career, are the same skills that I employ as a tour leader. It’s all about hospitality and fun.

So, I write this on the final morning of a two-week cross-country adventure with my wife. We loaded up the truck and headed out to some areas we had never seen before and some old haunts that we have missed for several years.

We put over 5,000 miles on my vehicle driving through 14 states, almost to the Canadian border and back. We listened to Audible books by Greg Isles, John Grisham, and Cormac McCarthy, ate barbeque in Memphis and Kansas City. Enjoyed a chuckwagon dinner with an authentic western music show afterwards in Wyoming, picnicked in the Tetons, had an early morning horseback ride along a babbling mountain stream in Colorado, ate well over a dozen Mexican/Tex-Mex/Southwestern meals from Montana to Texas, visited some old friends, and met some new friends along the way.

The past five months have been the most challenging in my career. It is absolutely the worst time in the history of the restaurant business to be in the restaurant business. I needed a break. Road travel doesn’t bother my wife or me. As long as we are listening to a good book with changing scenery, life is good on the road.

Yesterday, as we began to wrap the trip up and move into our final leg, my wife asked, “What has been your favorite part of this trip?” My kneejerk reactions were the aforementioned picnic, horseback ride, mountain scenery, and music show. But as I sit here and look back at the past 14 days, I know the true joy has been traveling with the love of my life in the passenger seat, experiencing new adventures and re-visiting locations from our early days together. Many of the places have changed. The people certainly have changed, and the times are definitely different. But the lady who has been seated next to me though all of the craziness of the past 32 years, the one who endures the conversational interruptions, the fidgeting, the compulsive behavior, the “multi-tasking,” and uber-short attention span is still the rock that our family clings to, whether it’s in turbulent waters or calm seas. And for that I am grateful.

I am re-energized and ready to hit the ground running as we prepare to open a new restaurant concept and make sure all of the others are ready to compete and thrive in the new paradigm going forward. Until the next adventure.


This week’s recipe: Black and Blue Nachos

Recent Posts

Pizza Ground Zero

BARBERINO-TAVARNELLE, TUSCANY— Naples is the birthplace of pizza. It’s an ancient and historic seaside city that can be a little…

Read more


BARBERINO-TAVARNELLE, ITALY— As a kid almost every restaurant in my hometown was independently owned and local. Granted, there weren't too…

Read more


PETROGNANO, ITALY— It’s true that there’s no place like home, and I deeply and dearly love my hometown of Hattiesburg…

Read more