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Robert St. John

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

Lunch With Jill

November 11, 2020

“A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how it nourishes him.” – C.S. Lewis

Despite the pandemic, there are many reasons why I feel blessed these days. Almost none of those reasons have to do with worldly and/or material things. There are times in my life— actually long stretches of my life— where worldly and/or material things meant more to me than almost everything. Those are also some of the darker days in my past.

There are also days when I had virtually nothing that are some of the happiest days I can remember. I spent a majority of the first 30 years of my life counting-change-in-the-sofa-cushions broke, but I frequently look back at a wonderful childhood and early adulthood.

In the initial days of my business career one of my primary motivations was probably to gain wealth and status. More restaurants meant more money and more stuff. I will admit, even though I was— and still am— extremely passionate about the restaurant industry and have wanted to do nothing else since I first began working in restaurants in 1982, one of the main motivators of majoring in Hotel and Restaurant Administration while in college was that there wasn’t a lot of math involved. I am also not ashamed to admit that one of the early reasons I wanted to own my own business is so that I could wear shorts and t-shirts to work every day. No tie. Ever. I have a strict motto about neckties: One has to be wed or dead before I will put a decorative noose around my neck. I type this column wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

Though I have somehow come full circle. It’s not that I’m some altruistic monk who shuns worldly things— far from it. But these days, I am more interested in creating and developing restaurants to offer something to the community and to give our team more opportunities to move up, secure ownership, and be stable providers for their families than I am interested in improving the bottom line of my personal financial statement. Sometimes it’s just for the sheer sake of creating something from nothing more than a simple thought, dream, or idea that gets me up in the morning.

To be honest, the creative part of the restaurant business is what interests me most. That is why we are always reinventing ourselves, developing new menu items for the existing restaurants, and new restaurant concepts which allow our team members to move up and progress in their careers.

These days I have somehow come to value relational things over material things. I don’t know how or when that happened, but it did. It’s likely a Divine thing and I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. I guess I’m blessed to have some “stuff.” But what I am more blessed to have are a wonderful family and group of friends who love me and whom I love. That is where all of the true joy that shows up in my life is generated these days.

The blessings sometimes come from the simplest and most unexpected places. I am blessed that I get to have lunch with my wife almost every day. For the past quarter century, she and I have eaten lunch together most days since she stopped working and started mothering full time.

It’s something that I took for granted for a while, but one day, a few years ago, I realized how fortunate I am that I get to share a meal in the middle of the day with the love of my life. It’s truly a blessing. Our son and daughter are grown and in college now, but before they started elementary school my wife and I were able to share a meal with them every day. Then after they started school, I would get one or the other out of school to have lunch with us at least once a week. These days, our daughter is back home working towards a degree, and she goes to lunch with her mother and me most days.

Having lunch with a spouse is probably doesn’t rank high on some people’s “blessings list.” But it’s one of the things in life for which I am most grateful. We eat around town at several local independent restaurants but dine in one of our restaurants most of the time. Occasionally we will share a sandwich at home, but most of the time we are out and about.

Our family dynamic is such that I’ll receive a message to the family group text mid-morning asking where we will go to lunch. Many texts follow until one family member wins out and a destination is chosen. The lunchtime conversation is often dominated by one singular topic—supper. Many times, while we eat, we talk about supper, and where we will eat supper. Or if we are going to be dining at home, what we will prepare for supper.

We have a revolving list of about a dozen locally owned restaurants that we like to frequent for lunch and dinner. We also move around to different concepts within our own family of restaurants.

Some people eat to fuel their bodies. This will sound corny— though that doesn’t make it any less true— but many times I share a meal with someone to feed my soul. Sharing a meal is a very biblical thing. Think about it, the last supper, loaves and fishes, all of the bread metaphors, water into wine, and the Psalms are filled with food references. Sharing a meal with the ones I love is an experience that I probably took for granted the first half of my life.

Whether it’s in a restaurant or sharing a sandwich at the breakfast room table over lunch, the key is that food is the thing that brings us together. I’ll bet if you back to the fondest memories in your life, a shared meal was somehow involved. Whether it was a gathering of friends, a birthday celebration, party, wedding, a first date or an anniversary. Food is the great matchmaker. It brings us together.

Current status: Happy. I wear shorts and t-shirts most days. I am relatively joy-filled, grateful, and happy most of the time, and I’ll be having lunch with my wife later today.


This week’s recipe: Crabmeat Imperial

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