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Robert St. John

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

The Capri

August 25, 2021

One never knows where the restaurant business will lead. Though I do know, if a restaurateur stays in the business long enough, he or she gets to the point to where there’s a surprise around every corner. This morning I will be heading out to Las Vegas. I won’t be taking a gambling junket or heading out to see Wayne Newton. I’ll be attending Cinemacon.

Cinemacon is an annual convention held for movie theater owners which introduces them to new technologies, new releases, and all things pertaining to owning and operating a movie theater. Why would a restaurateur be going to Cinemacon one may ask? The answer to that question lies in my original assertion— that one never knows where the restaurant business will lead.

I am in the middle of a large project in the Fondren neighborhood of Jackson, MS where my business partners and I are opening a 10-lane bowling alley, restaurant, bar, tiki bar, a second location for Ed’s Burger Joint with a lot of outdoor bar space, and a movie theater.

Those who know me know that owning and operating a movie theater is a lifelong dream. I am a movie fanatic. Always have been, always will be. I went to four matinees last week. I rarely hunt, and when I do it’s turkey hunting (and the turkeys are pretty safe when I’m in the woods). I fish maybe once or twice a year with my brother. I don’t play golf. My hobbies are travel, restaurants, football, music, and movies. The ranking of those five items alternates depending on the time of year.

Owning a restaurant was a dream of mine from the first minute I started working in the restaurant business. But for years prior, I had been attending movies, and have always dreamed of owning a theater.

Once I opened my first restaurant in 1987, I became single-minded and focused on one thing, and that was making that restaurant— and all future restaurants that I might open— successful ventures. The dream of one day opening a movie theater was put on a shelf and I never expected to that dream to materialize.

The reader should know that if a restaurateur stays in the business long enough, he or she will start receiving phone calls from realtors and developers about potential restaurant locations, and available buildings that would be “perfect” for a new restaurant or bar. There are several reasons for this. One of them is that restaurants have a high mortality rate. I once heard a statistic that stated, “Only 10% of independent restaurants survive after five years.” If that is the case, then there will always be a supply of available restaurant buildings for operators to occupy. In the early days when I would receive those calls, the person would always state that they would “Love to have me, and one of my concepts, in that location.” In the early days those phone calls would play to my ego. “They want me and my restaurant concept!” What I learned— more times than not— it was someone trying to bail out of a bad real estate decision. The true opportunities are rare.

One of those true opportunities surfaced four years ago when I was approached by a partnership team in the capital city of Jackson, Mississippi who were developing property in the Fondren neighborhood. I have always considered Fondren the coolest neighborhood in the biggest city in the state. A bowling alley was already on the drawing board, and they knew they wanted a restaurant and bar. But that’s about as far as the plans had gone. The Capri theater which is a historic building that opened in 1940 was— when I joined the project— going to be changed into a live music venue. When I hopped onto of the venture, I added a small tiki bar concept to the plans, and changed the restaurant and bar attached to the bowling alley into a smaller version of the New Orleans-themed restaurant and bar concept we operate in Hattiesburg. There was an abandoned gas station next door, so I suggested putting the second Ed’s burger Joint there.

The potential music venue worried me. I have owned a live music venue in the past and had a blast with it. But Jackson already has live music covered as my friend, Arden Barnett, has an excellent venue across the street. That is when I suggested we keep the Capri theater a theater. The partners were relieved as that had been their desire from the start, and they had already done extensive research in that area.

I was surprised to learn that Jackson doesn’t have a movie theater inside the city limits. To me, that is criminal. The capital city of Mississippi should have a theater.

I knew we had made the right decision as people who grew up going to movies at the Capri over five or six decades continually expressed their excitement to me about its reopening. Also, I was having one of my lifetime dreams come true.

I am not naive enough to think that going to movies all of the time qualifies me as a theater owner. That is no different than the people I have heard over the years who say, “I eat in restaurants all the time, so I think I’m going to open one.” Dining in restaurants gives a person about 5% of what they know what they need to know about operating a restaurant. So we have hired excellent consultants who will steer us through the theater-owning process, and that is why I am on a Southwest flight headed to Las Vegas to Cinemacon.

Our consultant, Bruce Taffet, used to manage the Capri years ago. He later became president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, and his career has come full circle back to the place where it all started. We’re doing a historic renovation on the outside of the 160-seat Capri but adding reclining seats, a full bar, and appetizers that will be served from the restaurant and will offer first-run films and classics. I have always been a loyal customer of our restaurants, and I will certainly be a customer in our theater. Though my bowling score could use a lot of work.

Again, one never knows where their career will take them. What I’ve learned is that if one is passionate about what they do, if one treats others well and keeps moving forward, opportunities will arise. I feel blessed that it has been the case in my life.


This week’s recipe: Sugared Peanuts

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