Jim Grindstaff says he didn’t have a plan for his career when he left the U.S. Air Force in 2006 after serving for seven years.
But he did have a vague idea that he might get involved in the food industry.
It all came together when his mom, Patti Grindstaff, suggested they open a Jefferson’s Restaurant. She was a fan of a Jefferson’s in Georgia and saw on the menu that the owners were offering franchises.
Ten years ago, the Grindstaffs received the first Jefferson’s franchise and opened a Jefferson’s at 6980 W. Main St. in Belleville. Since then, they opened a Jefferson’s at 1300 W. Main St. in Mascoutah in 2010 and one in Summerville, Ga., in 2011.
We do make a great team, my mom, my brother and I. We really get along great. Sometimes family businesses aren’t the best thing but don’t really argue.
Jim Grindstaff of Jefferson’s Restaurant
Jim Grindstaff runs the Belleville site. His brother, Ryan Grindstaff, runs the Mascoutah site, and their mother operates the Summerville location.
“We do make a great team, my mom, my brother and I,” Jim Grindstaff said. “We really get along great. Sometimes family businesses aren’t the best thing, but we don’t really argue. We call each other all the time for advice on certain situations and things that happen.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Grindstaff said about his 10 years in Belleville. “It’s been a roller coaster ride, but more of a fun ride than anything.”
Grindstaff said the family doesn’t have any current plans to expand in the metro-east but he couldn’t rule it out either because he likes what he sees in the region’s economy.
The Franklin, Tenn.-based Jefferson’s chain now has 20 restaurants in six states. The menu features wings, burgers and oysters and the restaurants also are known for $1 bills hanging along the walls and ceilings. Diners are invited to write messages on the bills.
Grindstaff, 37, of Belleville recently met with the News-Democrat to talk about Jefferson’s 10th anniversary in Belleville:
Q: How did you get into the restaurant business?
A: “I was getting out of the Air Force in 2006 and I didn’t really have a plan. I had always talked to my mom about opening something … You know, a hot dog stand in St. Louis or something to do with food. The Food Network had just come out … and I was really into it. And so finally one day she called me and she said, ‘Hey would you want to open a Jefferson’s?’ and I said, ‘What’s that?’ She said, ‘Well they just opened one down here in Georgia.’ (Grindstaff’s parents lived in Georgia at the time.) I said, ‘Well, yeah let me come down and check it out.’ I went down there and the first time that we had the fried pickles, I was like, ‘This is awesome.’ I didn’t know a lot about the business, but I sure learned a lot.”
Q: How did you select your site in west Belleville?
A: “We actually had a commercial real estate broker show us around, trying to find buildings. We drove past this one, ‘And I think my mom said, ‘Boy what’s that building right there? And he said, ‘Aw you don’t even want to look at that building.’ ‘No, let’s check it out.’ So it happened to be in very bad shape. We had to pretty much do everything in here. That’s how we found it. Looking back on it now, I don’t know how we did it.”
Q: A recession struck the economy shortly after your restaurant opened. How did that affect you and how much have you seen things change?
A: “It really affected us. Being a new business in 2006, our first winter was one of worst feelings in the world when you’re looking outside at 6 o’clock in the evening and there’s not any cars in the parking lot so we were kind of used to it being slow. Then as things started improving, so did our sales. You know it just kind of worked out for us … just sticking with it and driving through and keep doing what we were doing.”
Q: What type of food do you offer?
A: “It’s American fare. We always have daily specials. Mondays are always burger day. We’ve kept burger day on Monday for 10 years and people expect it when they come in.”
Q: Why have you been able stay open for 10 years?
A: “I think it is all a matter of positive thinking, determination, finding the right people to surround yourself with and that goes with customers and employees. We have great regular customers here. I mean it’s just unreal. It’s just one of those places where it feels like home, like ‘Cheers.’ Our employees, I have two that have been here since we opened. (Another one has been with Jefferson’s almost nine years.) I have tons of employees that have been here over four or five years and that helps a lot. Consistency. The food is always fresh, our wings and burgers are never frozen. It’s always fresh and people can tell when you’re cutting corners on things.”
Q: The oysters too?
A: “Yes, they come from Bob’s Seafood in St. Louis.”
Q: The Belleville City Council is scheduled to vote Monday night on a proposed redevelopment agreement with the Ace Hardware owners that would allow an extra 1 percent sales tax to be used for the renovation and purchase of the Shopland shopping center that includes Jefferson’s. What do you think of this plan?
A: “If it’s good for Belleville, I’m all for it. I just don’t want anyone taken advantage of and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Q: Belleville leaders have already approved a redevelopment agreement for the nearby Market Place Shopping Center and 4204 Main Street Brewing Co. is converting the old Mad Pricer grocery store into a brewery. What do you think of that project at 64th and West Main streets?
A: “I think it looks great, what they’ve done so far. It’s really turning an eyesore into something that is a lot different and a lot better looking.”
Q: If the new brewery attracts a crowd, will it be a case of more the merrier for you?
A: “Absolutely, if we start getting more people coming to this end of town because of what’s down there and they happen to see us around here, I mean yeah, certainly.”
Q: What’s your outlook for the future?
A: “I’d love to be here another 10 years and have it go as smoothly as the first 10. There was definitely some bumps but you roll with the punches. You know, keep that consistency. Keep that level of having everything the best that we can, the best of our abilities and making everything as good as possible for the customer.”
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: “Being in Belleville, we absolutely love being here. … Love the customers, love the people in this town. It’s just a really cool place to be, cool place to have a business. I just want people to know that we appreciate them, couldn’t have this life without ’em.”
- Job: Co-owner of Jefferson’s Restaurant at 6980 W. Main St. in Belleville for 10 years.
- Family: Wife, Melissa, and two children, Jackson, 7, and Allie, 3.
- Contact: On the web at jeffersonsrestaurant.com and on Facebook at Jefferson’s Restaurant – Belleville, IL or call 618-293-0071.
- On keeping Jefferson’s open for 10 years: “It’s been a roller coaster ride but more of fun ride than anything.”