As many of you know, I LOVE barbeque and food I’ve had in the South in general. Normally, I like to do restaurant reviews of some pretty incredible eats. However, at this point, it is a given that the food at Johnny Reb’s True South is great, with excellent BBQ and the best fried catfish this side of Jolene’s Fish House in Hartwell, GA. So the focus then will be on something small, but important; the peanut.
What is so special about the peanut, you ask? Cheryl Carter, owner of Johnny Reb’s three locations in Long Beach (the original, since 1984), Bellflower and Orange, spoke with me about what the humble peanut has accomplished.
Q: Cheryl, what is Shell Out for Charity?
For all the years that we have been in business, we’ve put a bucket of peanuts on the table. Around the year 2000, when we were going through an economically tough time, we were looking for ways to cut costs and we thought about cutting the peanuts off the table. My husband said, ‘Let’s turn that around. Let’s put a jar next to it and sponsor a local charity and we’ll raise money for other people with our peanuts. That’s what we’ve been doing ever since, we’ve raised over $500,000.00 in pocket change for local charities.
When we first opened, we wanted Johnny Reb’s atmosphere to be fun and also to be rustic. We thought of sawdust on the floor and that is what we did. Our first week of business we had sawdust on the floor. That was ‘back in the day’ when we girls had nylons and everyone would weak out of our restaurant with sawdust on their trousers and and on their nylons, so we changed to peanuts. And that’s why we changed to peanuts! Once you start it. You kind of get addicted to peanuts and coffee in the morning.
Q: How successful has the Shell Out for Charity program been?
You know, it has astounded us. People drop anywhere from a dime to a quarter to checks for a thousand dollars. We got a group of business associates from a local large business—they sponsor something every month with their lunch money and this is what they do. Its been successful, a lot more than just financially. It puts people together with charities that they may not have known about.
Certainly someone like Susan G. Komen and the OC Race for the Cure is very well known but there are smaller charities, like this current Shell Out for Charity, Send-A-Kid-To Camp . It is a combination of three foundations, the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs, the Long Beach Community Foundation and the YMCA, which used to be called ‘rescue’ and we now call ‘opportunity’.
Our guests have actually raised over $100,000.00 over the years—-we do this every summer. I have been active in the group that helps ‘at risk’ youth, so when this came to our attention via the Press-Telegram, we’ve just done it for the past 12 years and every summer we show up, collect $10,000.00 or more for the cause.
Q: How are the funds used for Shell Out for Charity?
The money is collected in these jars and then every bit of it goes to the charity. We try to run each one for three, three and a half months, so we can give a good chunk of change. They then use the money as they see fit.
Q: How did you pick Susan G. Komen of Orange County as a recipient?
Through a guest who had a personal experience. They contacted us and asked us if we would consider it. What could we say? We support it!
Q: What do you think is special about restaurants in the South?
Hospitality! Hospitality and then a historical tie to their roots, I always call it ‘A tug at the heartstrings’. When I go to the South, I still visit restaurants and I like going to small independents; you know people who are passionate about preserving the foods of the South. Still when I go back, hospitality is the first thing that ties me.
Q: What is your favorite menu item at Johnny Reb’s?
I would have to say it changes! Currently, it is our bourbon-glazed salmon. I love our bourbon-glazed salmon. A week ago it was our shrimp and grits!
Moe Rahman, Director of Operations for Johnny Reb’s also added “From the moment I joined Johnny Reb’s, one of their biggest things that made me feel as comfortable as I do was the hospitality part of it. In this position, I meet a lot of people and hospitality matters above everything else.I’ve never met anybody in Long Beach, Bellflower or Orange who hasn’t heard of Johnny Reb’s”.
Moe pointed it out, saying that that many people remark, “’Oh, I know it, we have been there; my daughter’s birthday, son’s graduation’……..but the biggest thing that everybody knows us about barbeque, they know us about hospitality and that we’ve been there such a long time, but a lot of people don’t know how much we are involved with the community”.
Moe added, “Cheryl over the years has done so much for the community and not enough has been said. A lot of people don’t recognize this, so we welcome this opportunity. This is something that I want to be so much of our culture—-we are in the food business, but the biggest thing we want to be known for is our role in the community”.
So the next time you’re at Johnny Reb’s, pay attention to the humble little peanut bucket with the hand decorated can in front of it. Enjoy your meal and afterwards, drop a few coins, a few bills or even a big check in the container. You’ll get that feeling that comes from helping others and know what charity the money is 100% going to. And Cheryl, her husband Larry and Moe will have given you a smile as their idea of helping the community helps more people, just because of a little peanut.