2015 marks the 24th anniversary for local restaurant legend Richie’s Real American Diner. While nearly a quarter century in any industry is a notable accomplishment, in the food service industry, especially as a small independent operator in a big franchise world, it’s incredible. But as co-founder Jack Williams (with wife Linda) will happily tell you, “we’re having more fun today than we ever have.”
The Williams’ are also enjoying another notable accomplishment – being married for 60 years, 57 of them spent in the food industry. They truly love what they do and it’s evident from the minute you set foot in Richie’s. “We were raised in small communities down South where common courtesy was what we lived by and good country cookin’ was what we lived on,” according to Jack. “When we founded Richie’s we wanted to bring that country family tradition to life because we thought customers would enjoy it.” And enjoy it they do, keeping Richie’s consistently one of the highest trafficked restaurants in the Temecula Valley.
Williams knows the numbers. He spent 30 years building franchises for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Sizzler before launching his own restaurant in Temecula in 1991. On the one hand he can tell you how many seats are filled on any given day, what time to expect the biggest rush, how much staff and food will be needed and the like. On the other hand, while the numbers are important, that’s almost secondary to knowing the customers names and birthdays and what they like and greeting as many of them as possible himself or with wife Linda. “It’s the little things that make the difference,” he will tell you, “hundreds of little things.” Like only using the juiciest tree ripe peaches in Linda’s signature Peach Cobbler, or making sure the coffee pot and filter is cleaned before you brew, then grinding fresh beans to make every pot and only pouring it into warm cups, never cold.
While he can go on for hours about the hundreds of little things that make a difference, he is also quick to point out that their management team and staff is the best he’s seen in 57 years. “Back in the day I would buy some land or a restaurant just by writing the deal up on a napkin. My banker could tell how big the deal was if there was one napkin or two. You can’t do that today but you can still treat customers that old fashioned way. And they appreciate it because you don’t find that in most places. That’s why our staff, many who have been with us for years, are the key to our success.”
That success was recognized in 2014 by the International Food Manufacturers Association (IFMA), with the prestigious Silver Plate Award. In the restaurant industry that’s like winning an Oscar or an Emmy, it’s the pinnacle. That put the Williams” in the company of restaurant greats like past winners Col. Harland Sanders (KFC), Carl Karcher (Carl’s Jr.) Norm Brinker (Chili’s), Ray Kroc (McDonalds) and Jim Collins (Sizzler). The $600 billion food service industry is second only to the federal government in employing people and there are only eight of these awards presented annually to the most outstanding operators in the country recognizing “Excellence to Encourage Excellence.” Williams is justifiably proud to have Richie’s Real American Diner recognized as the outstanding Independent Restaurant/Multi Concept in the country last year.
When asked about any plans to franchise Richie’s, Williams shakes his head. “We’ve built a real unique culture here and that’s hard to duplicate on a large scale.” Having been one of Sizzler’s largest franchisees at one point with some 35 restaurants, he knows what he’s talking about. “We’ve got two here in the Valley, one in Murrieta and one in Temecula, and then Gary and Sally help us with one in Victoria Gardens and another in Palm Desert. That’s good for now.” Gary and Sally, of course, are daughter and son-in-law Gary and Sally Myers, themselves franchisees with 25 Sizzlers restaurants including the newly refurbished Murrieta Hot Springs location. “This keeps us about as busy as we want to be right now, still getting in and talking to our customers and making sure we’re always on track. We’re more passionate about the business than we’ve ever been and we want to keep our focus.”
As we were wrapping up, a lady stopped by the table to chat. “We just love it here. It reminds me of back home in the 50’s and 60’s – down-home friendly and good food. The way it used to be. Thank you.” Noticeably moved, Williams said he loves to hear that –
“20 times a day if I can. That’s why we do this. It’s a food business but it’s a people business too. It’s a ministry all its own.”
And it’s a ministry that comes with home-made fresh peach cobbler, which isn’t a bad ministry at all, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Stop by and say hello to Jack and Linda at one of four Richie’s Real American Diner locations. Richie’s Real American Diner, where they’re all about pleasin’ people with good country cookin’ in a fun atmosphere where old-fashioned courtesy and service is always on the menu. www.richiesdiner.com