J. Gumbo’s is set to reopen this month at its new location, 39 E. Winter St. in Delaware, and owner Richard Upton said some of the Cajun-Creole restaurant’s longtime customers can’t wait.
“Literally people (check) the parking lot every day, making sure they don’t miss anything,” he said.
The restaurant was closed for the holidays on Dec. 18 at its previous site, 9 N. Sandusky St., and since then Upton has been busy renovating the former Amanda Plumbing site at the corner of Winter and Union streets in about a block from the old location.
The incentive for the move is the parking lot at the new location, which Upton says has room for 10 vehicles. The new site will also allow outdoor seating during the summer months, he said.
J. Gumbo’s opened in 2012 at 12 S. Sandusky St. and moved to North Sandusky in 2014, Upton said.
Like the current move, the 2014 move also required renovation, with the necessary plumbing installed common to both moves, he said. He is the owner of the restaurant, he said, holding a perpetual license from the J. Gumbo’s chain, which he estimates has a total of 17 restaurants, his restaurant being the only one remaining in the central Ohio.
He estimated the cost of renovating the new site at around $40,000.
For J. Gumbo’s, customer loyalty goes beyond buying meals, he said.
“People have offered to help us move. People have come to paint (the walls of the new site), just because they’re good people,” he said.
Due to the pandemic, transportation and delivery have been big parts of the business, he said.
“During COVID in particular, Delaware has stepped up its game tremendously” and continued to support local businesses, he said.
Another local business, Beanbag Books, 25 W. Winter St., is renovating its location and receiving help from Upton.
Beanbag co-owner Jody Everett says the store will open a pop-up store on the site of the former J. Gumbo until renovations are complete at her Winter Street store, which she says will take place. at the beginning of summer.
“We’re primarily a children’s bookstore, a store focused on kids. We have books, toys, puzzles, games and things like that that range from birth through adolescence,” Everett said.
The pop-up site will offer the same products, she said.
“I think people will be impressed with what we can fit into our pop-up store,” she said.
Beanbag will have a larger adult book section when its main site reopens, she said.
Becoming a restaurateur wasn’t the only motivation for opening J. Gumbo’s, Upton said.
He said he was formerly one of several licensed providers working with the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
He devised what he called the BELL (business education learning liaison) program, which he said would provide job skills to young adults with disabilities. He had planned for J. Gumbo to be part of this overall plan, which he could not formally adopt because a planned state program that would host BELL did not materialize, he said.
So, instead, he decided that his J. Gumbo would pursue BELL’s goals on his own. The concept turned out to be a resounding success, he said.
In addition to Upton and his son, Alexander, the restaurant has four employees.
“From an employer’s point of view, you can’t get a better job. Full blast. If they call you and tell you they’re sick, they’re sick,” he said. “When my parents miss work, they’re more disappointed that they’re missing work than I am that they’re missing work. They know when they walk through the door, it’s business time.
He continued, “I don’t treat them like teenagers. When you come to work, I’m going to give you the responsibility, but I’m giving them the power to do whatever needs to be done to fulfill that responsibility.” “I can take the occasional long weekend and not worry about where or take a vacation…and leave a 17-year-old in charge, and customers tell me how much (the employees) are doing well.” ”
His goal, he said, is to bring people in and help fill their gaps.
“They must be able to work because I pay them a regular salary,” he said. “I don’t pay them less or less than minimum wage. They come, enter and they run the restaurant. … I love it. It’s great progress.”
Kyle Henry has been an employee of J. Gumbo for several years and aspires to become a professional electrician, Upton said.
At 9 N. Sandusky, Henry suggested replacing the lighting with LEDs, which he worked to install, Upton said. The result was a 20% decrease in the restaurant’s electricity bill, Upton said.
“Richard is so personable and the people he hires have no predisposition to what everyone else is,” said Cherie Scherler, a longtime client and supporter of Upton’s company. “People with disabilities always consider individuals as their friends. They are friendly. They are welcoming. It’s always a welcoming atmosphere.
“There is excellent service and the food is good. It’s like walking into someone’s house,” Scherler said. “Everyone is a friend who goes there. I think that’s the atmosphere that people really like, and they appreciate what he does for the disability community.”
“Their staff is very friendly. They do a good job of hiring and training people,” said Steve Koval, another long-time customer. “I really enjoy the variety of food I can get. … They have gluten-free options. It’s nice to be able to get the different cheeses and spices. I think the food is really good. is a big portion. Even if I don’t eat it all, most of the time I get two meals out of it. Lunch the next day.
“He’s so involved in the community that I can’t even follow it all,” longtime client Skip Allen said of Upton.
J. Gumbo’s has great food, Allen said.
“They don’t want anyone to be unhappy with anything they get, so feel free to ask for as many samples as you want so you’re comfortable with what you get,” said Allen said. “They’re always cleaning, sanitizing, trying to keep the place looking great. I can’t wait to see the new place.