Johnny Reb’s True South Restaurant - A Long Beach Legend

Johnny Reb’s True South Restaurant - A Long Beach Legend
Stacey Lawrence

By Stacey Lawrence

Johnny Reb’s is one of those restaurants you never forget – a true southern cuisine experience on the California coast. It’s the creation of Cheryl and Larry Cotter who met in California and wanted to put down roots in the state, but dearly missed the South. They missed the barbecue, the desserts, and most of all – the hospitality of southern residents.

After much deliberation, they made plans to open their own Southern barbecue restaurant in California. To prepare, Cheryl went back to the South, starting in North Carolina, and spent a year getting into every restaurant she could. She learned the ins and outs of restaurants, smoked meat, and baked up to 1500 biscuits a day to perfect her recipes.

Upon returning to California, Larry had found the perfect location in Long Beach for the their first location, opened in 1984. There was so much opening anticipation, the restaurant had a 2 hour wait on the first day of business. Long Beach is now the flagship location of Johnny Reb’s and remains their busiest. Some of the first guests are still coming back and now bring their grandchildren! Since 1984, they’ve opened 2 other locations in Southern California: Orange and Bellflower.

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Johnny Reb’s continues to grow without a big marketing or advertising budget – word of mouth is all they’ve needed. Sure they’ve have other restaurant competitors in the area, but what Johnny Reb’s does, no one else does. Walk into any location and you’re instantly transported to the south through their expertly-chosen decor, menu, and sense of hospitality. “Our mentality is there are no strangers. Once you leave here, you’ll remember the experience for a very, very long time.” says Johnny Reb’s Director of Operations, Moe Rahman.

Moe has been with Johnny Reb’s for 15 years and has managed each of the 3 locations for years at a time. He is well known in the Southern California restaurant industry and credits his proactive management skills to McDonald’s where he worked for 15 years. He focuses his energy in 2 key areas: hiring the right people with the right work ethic and the experience his guests will have. It has definitely paid off. Johnny Reb’s is one of the best-rated and most reviewed restaurants in California.

“Everyone around me helps me to be better. I’m surrounded by very smart people – I don’t need bodies, I need people with character. I take pride in what I do,” says Moe Rahnman.

How Johnny Reb's Schedules Employees

Scheduling at Johnny Reb’s used to consist of building the schedule in a scheduling software program called Schedule Writer. There were no apps available and no employee access other than the hard copy which was printed and posted for viewing. Employees would often use excuses such as “I didn’t know I had to show up” if they were absent.. Moe felt he had no response to this because there had been changes to the schedule and no track record was kept. Schedule Writer eventually went out of business and the corporation who purchased it wasn’t particularly helpful for support questions. It was time to search for a new scheduling tool.

Moe researched about 25-30 different scheduling programs and after hearing from industry peers about 7shifts, he knew he was onto something. Moe’s dedicated 7shifts Product Specialist, James, took the time to consider what would work best for Johnny Reb’s. “He didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, he asked questions and had a very good understanding of what my needs were.” says Moe. Being in a busy industry where Management time is hard to come by, James had patience and followed up with Moe ensuring he had everything he needed to manage his account from day one.

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After starting with 7shifts in September, 2016, the Johnny Reb’s managers had a big transition from their previous software. They had a lot more features to take advantage of and got the hang of it quickly. Managers really like being able to access the schedule any time, even if they’re away from work.

“There has to be an understanding that in using 7shifts, it’s a comprehensive program and you are in control.”

7shifts has improved communication within all 3 of Johnny Reb’s locations. “With 7shifts I know the employees have seen the schedule because it’s on their phone. They can’t tell me they didn’t see it because I know they’ve received the notification. That works really well in my favor.” says Moe. One of Moe’s favorite features is the ability to send messages to everyone. Staff were very satisfied with how easily the word got around about the latest Johnny Reb’s promotion as they were all notified about it on their phones rather than being told in-person. Another example was a recent minimum wage increase in California – 7shifts made it very easy to get the message out to everyone about the change.

“7shifts is a great tool for knowing who is working at the restaurant – before, I would have to call there and ask who was working. Now I can go to my mobile app, check which store I need to and see who’s going to be working there.”

Not only has the communication improved, 7shifts has also positively affected Johnny Reb’s labor percentages. Managers can easily schedule in advance and this has afforded them better labor planning. Moe says his Long Beach manager, Greg, was the one who got the hang of it the quickest. Prior to 7shifts they were running at a 30-32% labor target and have now decreased it to 24-28%. **Their labor cost is down by an average of 5% since implementing 7shifts! **In a fine dining establishment, this is a major accomplishment.

“It’s easier for the restaurants to manage labor and that turns out to be profitable for us. I recommend 7shifts to a lot of people when they ask me what I’m doing.”

Amongst 7shifts many features, Moe has noticed ones which stand out for Johnny Reb’s. For example, the Blocked Days feature on the schedule works well for his managers. This feature allows managers to block employees from requesting certain days off. They found it especially useful in the month of December with so many busy days leading up to Christmas and New Year’s. Having the availability/time off of staff pulled directly into the schedule is another big plus for Moe. “Being able to easily see who is available for a shift if there needs to be a change is what makes the difference. It’s right in front of you.”

As for the future of Johnny Reb’s, Moe has big plans to franchise the brand in 2017. The logistics have been taken care of, so his goals include talking to investors and potential franchisees. He also wants each one of his Johnny Reb’s locations to use 7shifts going forward. Moe wants to be able to be the support for his franchisees if they have any questions about scheduling.

“I find myself in a great partnership with 7shifts – I want us to grow together.”

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Stacey Lawrence
Stacey Lawrence

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