Shortly after local TV stations reported Friday that J.R. Rothenberger's three iconic J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que restaurants would be closing their doors within five days "because of a slumping economy," crowds of loyal customers showed up to help save the day.
The new bottom line: "I'm still here and in the game," the outspoken 'cue master told me earlier today.
Rothenberger got a reprieve in the form of a $20,000 personal loan "from a friend" and will continue to deliver hard-to-find smoked brisket, deeply flavored pork and beef ribs, pork shoulder, chicken, turkey and hot links. "The Lord has worked this out," he said. "I'm cool."
In the TV coverage, Rothenberger told reporters he couldn't stay open because his sales had fallen 40 percent since June, declining "from $1.1 million a year to $600,000."
Some of the reasons for his near crisis, he said today, is the upcoming closure of the 65-year-old Campbell Soup Factory (his main restaurant's neighbor) and its incremental elimination of 700 blue-collar jobs. The trickle-down effect from that situation, plus other recent business closures and cutbacks, have had a dismal effect on the local economy and small businesses "like mine," he said.
That combination - plus Rothenberger's stack of previously unpaid bills and an approved $156,000 loan that was canceled - brought him to the verge of his own fiscal cliff.
"A lot of businesses have the same problem I do, but don't say anything," he said. "(The big customer turnout) happened when I told my daughter, 'Honey, I may have to close in five days because I don't have enough money.' So she called (the media) and every TV station came out.
"(Consequently) I had a line (of customers) out the door (at the main store) for four hours on Friday," he said. "It was the biggest day we've ever had. I almost ran out of brisket. Saturday was nearly the same. All day long I had hugs and kisses and people saying, 'J.R., we are not going to let this put you out of business, you've got the best thing on the planet. We're going to be here as much as we can.' I'm packed right now, and this is a Monday. My other two places did well (over the weekend), too, but everybody wants to come here and see me.
"Here's the neatest story," he added. "A 75-year-old lady came in and ate something, wrote a little letter, (attached) 20 bucks to it and gave it to me. 'I hope this contribution helps you,' she wrote.
"I caught her before she left and gave her a big hug and a kiss while I was crying and thanking her. She started to walk away, then turned around and said, 'Are you married?' I'm 69 and I've still got it!"
Rothenberger brought mesquite-smoked Texas-style barbecue to the Sacramento area 25 years ago when he opened J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que in a light-industrial area off Highway 99, in south Sacramento near the Campbell Soup factory. More recently, he opened satellite 'cue joints on Lake Road in West Sacramento and on El Camino Avenue in Sacramento.
For more information: (916) 424-3520, www.jrtexasbbq.com.