RJ’s Eatery in Fulton

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by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lindsay Pace

RJ’s Eatery in Fulton is a mom-and-pop shop with old-school vibes. Framed posters of classic cars line the walls; there’s a concession-style menu board; the floors are checkered tile, the kind of thing you might find in a 50s diner. And then there’s Jim Wright, singing and dancing to classic rock while throwing and flipping things on the flat top grill.

RJ’s is a family shop, too; Wright’s grandkids are usually milling about after school, his wife Robin is often there – the couple’s names make up the “r” and “j” in the restaurant’s name – and his mother-in-law, too.

“She’s 80 years old,” Wright said, “And she outruns everybody.”

Wright grew up in Chicago and “used to get shipped here when I was a kid” for the summers, but his menu is all Chicago-inspired. 

“Everything that’s on a menu up North’s basically on the menu here,” he said. 

Chicago hotdogs, polish hot dogs, hand-thrown deep dish pizzas, and Chicago colloquials like pizza puffs — or, as Wright describes them, “Hot Pocket(s) on steroids” — are all on the menu.

This item was inspired by one of his childhood staples. As a kid in Chicago, his family would frequently travel to the beach, and they would grab pizza puffs on the way. Think of it as a calzone, but not quite. 

“You just ate it before we got there because all your friend’s want a bite,” Wright said. 

Along with Chicago staples, Wright also whips up a few local favorites: Gumbo, chicken and dumplings, ribs. But he doesn’t charge for those; in fact, these aren’t even on the menu. He just throws a little in his customers’ baskets or to-go boxes as a surprise.

“People like it,” Wright said. “Only problem I have is when they call (for more).”

In fact, RJ’s gets so many calls – whether it’s customers making sure Wright still has their favorite menu items toward the end of the day, or suit-and-tie types with a to-go order in fear of smelling like RJ’s for the rest of the day  – Wright will often “take the phone off the hook,” to focus on in-house customers. 

Wright gets many calls asking for the spot’s remaining stock, especially with things like the Italian beef with cheese sandwich, which Wright said is baked for several hours, cooled and soaked in pepper juice, then gets soaked in beef juice. It’s sliced, topped with cheese and peppers, and served with a side of “Chicago peppers” that he has to get directly from Chicago, since vendors don’t offer it around here. 

Of course, there are the tried-and-true diner options, like hamburgers and the Snack Plate: Three chicken tenders, three mozzarella sticks and fries. In addition to throwing a few extra, unexpected goodies on their plate, Wright admits his customers usually get food and a show.

“I dance while I’m back there,” he said over the old-school music playing in his restaurant. “I don’t hold nothing back. When I yell something, I yell it, and they’ll hear me.”

Wright prides himself on how fast RJ’s turns out orders. He said back when he was in Chicago, most places only gave their employees 30-minute lunch breaks, so he tries to keep that in mind while cranking out orders. His customers, especially since RJ’s stopped taking debit cards a few years ago and are now cash-only – are “mostly older people. There’s a lot of Yankees around here,” and professors from Itawamba Community College. Since RJ’s opened its doors in 2008, Wright said it’s grown quite the loyal following.

“We’re doing alright, man,” he said. “We’re cruisin’ pretty good.”

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