- Photo by Anthony Jinson
Get to know Jeff Spencer, owner of Just Jeff’s in Columbia, MO.
I wear a lot of hats. Some days I do a little bit of everything. Most of the time, I’m just an employee alongside the other employees as an order-taker or a sandwich maker. My wife runs the financial and book part of the business, and I run the restaurant part.
I’ve never actually worked at a restaurant. I sold cars for about 25 years, and I was a truck driver for around 10 years. Then I opened up a hot dog cart, and it worked. I’ve always felt that this was something that I wanted to do inside me. Seven years ago, I opened this cart on the MU campus. I quit my job and said I wasn’t happy with my life, so I bought this hot dog cart and started selling hot dogs. Now we’ve turned this into a restaurant with two locations, but we still have the hot dog cart.
Favorite recent project
Farming — that’s my newfound fun in my life. I’m starting to raise cows, and it’s been so much fun.
Why you’re passionate about your restaurant, Just Jeff’s
I’m passionate about food and making people that come to my restaurant happy. It’s the overall customer service that I’m passionate about. I think you have to make an experience in order to be successful in a restaurant.
A Columbia restaurateur you admire and why
Mark Sulltrop at 44 Stone Public House. He’s an awesome restaurateur. Sometimes as a business owner who doesn’t know this business, I look at others to see what they’re doing so I can make sure I follow suit and make sure I’m doing the correct things. He’s one of the guys that I really look up to in the restaurant business.
What do you do for fun
Farming. I’ve been so involved on the farm. Hay season is coming up and, of course, raising the cows is always fun. I don’t travel, so this is what my wife and I do for fun.
Your next professional goal
Honestly, with the situation right now, my goal is to maintain the two restaurants that I have.
What should people know about the restaurant industry
It’s not nearly as easy as it looks. Take that from me — from going in with no experience to being in the industry for seven years in September. But for me, the satisfaction of the happy customers is worth it.
The next challenge facing the restaurant industry
Getting through the restrictions that have been put in place from the pandemic.
Taylor, my daughter, runs the location on Business Loop — she’s the store manager. And my wife, Nicole, as I mentioned above.
How you want to impact the Columbia community
Cleanliness is important to me. I have a spotless record for my two restaurants — I’ve never had a violation of any kind. I think we have started to set new standards for kitchens in Columbia.
Your favorite summer activity
Fishing with my granddaughter.
Favorite restaurant in Columbia and your go-to dish and drink
Murry’s with a bottle of Coors Light and a filet, medium rare.
A surprising fact about you
I’m pretty transparent — what you see is what you get.
The biggest lesson you’ve learned through owning your own restaurant
You have to treat your employees better than other places in order to retain them.
Favorite summer-time food to prepare
I still love to cook cheeseburgers and hot dogs.
An accomplishment you’re most proud of
Opening our second location and making it past the five-year mark.