It’s impossible to miss the sign in front of Jimmy Nagi’s restaurant.
Bright yellow and bursting at the seams, it performs two duties with perfection – attracting the eye of passing motorists and satisfying the owner’s football allegiance to the Green Bay Packers.
The sign also represents a business that has become an institution for South County residents looking for an afternoon bite – serving up sandwiches and burgers for hungry farmers and fisherman on South Airport Road where it intersects with Kasson Road and takes motorists into West Modesto.
And since he opened the doors of Jimmy’s on Yosemite Avenue two weeks ago, the longtime local businessman, who at one time owned a liquor store nearby and who’s family still owns one across town, has been floored by the response of the community.
The Bulletin caught up with Nagi to find out what it takes to build a brand and a reputation and a restaurant:
You owned the liquor store just a few blocks from here for years. Did you pass by here and think that one day this could be your restaurant?
“I actually just moved over there as well, so I’d pass by and see the sign every day. I called the guy who owns the building – my kids know his kids – and I talked to him about it. He said he didn’t want to give it to somebody else for less and just have it be back to him in a year because he knew I’d make it last.”
You’ve owned Jimmy’s One Stop on the corner of Airport Way/Durham Ferry Road and Kasson Road for 18 years. What do you love about the restaurant business?
“I just like to make food. All of the family loves to make food, and I love being around the people – I smile when they smile and I’m mad when they’re mad. That’s really what I love about this.”
What prompted you to look for a new location?
“For the last three or four years I’ve been looking for places in Manteca. We wanted to open just a hamburger joint and when we saw this we knew it would be a good location. It’s bigger than what we wanted, but that’s okay. I used to live in Patterson, but we moved here so it’s a chance to get involved in the community.”
What is the most challenging aspect of owning your own business?
“Making people happy. As a business owner you’re always trying to make all of your customers happy, and for the most part I think that we’ve done that – we’ve had people come in and say that they’re glad they don’t have to drive all the way out there anymore. That lets us know that people know us. It shows us that we have a lot of customers from Manteca because out there, they can come from Tracy or Modesto or anywhere. It’s a big fishing area. But you’re always wanting to make your customers happy.”
You emigrated here from Yemen. Was it hard to pursue that dream in America of being independent?
“It was very hard. It took a lot of work. Work and work and more work. I started out in New York – Brooklyn – and came to California to work for my uncle in Modesto. I did that for a few years and then I found that place out there. But it took work.”
If you were ordering off of your own menu right now, what would you get?
“Everything is good. I challenge somebody – start with one thing and just go one-by-one all the way down. I don’t know. Do you like fish? That’s good. We used to drive to Pleasanton and Sacramento to get Mediterranean food (kabobs and falafel) and now we have that here. But what people like the most is our Philly Cheese Steak – we have truck drivers that go all over and talk about how we have the best one they’ve had. Maybe they have a better one in Philadelphia. I don’t know.”
When you’re not working how do you like to pass the time?
“I play soccer sometimes with my friends, and I like to spend time at home doing yard work. But I don’t really like going out and doing very much.”
You mentioned the Mediterranean food on the menu. Is there a growing population here in the Central Valley that appreciates that cuisine?
“I was surprised. We’ve only been open for 15 days and the number of people that have come in has been crazy. We’ve had people come from Fresno asking for burgers that were halal (prepared in accordance with Islamic Shariah law). I get that meat from Harris Ranch. I’m really surprised how many people have come in asking for that.”
What’s the secret to being successful in business?
“Be honest. That’s what makes you a good businessman – when a customer comes in and asks you a question you answer it right. Be honest with people.”
Jimmy’s is located at 1800 W. Yosemite Ave., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, or to place an order, call (209) 815-9971.
To contact Jason Campbell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (209) 249-3544.