Few businesses have been hit harder by the Coronavirus outbreak than full-service restaurants. These businesses require large crowds to remain profitable, and large gatherings were expressly prohibited by government shutdown orders.
It was especially hard on new restaurants. One new restaurant that had to shut down was Red Rooster Sports Bar & Grill, which opened last Summer in north Columbia. The restaurant was founded by Michael Jamison and Roy Stewart.
“I am originally from Charleston,” Stewart said. “I graduated from Burke High School in 1996. In college, I dual majored in finance and accounting, and graduated from Benedict College in 2001.”
After college, Stewart began working in the heating and air industry. He was following in the footsteps of his father, who was a heating and air contractor. In 2004, he met Michael Jamison after being hired to work at Jamison’s company, Air Advance Heating & Air Conditioning. The two quickly became friends.
“After working alongside him for over a decade, we developed a really strong relationship, personal and business,” he recalled.
Jamison took a more direct path to the heating and air business.
“I am from Columbia and a graduate of Spring Valley High School,” Jamison said. “While in high school, I attended the vocational program. I took up HVAC, because I have always been a mechanically-inclined person.
“In that time, there was a stigma about learning a trade. Being in the blue-collar workforce was looked down upon,” he continued. “Teachers would ask ‘Who’s going to college?’ and everyone would raise their hands. But nobody would ask “Who’s going to learn a trade or skill?’ I wondered why we had a vocational program when these teachers would not even acknowledge that effort. At that point, I felt embarrassed and ashamed.”
During his senior year, Jamison was hired by a heating & air company and given a company truck.
“I was driving a service truck to school,” Jamison recalled. “Some of my friends found out, and I told them that this is something I want to invest my time in and make it my career.”
Jamison graduated high school in 1990 and began working full-time.
“I have always had the entrepreneurship mentality,” Jamison says. “People in my family had businesses, and they would always encourage me.”
Jamison started his own heating and air company in 1996.
“I have always tried to hire people within the community, especially younger African-American guys that need someone to help them. I have always been a positive thinker and motivator,” Jamison says.
Jamison hired Stewart, and the two became close friends. Eventually, they began exploring ideas for a new business. Since they both enjoyed sports, the idea of a sports bar seemed to be a natural fit. Jamison came up with the name Red Rooster.
“I was sitting at home one night and the name came to me,” said Jamison. “I said ‘that’s catchy’ and it will pull everyone in.”
“One morning at Air Advance, we starting talking about it. It caught fire and we ran with it. I immediately fell in love with the idea of it because I pictured myself as a red rooster,” Stewart laughed.
The duo found a perfect location on Wilson Boulevard.
“We were able to find a structure on this side of town,” said Jamison. “It had been sitting vacant for 8 or 9 years and it was almost a perfect situation.”
Their love of sports influenced their concept for Red Rooster, which opened Summer of 2019.
“I used to fly to Vegas four times a year to go to prize fights,” Jamison recalled. “We would also frequent local sports bars because we wanted to go watch a fight and see what they were selling.”
After doing their research, the duo decided to put traditional sports bar items on the menu such as wings, chicken tenders, tacos and sliders, then added Southern Lowcountry favorites such as fish & grits, fish & shrimp, fried chicken, catfish and shrimp. Other popular menu items include Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches, Red Rooster Dogs and the Chicken & Waffle Sandwich.
Red Rooster prides itself on the quality of its food. Every item is prepared with fresh ingredients.
“Everything that we make here is fresh,” said Stewart. “Even though the food cost us a little bit more, you can taste it. I don't want nothing pre-cooked, I don't want nothing that was frozen. I don't want nothing pre-made. Everything we bread is breaded fresh. All of our wings are fresh. We really emphasize cleanliness and freshness.”
In addition to making sure the menu was unique, Stewart and Jamison also worked hard to make sure that they hired the right staff.
“We try to hire the best people and the best staff to bring a positive energy to this place,” Jamison says. “We provide a place for the community to congregate, business people to network, watch sports and fellowship with one another in a positive, laidback environment,” Stewart added.
After opening, Red Rooster quickly became very popular, and the go-to place for local sports fan clubs. Many local fraternities and sororities hosted events and private parties inside the restaurant or on its outdoor patio. Sports fans enjoyed dining while watching multiple sporting events.
“We got about 22 TVs and we have a big 130-inch projector,” Jamison said. “Different sections of the restaurant can have different sounds to make sure everyone is comfortable.”
In less than a year, Red Rooster became one of the most popular restaurants in the Midlands. Then the worldwide Coronavirus crisis hit.
Like millions of other companies, Red Rooster shut down in March in response to the pandemic. It was especially hard on the staff because several large groups had booked events at the restaurant.
“We had to shift gears,” Jamison said. “People were calling us and saying ‘Stay strong. We will re-book when this is over.’”
Stewart and Jamison closed the restaurant to let their employees spend time with their families. They re-opened for takeout orders on April 26.
“All of our staff stayed on board,” Jamison said. “It’s going good.”
On May 11, the restaurant opened for limited indoor seating. Once everything gets back to normal, Red Rooster is going to re-launch its live entertainment, featuring either a live DJ or a live band.
“It’s going to be slow return back to normal, but we will be here,” Jamison says. “We have a positive outlook. We are committed, and we feel like this is only the beginning. We have to hold on and be strong.”
Although it may be some time before diners are comfortable eating out, Red Rooster’s catering business is fully operational. They can cater any type of event within a 30-mile radius of Columbia.
“If you want us to cater any type of event, just call us in advance,” said Stewart. “We can cook anything.”
Red Rooster is also booking events again. Groups can reserve a section of the restaurant, the outdoor patio or even the entire restaurant for up to 400 people. Stewart and Jamison are looking to add a couple tents to create even more outdoor seating space.
Before the pandemic, Red Rooster was open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. – 12 a.m., and from 11 a.m. – 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Now they are open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., and from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
“We're extending our hours as the momentum picks back up and people start to feel more comfortable congregating again,” Stuart explained.
Red Rooster Sports Bar & Grill is located at 7500 Wilson Boulevard in Columbia, SC. To learn more, visit www.redroostersportsbar.com or call (803) 714-1914.