Taking care of staff is this restaurant’s most important lesson in 100 years of business.
The Bright Star Restaurant, located in Bessemer, Alabama, celebrates 100 years in business in 2017. It was opened in 1907 by Tom Bonduris, a Greek immigrant who brought family over to help him operate the restaurant, which is now the oldest family-owned eatery in the state. In the 1960s, Jim and Nick Koikos, relatives of Bonduris, assumed ownership, and now a new generation is poised to take over: Stacey Craig and Andreas Anastassakis.
“The restaurant was started to meet the needs of the community of Bessemer, which in 1907 was a booming mining town, supported by local reserves of coal, iron ore, and limestone,” says Craig. “As the decades have passed, the coal mining and steel industry has steadily declined, but The Bright Star remains a popular restaurant to serve the local Courthouse and surrounding businesses.”
Craig describes Bright Star as a traditional Southern “meat and three” restaurant during the day—in which diners pick a meat and three sides—and a steak and seafood house at night. In addition to dine-in business—the restaurant seats 300 guests, compared to 25 in 1907—Bright Star also serves a steady stream of customers for take-out/catering and banquets as well.
The accolades have piled up over the years. Here’s a sampling:
- One of “America’s Classics” (James Beard Foundation)
- One of America’s Best Historic Restaurants (CNN)
- One of 100 Southern Foods You Must Try Before You Die (Fried Red Snapper Throats, Garden & Gun)
- One of the 100 Dishes to Eat Before You Die (Broiled Seafood Platter, Alabama Tourism Department)
- Alabama’s Best Steak (Alabama Cattlemen’s Association)
Like many restaurants, however, Bright Star faced the need to adjust to economic changes, such as population growth outside downtown Bessemer and a huge influx of different restaurant concepts in the area over the past 15 years. They did so by cultivating an active social media presence as well as a consistently excellent dining experience.
“Over the years, we have learned that the most important thing is taking care of our staff so they can help us take care of our guests,” Craig says. It’s worked: The restaurant wait staff has an average of 7 years’ experience with Bright Star, and the cook staff is loyal as well.
“In the restaurant business, there is nothing better than the relationship with staff and guests,” she says. “We are in the position of helping our staff become the best people they can be, and that is immensely rewarding.”
Craig says that Alabama is a great place to do business, in part because of low property taxes and a minimum wage consistent with that of the federal rate. However, continued pressure to increase the minimum wage, as well as uncertainty surrounding the healthcare law, are problems. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act would help remove the threat of penalties, she says, and the rollback of overtime for salaried employees has already simplified the management process. “These changes give us more flexibility in helping our employees,” Craig says.