New name, food, leadership for Jimmy’s by the tracks
By Rebekah Martin
“Southern Sophistication with a Creole Flair” is what Jimmy’s by the Tracks is all about. A locally owned and operated restaurant on Eighth Street, Jimmy’s opened its doors in 2005 and has been thriving ever since.
“We opened this restaurant to be a neighborhood store,” founder Jim Sikes reminisced. “We were going to serve the people that lived and worked in downtown Opelika.
“We wanted to offer our friends and family a place to go on Thursday nights after choir practice that wasn’t a fast food joint,” Sikes said. “There’s nothing wrong with fast food, but we wanted to be unique.”
Sikes said the plan is for Jimmy’s to remain a staple in Opelika for many years to come. However, there will be some changes in the near future, some of which have already begun.
Because of mobility issues and the desire to transition into more of a coach and mentor than executive chef, Sikes sold Jimmy’s to his longtime friends and customers Rick and Jackie Horne. Sikes remains a limited partner of Jimmy’s and continues to play a major role in its day-to-day operations, from menu planning to cooking his famous dishes.
“One of our biggest improvements is we will have a much better looking hostess,” Sikes joked, winking at Jackie. “The last nine years have been a lot of fun – a lot of hard, grueling work, but a lot of fun. I have no doubt Jimmy’s will be in good hands with these fine people.”
Jackie said she couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of the Jimmy’s legacy. “I’m very excited about what we are doing here,” Jackie said. “We’ve had an excellent start, and we’re looking forward to the coming year and where that will take Jimmy’s.”
Sikes said that people come from all over the state to dine at Jimmy’s. He said he believes it’s the great food and the unique atmosphere that keep people coming back.
“We have been blessed with a good number of returning customers,” Sikes said.
“You don’t get treated anymore at restaurants,” Horne added. “Here, you get to sit and enjoy a home-cooked meal in a quiet and calm atmosphere, and it’s obvious our customers love that about Jimmy’s.”
“We opened with a New Orleans flavor,” Sikes said. “Our focus was on creole cuisine, and to this day Jimmy’s is the only place you can get cajun food like ours this far from The Big Easy.”
For a period of about 14 months, Jimmy’s underwent some changes to its menu and atmosphere due to a change in management. It was during that time that some say the restaurant lost a little of its charm. Seeing these unfavorable changes, the Hornes knew that they had to get involved.
“This arrangement was really Jackie’s dream,” Rick said. “We didn’t like that the Jimmy’s that we fell in love with was slowly going away; it was then that we decided we wanted to restore it back to Jim’s roots, with his help and support.”
Sikes said that the restaurant’s menu has been modified and tweaked over the years. “But our main dishes, the jambalaya, the bread pudding and the ringleader, the shrimp and grits – they’re here to stay,” he said.
Rick said he loved the idea of going back to Jimmy’s roots and serving everything on the original menu in honor of the restaurant’s ninth anniversary. “I brought the idea to Jim and he laughed and said, ‘Most of it’s still there,’ Jimmy’s sticks with what works,” Rick said.
Jackie said her new business partner has set quite a precedent when it comes to running a restaurant. “This man caters to the customer like no other,” Jackie said. “Very few people in the restaurant business make their customers’ needs and wants a priority like Jim Sikes.”
“I’ve always greeted people who walk in to Jimmy’s the same way I would greet them if they walked into my home,” Sikes explained.
Sikes said he takes pride in the reputation that he has built for the restaurant.
“People ask me what I would like to hear my customer say after dining at Jimmy’s, and I always answer the same way,” Sikes said. “I want to hear them say, ‘This was delicious, and I’ll be back.’ When someone says that – we’ve done our job.”
Rick and Jackie said their main goal is to improve upon something that is already great. “We’re not coming in here with an out with the old and in with the new attitude,” Horne said. “If anything, we are making enhancements – not changes.” Those enhancements include the addition of Jackie’s Chicken Salad plate, made with cream cheese and cranberries. Jackie’s Tomato Basil soup is also new and was featured on this week’s menu as a new item.
As far as Jim Sikes’ continuing involvement in Jimmy’s is concerned, Rick joked they might have to chain him to the door. “Long term, I see Jim transitioning into more of a mentor or coaching role,” Rick said. “We need him to pass along all he’s learned to the new kitchen staff so that Jimmy’s can continue to offer the quality food that we are known for.”
Jimmy’s is open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and for dinner Wednesday through Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Find them online at www.jimmysopelika.com.