Day in and day out, Jim Beck can be found in the same place he’s been for almost the last two decades: French Market Grille West. But even though Beck and the restaurant he owns just celebrated their 17th anniversary on January 13, it seems like time has flown.
“Not really,” Beck laughed when asked if it seems like it’s been 17 years since the Columbia County mainstay opened. “It doesn’t really seem like it’s been that long ago.”
That might surprise some, who know the restaurant business to be a grueling one. But, to Beck, French Market West is more like a family hangout.
“We’ve got a pretty good following,” he explained. “I’ve got a large clientele that comes in every day or comes every week or comes every month. Before ’08 [the financial collapse], you know, we had people coming in here a couple, three times a week.
And Beck does have a relationship with almost everyone who walks in. Watch him in action and you’ll notice that he knows everyone’s name and, when he walks out of the kitchen, he’s almost immediately surrounded by old friends wanting to chat.
“I’m there pretty much all day every day, so it’s hard not to have a relationship with a lot of people who come in there daily,” he said.
So why do they keep coming back? Consistency, Beck says, is what has kept French Market West thriving. Not only do customers know they’ll see Beck, but they’ll also see other familiar faces.
“I have seven people including myself who’ve been there since the place opened,” he explained. “And I have even more who’ve been there 10 years or more.”
Seeing the same faces make his customers comfortable, Beck said. And though he is currently working on some new entrée, dessert and Smart Choice specials, he said his customers also like the fact that the food hasn’t changed much through the years either.
“When people come here, they know exactly what they’re going to get. I’ve worked on some specials here and there, but I haven’t changed anything in a while,” he explained. “When you start taking things off the menu, people will come in and ask where it is. People don’t like change.”
That’s probably why the most popular dish on the menu is, was and probably always will be the shrimp po boy sandwich.
“It has our own tartar sauce that we make, our own slaw that we make on there as well, and then fried shrimp and tomato,” Beck said. “You know, down in New Orleans, they don’t put slaw on it, but we just added it. It’s our version of the po boy.”
Beck and his French Market West krewe didn’t make a big deal about their recent anniversary, simply offering a discount to anyone who came in and ate that day. What they will make a big deal about, however, is the upcoming Mardi Gras celebration.
Fat Tuesday, the culmination of the Mardi Gras celebration, is late this year, on March 4, and French Market West plans to usher in the Lent season in style with a crawfish boil, a happy hour that will last all day, Mardi Gras beads and masks and a free slice of King Cake. Whoever gets the plastic baby in the King Cake, however, needn’t worry about having to host next year’s Mardi Gras celebration. Instead, they’ll get another prize.
“We’ve always tried to bring a creative, a festive-type atmosphere so people can celebrate Mardi Gras without having to go to New Orleans,” Beck said. “it’s not the same as being in New Orleans, but if you come in you’ll have a good time.”
French Market Grille West
360 Fury’s Ferry Road, Martinez
Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 3-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 3-11 p.m.