The downside of being a local institution is: it's hard to stop.
That's a lesson that Randy and Janice Howard keep learning. They have run Randy's Restaurant in Trenton since 1985 and God knows when they'll ever manage to quit.
"We're still here and we're still working," Janice Howard told The Planet on Tuesday. She said it with a certain resignation. It was the epitaph of the Howards' latest attempt to retire.
The Planet last week ran an article on Randy's closure. The Howards' daughter-in-law had announced it on the restaurant's Facebook page, and a granddaughter who works at the restaurant had confirmed it when The Planet inquired. But the very next day, said Janice Howard, the couple's sons talked them into keeping the place open.
It wasn't just the sons' sentimentality for the family business, said Janice, it was a matter of sheer popular demand. "They said there were 15,000 hits on our Facebook page," she said. Customers kept asking: But where will we eat?
"People were concerned," said Ms. Howard. "You can't go everywhere in Trenton and get vegetables."
One of the Howards' sons was willing to take the restaurant over, she said, but as his mother she didn't want him to give up his good job for it. "He's got benefits and stuff," she said.
So the senior Howards decided, as they have multiple times in the past--Janice confessed that Randy, who turns 71 soon, had originally planned to retire at 55--to keep running the restaurant themselves. The idea this time is to downsize so they don't have to work (quite) so hard.
Going forward, the restaurant will be closed Sunday and Monday. The Howards will discontinue their hot food buffet but retain the salad bar, and the menu will be pared down a little, too. "It's a full menu, but we're not going to have six kinds of french fries," said Ms. Howard.
The Randy's menu has always been remarkable in that it was so varied, with everything from steak dinners to pizza, and Ms. Howard said that won't change. There will still be pizza, there will still be Randy's famous broasted chicken, and there will still be the restaurant's signature monster hamburgers. But there will be fewer species of french fries and items that never sold particularly well will go away altogether. Ms. Howard gave the meatball strombolli as an example.
But the new menu, she stressed, is still under construction. "It's been changed about four times already," she said. The Howards have registered their customers' desire for meat-and-three style meals and are determined to fulfill it but have not yet finalized whether to do so through daily specials or just what. Another idea they're considering is a pizza-and-salad bar for some nights.
One change that's still under discussion is how to downsize the homemade bread operation. For years, Randy Howard has been making bread every day except Sunday. His wife says this has become more problematic as he's suffered through episodes of carpal tunnel and rotator cuff trouble.
But homemade bread, time- and labor-intensive as it is, can't just disappear, not ony because it's wildly popular but also because buns big enough for Randy's outsize hamburgers are not something that can be ordered from restaurant suppliers.
Customers are supposed to give a day's notice for Randy's 48-ounce mega-burger--that's three pounds, folks--but not all do. One half that size, but still monstrous at 24 ounces, also requires a special bun. The restaurant tries to keep a couple of both size buns on hand at all times. Even making more use of the freezer, said Ms. Howard, that means baking at least a couple of times a week. She'll try to help Randy with it more, she said.
A sad part of the downsizing, she acknowledged, is that the staff will inevitably have to be smaller. Presently, Randy's has 35 employees. "You don't want to lose them," said Ms. Howard. "It's hard."
But the Howards have learned from their decades of experience that the restaurant works best when they're there to run it themselves, and they're determined to go smaller in order to have a little more time off.
Janice Howard is realistic about just how much time that will be. Closing two days a week doesn't mean she and Randy will get two days of rest.
"We'll still be down here one of those days," she said.