The North Bend Eagle


RJ's dream fulfilled, open for business

by Nathan Arneal
Published 7/11/12

When the Old Scout Lounge came up for sale in the mid ‘90s, Rick and Leora Johnson thought about buying it, but they didn’t pull the trigger.

RJ'sMike Zvacek and Leora Johnson have been running RJ's Sports Bar and Grill since June 11. The bar was named after Johnson's late husband, Rick Johnson, pictured in the foreground.

When the property came up for sale again last year, Leora was ready to purchase the former Little Ricky’s Saloon.

Though Rick Johnson passed away in 2010, his memory lives on in his wife’s new enterprise: RJ’s Sports Bar and Grill.

“(The name) is a memorial to my husband,” Leora Johnson said.

Leora has many years of experience working in various North Bend bars, but before she jumped into ownership, she first turned to her son, Mike Zvacek.

“I texted him and asked if Little Ricky’s was still for sale, and he said, ‘Yeah,’” Johnson said. “So when I came back from Florida, I went and checked it out, and I asked (Mike) to be my manager.”

“No,” Zvacek corrected her, “I don’t think you asked me.”

“OK,” Johnson said. “I think I told him.”

Little Ricky’s had sat empty for about a year and a half since its closing. Johnson said she felt it left a hole in North Bend’s nightlife and dining options.

“It’s something North Bend needs,” she said. “The more people that we talked to, the more people were behind us, so we said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”

With the management team in place, RJ’s Sports Bar and Grill became a reality, officially opening its doors a month ago, on June 11.

The first thing visitors will notice are the nine flat-screen TVs scattered throughout the bar. Zvacek said a clear view of the TV is a requirement of any good sports bar.

“With the thought that there’s not a bad seat in the house, you come in to watch a sporting event on TV, you should be able to see it from wherever you’re sitting,” he said.

The TVs will usually be tuned to a variety of sports channels. Though sometimes there will be less variety than others.

“On Husker game days, of course every TV will be on the same channel,” Johnson said.

RJ’s aims to be more than a Husker sports bar, though. Zvacek, a 1992 NBC graduate and an assistant football coach at the school, said the place will soon be decorated with plenty of North Bend Tiger pictures and paraphernalia.

“In five, ten years down the road when kids come back they can walk around and look at pictures on the wall and say, ‘Look, there’s me when I was in high school,’ Zvacek said. “We want to make it local. Make it North Bend. Make it ours.”

RJ’s is still working on becoming fully staffed and training the staff that it does have so far. The biggest test for the new business came shortly after it opened, when it welcomed the Old Settlers crowd during its second weekend in business.

“I was a nervous wreck the whole week leading up to it,” Zvacek said. “I wish we had a couple more weeks. Would I be any more prepared now than I was then? Probably not. Will I be any more prepared next year? Probably not, but at least I’d be more comfortable in my preparation for it. I had no clue.”

RJ’s is open daily at 11 a.m. and features weekday lunch specials. The full menu is available all day.

The menu itself includes more than your typical small town bar and grill, featuring wraps, salads, wings and a variety of other sandwiches.

“It started with just the basic burgers and fries,” Zvacek said, “then I started building.”

Working with a food representative who happened to be a good friend of Zvacek’s, they found that the ingredients for one dish could be made into another dish, so they added the second option as well. That process repeated itself several times.

“One thing leads to another, and the next thing you know, there’s the menu,” Zvacek said. “It got a lot bigger than I anticipated.”

Johnson said the ranch club wrap has been the most popular item on the menu, and the chicken bacon melt and Malibu chicken sandwich have also been favorites.
The Ruben sandwich has also been popular, though you won’t get Zvacek to vouch for it.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Ruben,” he said, “and I’m not a Ruben eater. I can’t stand sauerkraut. But I’ve heard a lot of different people say this is one of the best Rubens they’ve ever had.”

As the staff grows and gets more comfortable, attention will turn to nightly specials and targeting post-event crowds.

“I know this town is big on whenever their kids are out doing something, they follow,” Zvacek said. “That’s what brings people out, whether its preschool graduation or a Friday night football game, people go out when their kids are doing stuff.”

As for those pre-Old Settlers jitters, Johnson and Zvacek hope they are a thing of the past.

“You find yourself in a groove,” Zvacek said. “You’re not as nervous for bigger crowds or bigger events. It’s like ‘bring it on’ now.”

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