Cowboy restaurant moves into former Phoenicia

Monday, January 29, 2007
Chris Amacker, left, and John Tucker have opened a new restaurant, 8 Seconds, in the former Phoenicia building, 1000 N. Sprigg St. (Fred Lynch)

The owners and management of the newest restaurant at 1000 N. Sprigg St. hope their mix of patriotism, a laid-back atmosphere and down-home Southern cooking can defeat the curse that has befallen other restaurants that once occupied the building.

Ethnic-style restaurants like the Bavarian and Phoenicia have come and gone. But general manager John Tucker knows the new 8 Seconds restaurant has something the others didn't -- down-home American dishes.

"We're actually totally different than anything that has been here," Tucker said, dismissing any "curse" the location may have hanging over it. "We're the only one that has actually carried any kind of basic American food."

Tucker sees the location as a blessing more than anything else, citing the presence of Southeast Missouri State University across the street and the lack of sit-down restaurants in the vicinity.

"There's nothing on this side of town at all," Tucker said. "And I'm not expecting what I'd get if I was on the interstate. I'm not staffed with the ability to run 250 people an hour. I'm not into that right now. Later, yeah."

8 Seconds opened Jan. 22 with a menu that includes hand-cut steaks, fried chicken, meatloaf, ribs, sirloin burgers, deep-fried hot dogs, sloppy joes and grilled bologna sandwiches.

The menu selection comes from Tucker's background growing up eating Southern food in Orlando, Fla. He moved to Southeast Missouri about nine years ago.

But owner Chris Amacker did provide the deep-fried hot dog recipe.

"Our deep-fried hot dogs are the best," Amacker said.

Tucker said he has about 15 years of restaurant experience, most recently as a manager at Show Me's. When Show Me's underwent an ownership change, Tucker said he decided to strike out on his own, with money provided by Amacker and his wife, Erika.

"You won't see me cooking," Chris Amacker says. His role is providing the start-up capital, and providing 8 Seconds with his patriotic emphasis. Amacker, who was in the U.S, Army for 12 years before having his spine crushed in a combat operation in Iraq in 2005, hung several items from his service on the walls: an American flag he took to Iraq and an Islamic prayer rug bearing the Operation Iraqi Freedom insignia, among others.

Amacker said this summer the restaurant plans to host fund-raisers for vets and their families. He also wants veterans to bring in their pictures and other service memorabilia to decorate the place.

The restaurant is meant to reach the heart of mid-America, the owners say. The name 8 Seconds is an homage to the local area and its country way of life, Tucker said. He and Amacker both remember how they came about finding the name -- after a few drinks one night at Show Me's, Tucker belted it out, and the moniker stuck.

Tucker says he'll cater events in-house and will deliver group orders to companies. The only thing he won't do is take a loss on catering or delivery, he says.

Right now he doesn't have his liquor license, but Tucker said he soon will. He and Amacker hope both college students and older generations -- including veterans -- will find the place a comfortable hang-out, with whatever music they want to hear on the jukebox.

But families are more than welcome. Tucker and Amacker say they want 8 Seconds to be a place where families can come and eat cheap, too.

"I want you to come in here and have a good time," Tucker says to families.

If the numbers are any indication, those families and others are going to restaurants more often in Cape Girardeau.

John Mehner, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce, said restaurant sales tax receipts for the fiscal year that ended in June were up 8 percent from the previous fiscal year. Through the last half of 2006, receipts were up 9 percent from the year before.

"I think it's the variety and the options," Mehner said of the restaurant sales surge, adding that Cape Girardeau is a dining hub for the surrounding region. That variety comes from both big-name chains and locally owned establishments, he said.

While Cape Girardeau has a healthy business climate, Mehner said that doesn't guarantee an establishment will last.

"Some make it, some don't. That's the restaurant business," Mehner said.

Owners and management hope 8 Seconds' Southern-fried atmosphere will be its key to success.

Tucker says he'll soon have Southern-style boiled peanuts at every table -- a specialty treat for diners to munch on while they wait. The restaurant will also have daily specials that don't appear on the menu. This menu is one that's far different from the Middle Eastern and Bavarian cuisines that were once cooked in this kitchen.

His food relies on a different tradition, says Tucker -- an old-time American tradition using stripped-down recipes.

"Today, people season their food, they kill it with everything." said Tucker. "That was a bowl of grits until you added all that milk and sugar to it. Then you made it Cream of Wheat."

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