Jimmy Theros of Rudolph's inducted in restaurant hall of fame

Alas, budding restaurateurs, Jimmy Theros doesn't have any magic, easy advice on how to succeed in the business.

"You have to be willing to do the hard work," Theros says after the Friday lunch rush at Rudolph's, the Minneapolis BBQ joint that has been the anchor of his business for more than 35 years. "You have to be totally committed to the business, and the business will take over your life."

Theros would know. Almost his entire career--apart from a stint as a shoeshine boy right after he emigrated from Greece to the United States in the late 1940s and a short sabbatical in the 1970s--has been spent slinging dishes to Twin Cities customers.

Theros has been honored for his six-plus decades in the local restaurant business with membership in the Minnesota Restaurant Association's Hospitality Hall of Fame.

Theros has served generations of customers, including the first restaurant he operated with his family, the James Broiler. There, he worked 12 hours a day on the graveyard shift (his parents did the rest of the day, nearly every day of the year). Theros continued to work in the business for the next two decades.

The crux came in 1973. "I wasn't happy about the business, and I decided to rethink my career," he says. Theros sold his restaurants and spent the next year and a half away from the business. But the itch was still there. In 1974, he looked at getting back and found a property on the corner of Franklin and Lyndale avenues. Theros also decided to try something new. At the time, there were only a handful of barbecue restaurants in the Twin Cities. So, after some rather fun-sounding research down south, Theros had a concept and a design. He just needed a name.

That came from his architect, who suggested the Rudolph's name and the 1920s silent movie era décor.

Through the decades, Rudolph's has been about consistency. Recipes--the spices for the meat, the signature sauce, even the cole slaw--have not changed.

"The core menu is largely the same," Theros says. "We've changed with the times and have expanded the menu to include more salads and seafood and other items people wanted. I follow the trends and see what changes are there. People's eating habits have changed, and you have to adapt to it."

Other restaurants have come and gone through the years. At present, Theros also runs the St. Clair Broiler in St. Paul. Until December, he had also operated the Town Talk Diner in Minneapolis before it was shuttered.

Closing a restaurant is always painful, but to Theros, the Town Talk was just not working at its location. Parking for the Lake Street eatery--which first opened in 2006 and was bought by Theros in 2008--was difficult, and the current economic state didn't help matters. "No one is immune to that," Theros says.

Theros is thinking of slowing down and even has an "exit strategy" in place via his son, Charlie, who runs the overall business with his father. Still, you'll find Theros in the kitchens or houses of his restaurants most days of the week.

"It's a form of entertainment for me," Theros says.

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