Steve Cox was semi-retired when an opportunity arose that he just couldn’t pass up.
That one opportunity has turned in to three separate businesses each bringing its own unique flair and style to Eufaula.
His venture back in to the business world began after purchasing River City Grill from Bill and Sarah Bird. Cox went right to work on his new project, and despite having no previous experience in the restaurant industry, was able to turn the business around.
One of the initial changes he made to was change the perceived nature of River City Grill. Too many times Cox saw potential customers walk by and not come through the door due to a perception of being a “high end” establishment.
“Many people thought the atmosphere was too upscale,” Cox said. They would walk by the restaurant and have the perception that it was too expensive or too high end. We live in a lake community, so the atmosphere needed to be casual. We couldn’t grow our business with what we had, so that is why we wanted to change the atmosphere.”
Cox opened the grill for lunch and made sure everyone knew there wasn’t a dress code in place. Improvements were made to the menu, dining room and bar area as well. The origination of the “Blue Plate” menu at lunch helped the restaurant attract a new clientele.
But the biggest change Cox made wasn’t event a change at all. It’s all about being consistently good.
“The three things in the restaurant business that mean the most are food, atmosphere and service,” said Cox. “If you can nail those three things, then you are in good shape. We continually work on keeping the quality of food and service up and enhancing the atmosphere to make sure our place is the best it can be.”
As the months went by, Cox found out just how up-and-down the restaurant business can be. With those highs and lows, he felt the need to diversify his investment with the creation of a new business.
Last Call Discount Spirits and Tobacco – located on S. Eufaula Ave. - launched in 2015, and has grown in to Eufaula’s one-stop shop for alcohol and party items.
For two years, Cox flipped Last Call’s profits back in to the business to upgrade equipment and keep the shelves stocked with new items. At Last Call, patrons can pick up all types of items, unlike other liquor stores that carry only distilled spirits.
“They can come here and get their spirits, mixers, beer, wine and cigarettes here,” said Cox. “When you go to other stores in town, you can only get liquor. We have a little bit of everything here, and that allows customers to be able to get everything they need in one place.”
Cox’s third Eufaula business wasn’t started to make extra dough. It was a labor of love, and dream of his for quite a few years.
With years of flying experience, Cox had always longed to open a pizza retardant near an airport and give it the name “Pie In The Sky.” While the airport location didn’t work out, the pizza restaurant was born on Broad Street in Eufaula’s historic downtown area.
“This was never done as an investment opportunity,” said Cox. “This was a hobby. We thought Eufaula needed a pizza place that was better than what was available at the time.”
Cox’s son, Kenneth, is an accomplished artist with a background in graffiti art. When it came time to name the restaurant, one name just fit. After that, it was all about the pie.
“We have New York style pizza, and graffiti art originated in New York, so it just made perfect sense,” said Cox. “We started out bringing in the fire department, police officers and other friends to help find the best recipes. We got a lot of great feedback from the start.”
Inside of three months of opening their doors for the first time, Graffiti’s was named Best Pizza in the Eufaula Tribune Reader’s Choice Awards.
Cox went from being semi-retired to operating three separate businesses all connected by one parent company in just a few years.
He is quick to deflect credit and attention away from himself. Instead, he says the employees of each establishment are what makes the entire operation run.
“We have really good people working at our businesses,” Cox said. “Everyone knows what needs to be done and are able to do it. Most days when I don’t come in, I never hear a thing from them. They take initiative to get things done.”