Meredosia diner opens with new owners
By Lynn Colburn
New year’s eve arrived on the river in Meredosia with the grand opening of a new but familiar family-style restaurant called Reapproach Bar & Grill, located at 214 Main St.
If the name sounds familiar it is because The Approach restaurant was sold and cleverly reopened under the name Reapproach.
The new owners Randy Azbell and Gene Cokenower bought the restaurant, renovated it, developed a menu with some old favorites plus some new additions and reopened just in time to bring in the new year.
Azbell was a pastor at a United Methodist Church and recently retired after 30 years. Azbell said, “I have worked in restaurants throughout the years, but my partner, Gene Cokenower, has the major restaurant experience, having been in the restaurant business for 30 years. One of our dreams was always to open our own restaurant at some point. Last October we saw on a Facebook post that The Approach was going up for sale.”
On Oct. 10, 2021, Dustin Parker the owner/manager of The Approach posted on Facebook, “Dear patrons, we are sad to have to say we will be putting The Approach up for sale. I am in a position with my day job that requires me to travel for the next three to four years. With that being said we do not want the restaurant to suffer because we won’t be able to give it the attention that it needs. We are fully staffed and it is a very busy restaurant.”
Once they saw the post, Azbell said, “We started talking to the previous owners and seeing the possibilities. I was very familiar with the restaurant and it’s menu since I had been going to the restaurant since about 1990.” How lucky for the community when many restaurants have been closing and remaining closed all around the country.
“After we had made arrangements with the previous owners and signed the paperwork on December 15,” said Azbell. “Gene and I had already decided some of the things we wanted to do as far as renovations. We talked to a couple of contractors that could do the work. We told them that we take the restaurant over on December 20, but we wanted to open back up on new year’s eve. There was only a 10-day window that they would have to do all the work we wanted done. They told us they could do what we wanted and the results of that work was absolutely amazing, too. We have gotten so many compliments since we’ve been open on what we have done.”
In a world where some supplies are not available and items are slow to arrive, the team accomplished an astonishing amount of work from Dec. 20 when it closed as The Approach to Dec. 31 when they reopened as Reapproach Bar & Grill.
“We aren’t totally done,” explains Azbell. “We still we want to put up nautical pictures on the walls and do a few other things. In those 10 days we painted the entire place in blues, grays and whites, we tore down old ceiling tiles and replaced them with brand-new ones.”
The flooring could not be repaired so they installed all new flooring throughout the restaurant. They also put in new lighting, which was desperately needed to brighten the place up according to Azbell. A big new sign has also recently gone up on the outside wall.
“In addition,” Azbell disclosed, “Gene developed a new menu that has a nautical theme to it.” The family-style restaurant specializes in American cuisine. The large menu includes breakfast with special combinations, biscuits and gravy, eggs, omelets, pancakes and more with something for anyone’s appetite. The lunch portion includes burgers, sandwiches, the ever-popular horseshoe and ponyshoe, catfish fritter baskets and more. The large dinner menu includes appetizers, soup and salads (including an unlimited soup and salad bar), chicken, and they kept the delicious steaks, chops and the popular seafood dishes the restaurant has been known for. And of course, wonderful desserts like peach cobbler, deep-fried Oreos, pie and cheesecake.
“I think people are glad because we kept many of the same menu items,” said Azbell, “because the restaurant is well known for steak and especially its fish. So, we have pretty much kept the old menu, but also added some items that we wanted.”
“We also started breakfast again,” stated Azbell about other changes. “Because of Covid, the restaurant had gotten to the point where they shut down on Mondays and Tuesdays, so they were only open Wednesday through Sunday. We decided to go ahead and reopen and be open seven days a week and be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And that has been very welcoming to most people. Because in most communities restaurants are closed on Mondays these days.”
The restaurant hours are Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-9 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
People are just starting to realize Reapproach is open for breakfast. Azbell explains, “For a smaller community breakfast is one of those things, especially the farmers in the area, people are looking for.”
“Most of the comments we have gotten are positive,” said Azbell. “The food is still excellent.” Current restaurant positions everywhere have been hard to fill, but fortunately most of the staff from the restaurant stayed with the new owners. Azbell said, “That is a blessing because regulars are comfortable with them and we appreciate their knowledge. We are also in the transitional stage of hiring new staff such as cooks and servers due to the expanded hours.”
“The expanded hours are not only great for the community but are a challenge for us,” explained Azbell. “We have to make sure we schedule all the folks we have employed. It’s a challenge and yet it has been worth the while.”
Azbell confirmed that, “Our strength is really in our lunches and our dinners. We are especially busy throughout the weekend with our dinners. We encourage people to make reservations for weekends on Friday to Sunday.”
“We have a wonderful back room for parties for up to 20 people and we are finding that we have become the place for the bigger parties,” says Azbell. “Two recently parties included one of 16 people for a 90-year-old woman’s birthday and this Saturday we have a party of 20.”
“It always makes it easier with reservations. That way we know how to staff for the evenings even if we have a party. Then everyone in the restaurant can be served and served on time,” explained Azbell.
Reservations for a dinner or a party can be made by calling 217-584-1000.
“Gene is our general manager and he manages the administrative duties of the business. That is his bailiwick and it has been from the get-go,” explained Azbell. “And I tend to be in the restaurant and helping wherever needed. Sometimes I’m there helping staff in the kitchen and sometimes I’m out in the front of restaurant seating people. We use the gifts that each of us have in the restaurant. There are challenges at times, but we are absolutely happy we made this decision.”
Cokenower emphasized they also have a full bar that has been there for decades. “We have a lot of people come here for cocktails and eat in the bar also,” explained Azbell. “It is set up for about 15 people, so it is the place people go for the whole evening which we love.”
Reapproach’s new owners hope to realize their dream to be the place where everyone in the area will come to indulge in all the new restaurant’s bar and grill has to offer both old and new patrons. They are looking forward to keeping traditions, making new ones and being a memorable place to gather in the area for years to come.