When RJ Breeden first opened RJ’s Café in 2003 after moving back into his childhood home, he envisioned the restaurant as simply a local establishment for people to hang out and eat breakfast.
Now, just a few weeks away from celebrating the restaurant’s 20th anniversary in April, it’s more than certain that Breeden’s goal has come to fruition.
The well-known restaurant has served countless helpings of classics such as French toast, omelets, and turkey sandwiches every day except for Thanksgiving and Christmas over the years.
However, the food is not the most important aspect of bringing customers back, according to Breeden, who says his staff is the key.
“We have an awesome staff,” he says. “The people that work here are really great. They’ve been here a long time.”
Readers of the Dana Point Times appear to love all the eatery’s features, as they voted RJ’s the Best Breakfast spot in town, earning the restaurant its 15th overall Lantern medal in the category. Coffee Importers earned the Silver Lantern this year, as it has totaled 10 medals overall in the category.
Coffee Importers owner Jim Miller says he is thrilled that his business’s alternative take on breakfast has carried so much favor.
“We don’t have pancakes and waffles and all that kind of stuff … we have, I would say, a little healthier take on breakfast,” Miller says. “I’m really excited that people appreciate that.”
Over the years, RJ’s has stitched itself into the fabric of the Dana Point community. Breeden says he has regulars who come in six or seven days a week, which is what he loves most about being a part of the city and creating a quasi-family environment.
After operating restaurants in Northern California and in Palm Springs, it was his mother’s passing that brought him back to town while he was determining his next move.
“After about three months, I decided to stay, and I bought my brother and sister out and I took the house over,” Breeden says. “Two years later, I found this restaurant for sale. It was a Peruvian restaurant, and I shut it down, turned it into breakfast and lunch, and decided to go back into being the breakfast guy.”
His previous experiences helped him to know to eye every aspect of his business so that he could keep prices as low as possible for his customers.
Breeden doesn’t spend all his time at RJ’s like he used to, and he credits his managing staff for the job they do in ensuring the ship remains afloat and maintaining his standards for quality.
“My kitchen manager, Jorge, he’s been back there (for) 19 years,” he says, adding, “He controls pretty much everything that goes on back there.”
The occasional check-in from Breeden still occurs, but he added that he doesn’t need to worry about his restaurant day-to-day.
That leaves him to stop in during mornings and chat with both customers and staff, make sure everyone is happy and enjoy the rest of his day.
The effort Breeden made many years ago to find a core of people who serve for a living, not just for part-time work, has paid dividends in 2023.
“(For the) majority of my staff, this is what they do,” he says. “They take pride in what they do and make sure everyone takes pride in what they do. They make our customers happy.”
RJ’s reputation guarantees that there are new faces from out of town who come into the café daily. Breeden enjoys talking with them, finding out where people are from and learning how they made their way to Dana Point.
He expressed happiness upon learning that his restaurant was again nominated among the best in town.
“That means that the people love us,” Breeden says. “If the people in Dana Point are loving us, then we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”
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