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Rail City Profile: Rathmann discusses finer points of managing restaurant
by Garrett Valenzuela
Sep 05, 2012 | 2688 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela - Jay Rathmann, owner and manager of BJ’s Barbecue, lathers up racks of ribs with sauce while working on the grill last week at the annual rib cook-off.
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela - Jay Rathmann, owner and manager of BJ’s Barbecue, lathers up racks of ribs with sauce while working on the grill last week at the annual rib cook-off.
SPARKS — As the final day of the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off came to a close, Jay Rathmann, owner and manager of BJ’s Barbecue Restaurant in Sparks, easily recalled his first Nugget Rib Cook-Off. He was 17.

The booth was half the size of his current 20-by-20-foot booth and the restaurant was “1/20 of what it is now,” according to Rathmann, who moved to Sparks when he was a junior in high school. After entering Reed High to finish his final two years, he quickly found a way to pay for college by picking up a pair of drumsticks.

Through participation in the marching and jazz bands at Reed, Rathmann found himself with a music scholarship to the University of Nevada, Reno that paid for his tuition. Unlike many of his band mates, Rathmann did not major in musical arts. Instead, he set his sights on his current profession and majored in marketing and management.

“I like what I do. The big thing for me is if you can go to a job and it really doesn’t seem like a job or work, then that’s where you need to be,” Rathmann said. “When it becomes work or a job then it’s no fun. You can’t work 100 hours a week and not like what you’re doing. You will crack.”

With about one year left at UNR, Rathmann left the university after finding a job with a local food service. Rathmann said he continued to hold a position at BJ’s while he worked several different jobs in outside companies. He said the experience was great, but it “just wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

“I was always doing something, literally, always moving and now I’m back to the restaurant and I’m using what I learned in college to run a business,” he said. “It’s hard for people to comprehend (BJ’s) but we do everything in house. We do all our products, recipes, marketing, graphics, logos, menus, labels and anything that applies to what we need. It’s a very diversified job title I guess.”

In the mix of working 80-hour weeks on average, Rathmann has found time to collect a slew of hobbies he finds relaxing and interesting. His sometimes limited free time is often spent honing intricate skills in woodworking, painting cars and motorcycles and using machinery to make household items and tools. He said using his free time wisely is often a culmination of the work he does as manager.  

“Every once in awhile I like to tack on more and more things and that’s what eats into your family time, your fun time and those other things you enjoy,” Rathmann said of opening a second restaurant this year. “I go home and look at things I’ve neglected for two months and it’s almost a ‘where do I start attitude.’ It becomes a point where you have to unplug and take yourself off the grid to catch up.”

Rathmann’s wife, Kayce, and his two boys Zachary and Brian have been busy this summer handling major events and keeping up with their second restaurant location. Having his sister and parents in on the family business is important during the summer, which Jay said is a time where he expects to get one day off during a month. But when October and November arrive he makes time to leave the restaurant in his family’s hands.

“You have to learn that if you’re not (at work) not to worry about it. The people that you have trained and other members of the family will be there and are more than capable of getting things done,” he said. “Then you can let go, relax and have fun. I can jump on the motorcycle and go for a couple hundred miles or go out hunting for a week with my boys. I don’t have to worry that things aren’t taken care of because my family and staff are just as prepared to handle things as I am.”

A 23-year tenure in Sparks has left Jay with the impression that Sparks, in some ways, is like his hometown in New York. He said the diversity and bevy of activities in the surrounding areas help him realize “there is so much to do around here.”

“What’s kind of cool about this town is it’s not too big, but it still has that small town appeal. Everybody always knows somebody and you don’t think about it when you’re younger but when you’re older you realize the world kind of shrinks down to the size of a marble,” he said. “It’s cool because there are so many things to do. Where i grew up we didn’t have half the things there are in this town. (Lake) Tahoe is so close and Pyramid Lake is right there and I loved that as a teenager and it’s great for this area to have those things all around us.”

As for where Jay plans to be in 10 years, he smirked as he confessed his plans for the future.

“You will see me doing the same thing. I want to be a barbecue cook, that’s my goal in life right now,” he said. “I do so many different things, so for me, I could do anything but i choose to do this because this is where my heart and passion goes into. This still isn’t a job to me, it’s fun. Hopefully when it becomes a job my kids will be old enough to start taking it over and then I can slow down like my dad has.”


- Food: chicken wings

- Book: I read to learn

- Tv Show: Modern Marvels

- Pro Team: Buffalo Bills

- Hobbies: woodworking, painting cars and motorcycles, machine work, cooking, hunting
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