by Bailey White
When James Batteh decided to open the Atrium Cafe in Independent Square, he knew exactly where to turn for advice. His father, Jimmy Batteh, owns the Bay Street Cafe and has been in the restaurant business for 30 years.
“I like food, and I like to feed people,” said Jimmy Batteh, who has owned the Bay Street Cafe since 1990 when he bought and expanded the Blackstone Building shop. James Batteh grew up working with his father in restaurants in San Marco and at the Howard Building.
“I continue to get all my knowledge from my dad,” said James Batteh, who was running a family-owned Loop restaurant when he decided to open his own place.
“I wanted to do something different. Downtown is growing and I think it’s a good time to be here,” he said.
Being close to his father was an added benefit.
Their restaurants are just three blocks away from each other and the two begin and end their days together. James Batteh picks up his father in the morning and Jimmy Batteh ends his day in his son’s restaurant, sometimes spending an extra hour or two while he waits for James to close.
“The Bay Street Cafe closes at 3:30, and I’m out the door at 3:29,” said Jimmy Batteh. “You’re lucky if you leave here [the Atrium] by 5. Sometimes I sit down and fall asleep. I’m up at four in the morning.”
The two speak on the phone several times a day, though there is a dispute as to who calls who.
“I call him on the phone, he’s always busy,” said Jimmy Batteh. “Then he doesn’t call me back.”
Not so, said James Batteh. “I call him five or six times a day.”
The two agree heartily on service, something Jimmy Batteh pays attention to should he eat at another restaurant.
“I can tell by the service if a place is going to last or not,” he said.
“I think it’s about taking care of the customers, giving them what they want,” said James Batteh. “I learned from my dad about working a shop, actually being in front yourself.”
Regulars to the Bay Street Cafe are accustomed to being greeted by Jimmy at the front counter.
“At my shop I greet everybody. I tell them it’s a great day. It’s great every day that I get up in the morning,” said Jimmy Batteh.
And both know how to get into their work.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to keep the business growing. I’ll cook if I need to,” said James Batteh, who used the same philosophy when running the Loop on Beach Boulevard.
Jimmy Batteh’s eyesight prevents him from cooking these days, but he is remembered for a few specialities. He prepared sandwiches and sausage dogs at a grocery store he owned on Market Street in the 1970s.
“My kids used to tell me, ‘Daddy, you’re a good cooker,’ ” he said.
And James Batteh remembers his father’s spaghetti — topped with homemade sauce that took about seven hours to prepare.”
“It was an all day affair,” said James Batteh.
These days Jimmy Batteh spends times with his grandchildren when he isn’t behind the counter. He has two from his daughter Joy, who is a freelance writer.
“They love to come to the restaurant. They spend more time at our house then their own,” he said.
James Batteh said his father also has a passion for learning.
“Dad loves information,” he said. “He is always listening to financial shows and NPR [National Public Radio].”
“I never really liked television, except for ‘60 Minutes’ and ‘Hee Haw,’ when it was on,” adds Jimmy Batteh.
James Batteh stays busy with his six-month-old business.
“I play tennis and I was on a soccer league, but I quit to concentrate on the business. I also do a lot of reading,” said James Batteh.
The Atrium offers catering, and James Batteh is considering extending his hours to include a happy hour.
“A lot of people have been asking about that. I’ve obtained a beer and wine license so that maybe I can do that in the future,” he said.
James isn’t the only Batteh son involved in the restaurant business. His brother Jerry owns a sandwich shop at Shands Hospital.
“There’s an Arabic saying, ‘The baby duck is also a good swimmer,’ ” said Jimmy Batteh. “He’s done a good job. He could probably pass me already.”