published Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Curtain Call: Restaurateur likes making people happy

Raw owner Jim Stryker, middle, got a surprise customer a month ago when Wynona Judd stopped by. She returned the next night with her new husband, Michael 'Cactus' Moser.
Raw owner Jim Stryker, middle, got a surprise customer a month ago when Wynona Judd stopped by. She returned the next night with her new husband, Michael 'Cactus' Moser.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

JIM STRIKER

Age: 46.

Hometown: Owensboro, Ky.

Married: Heather, sons Cheyenne and Keaton.

Education: Western Kentucky University.

Vocation: Owner, Raw.

Jim Striker has always wanted to make sure the people around him were having a good time.

He believes it's part of why he gravitated toward the restaurant and bar industry. In college, he and his buddies would rent out venues near the Western Kentucky University campus, bring in a DJ and throw a dance party.

Since moving to Chattanooga to be near his younger brother who was attending UTC, he has worked at such popular, though now defunct, places as David's, Red Square and Yesterday's. In 1995, he opened The Bay and now owns and operates Raw in Jack's Alley.

Striker has also booked hundreds of acts at the places he works and has as much experience in the local entertainment industry as just about anyone else in town.

"It's funny," he said, "but now when someone opens a new restaurant, they talk about me. I guess I'm the old man around -- me and Gary [Milligan at Alan Gold's] and [Mike] Dougher at Rhythm & Brews.

"That seems so weird."

Q: How long have you been in the restaurant/bar business?

A: Since 1985. As a proprietor since 1995.

Q: What was your first?

A: Yankee Doodles in Bowling Green. It was a bar similar to David's -- a restaurant/lounge.

Q: Did you always think this is what you'd be doing?

A: Yeah, I did actually. In high school, I was in Junior Achievement and I was vice president of special events, so I was always the guy that organized everything. It came natural.

Q:Were you that guy in a fraternity also?

A: No. I wasn't in a fraternity, but me and my friend in college threw the parties that kids would go to. We'd rent the National Guard Armory and get a DJ and rent lights and the sound.

Q: What brought you here?

A: My younger brother was going to UTC. When I finished college, I figured I'd have to go be grownup and I hadn't spent much time with him. I took a job at the Sports Barn and I was a fitness director and taught racquetball lessons. Then I worked at David's as a waiter and bartender. Then I did some general work.

A buddy of mine, Larry Didanato, and I went to a casino and we both won a little bit of money and driving back he said, "Do you really want to gamble? We could open a nightclub."

We had booked some shows at Red Square, so it seemed like a good idea.

Q: I thought you had worked in some Brainerd clubs.

A: Yeah, I messed up the timeline here actually. We were doing some stuff at Red Square working for David Jones when we went to the casino. I was also working some for Tim and Johnny Hennen at Yesterday's too.

Q: What was it like working for David Jones? He pretty much was the nightclub scene on Brainerd Road for decades. Was he a mentor?

A: It's funny. He pretty much let me and Scooter King do what we wanted. We booked shows and handed him the money at the end of the night.

As far as a mentor, I looked more up to Tim and Johnny Hennen. And, Denny [Hennen]. It was amazing. Their work ethic was unbelievable. Those guys worked and worked and worked. They did regional touring acts and had a great market.

Larry and I looked around and saw there was a market to bring in national acts, so we opened the Bay (at the corner of King and 11th streets].

Q: It was about three times the size of Yesterday's right?

A: Yeah, it was about 3,000-square-feet and the Bay was 9,000, which gave us the opportunity to bring in national acts.

Q: Who were some of them.

A: Oh man. Gwar, Creed, Candlebox, Wilco, Kid Rock, Nickleback, Master P, Ludacris, Prince, Jewel, Edwin McCain, Sister Hazel. Pretty much any modern rock or hip-hop act played there. We also did some old-school acts like Marshal Tucker, Quiet Riot, George Clinton, Tone Loc, Run DMC.

Q: How many years was it open?

A: From '95 to 2003.

Q: Why did you close it?

A: The current building at 409 Market St. where we are now came available and the 11th Street building sold. It was an opportunity to move to a more commercial area.

Q: If I remember right, you kind of knew because of the status of the building that you were going to have to move eventually, right?

A: Yeah. I felt like in a year or two, I'd have to do something, so the timing was right.

I started Buck Wild as a dance club, because no one had done a dance club downtown in forever. I have changed things up and now I do a DJ upstairs and then started having live music downstairs. I use the same Atlanta crew that Zac Brown writes and plays with to book the acts.

Q: When and why did you change from Buck Wild to Raw?

A: 2009 I think. I wanted to do more sushi and different foods. And, it was just time to change it up.

Q: How big is Raw?

A: 5,000 square feet. 2,500 each floor.

Q: What is your demographic?

A: 21 to 55, surprisingly. Yeah, it's a big variety. As the night progresses, the crowd changes and gets younger.

Q: Over the years, one of the things we've talked about is knowing your demographic. One of the first tell-tale signs of success or failure for a new club owner for me is if they say, "We are going to have good music." That usually means music they like.

A: Yeah. That is the one thing you can't do. You've got to get a paycheck first. You've got to pay bills first. I'm not a huge rap or dance club music fan, but it's played upstairs. I also want customers to have a good time. I tell my staff to treat customers like you want to be treated.

I tell bands the same thing. The history of bands in Chattanooga is the same as clubs. It lasts about two years. I asked them if they are playing for themselves or for the fans. I say, "If you want to play for the fans, you have to learn about 250 songs." That blows them away, but you've got to appeal to your customers and know what the majority want and try to make them happy or you will be playing music for yourself.

Q: What is the biggest challenge being a restaurant/bar owner in Chattanooga right now?

A: Um, parking. Seriously. It's like any downtown business, but I don't think it's too challenging right now. Downtown is just awesome. There is so much to do and so many new restaurants. We've got Nightfall and the Saturday night series [Riverfront Nights]. The city is constantly promoting and that helps everyone.

As far as a business owner, I couldn't be happier.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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