By Todd Thompson
When patrons first step inside Coach’s Steakhouse in historic downtown Tuscumbia, they are immediately taken back to days past – classic exposed brick walls, beautiful wood staircases and a historic feel.
But they won’t find walls filled with tributes to athletes and teams from the area.
“I like history and I don’t want the restaurant cluttered,” says owner Rickey Johnson, who spent 36 years in coaching with stops at Mount Hope, Hazlewood, Hatton and Muscle Shoals. “I wanted it to look good. I don’t want anything to take away from the history of this building.”
The only sports memorabilia in the restaurant currently is a large photo of Detroit Tigers’ legend Heinie Manush, a native of Tuscumbia who became the first Alabamian to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“This is a very historic building. The architect that did the remodel said it was built around 1805,” Johnson says. “There aren’t many restaurants in the state of Alabama that can say their building is that old. Helen Keller’s parents had a place here at one time, so she walked through those doors – doors that are original to the building. It has a lot of big-time plusses for people that like history. It has a little bit of everything.”
Johnson, who opened his first Coach’s restaurant in the Hatton community in Lawrence County, saw an opportunity when a previous restaurant at the location closed. He wanted to be a part of the town’s downtown thriving historic district.
Coach’s is dedicated to grilling “one steak at a time” and offers a wide selection of hand-cut meats, including filet mignon, top sirloin and ribeyes. Diners can also take Johnson’s recommendations for the Championship (New York) Strip or a Coach’s Choice sirloin.
Steak may be the top choice, but the full menu offers chicken, seafood, burgers and appetizers, including barbecue nachos and bacon cheese fries. It is one of the few restaurants in the area to offer a full salad bar stocked daily with fresh items.
A coach’s tradition
For Johnson, the menu is all about giving guests the best dining experience possible. And he knows plenty about being the best. A member of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, Johnson won state football championships in 1990, 1991, 1992 and in 2000. He wrapped up his coaching career as a middle school coach in Muscle Shoals, where he coached the children of several of his former Hazlewood players.
“I always felt like it took me about 20 years of being a coach before I felt I earned the right to be addressed as ‘Coach,’” Johnson says.
Johnson didn’t just step into the food service industry after retirement without any experience. He operated a convenience store in Hatton for 25 years while teaching and coaching. He made the move to the restaurant business several years ago and never looked back.
“My goal is to meet every customer one on one,” Johnson says. “We do it one steak at a time and one customer at a time. I’ll come to the table and introduce myself. They come for eating, though. They appreciate a personal handshake. If I stay too long, it’s just a part of being young and dumb in the business.”
Johnson brings the same type of focus, dedication and preparation that he taught his football teams to the restaurant business. And the longtime football coach stresses teamwork every day when the doors open.
“Every night, I talked to the staff about doing our best, giving our best effort,” Johnson says. “It was kind of like a pep talk. I got energy off of them and I think they got energy off me. The restaurant business is real fast and I was used to the fast pace in coaching. It was kind of tailor-made for me.”
And when it’s game time, Coach Johnson is ready to serve up one delicious steak at a time.
“When you have a crowd in here, you’ve got to be pumped up,” Johnson said. “It’s just like it is a football game. It’s time to step up and show out. When it’s time to go, you have to be ready to go. That’s our job, to make sure people can trust us to give them a great meal in a great atmosphere.”
200 S. Main St., Tuscumbia, AL 35674
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Hours: Closed Monday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday