Where were you in October of 1997?
If you were in Oxford, you may remember the first days of Ajax Diner—before owner Randy Yates propelled the beloved eatery to rockstar status. Since then, it has topped list after list of “Iconic Southern Restaurants,” covered its walls with dozens of certificates (They’ve won Oxford’s Favorite Soul Food in The Local Voice’s Townie awards every year without fail), and been written about in fancy magazines like Garden & Gun and Southern Living.
Twenty-five years is a long time to keep a restaurant going and still keep up the momentum that has guests lined up outside the door for weekend lunches, dreaming of their catfish plates and Big Easy sandwiches. “The best restaurants are where the owners are there working,” Randy said, when I asked him to share the secret to Ajax’s success.
It’s true. When I eat at Ajax, I have often observed Randy bussing tables alongside his hard-working staff, never too proud to get his hands dirty. I’ve also shared many conversations with him over beers at his own bar, or City Grocery, where he’s likely to go from grumpy ol’ Randy to gleeful friend in the wink of an eye. I know he loves his job, even when it’s tough.
To celebrate, Ajax will have a “25th Anniversary Celebration/Halloween/Prom/Cancelled Christmas Party Hootenanny” on Saturday, October 29. It’s a big mashup of themes in the spirit of making up for lost time. Last year’s Ajax Christmas Party was cancelled after too many people came down with Covid. And, of course, the year prior nobody was partying because of Covid. Three years is too long without a good Ajax throwdown, so start getting your outfit together!
After lunch service ends at 2:30 that Saturday, the restaurant will re-open around 4 pm. The kitchen will not be open, but 20-year Ajax veteran Brandon Atkinson will be serving up box dinners from Boswell’s of Oxford, a local incarnation of his family’s New Orleans Jamaican restaurant. You can expect some delicious jerk chicken, pork, rice, and other island fare.
If you know Randy Yates, you know that he is a die-hard fan of live music, and he’s corralled four amazing bands for the night’s entertainment. Rocket 88, another local icon, will bring their famous juke joint gospel. Eric Deaton, fresh off tour with The Black Keys, will head up his trio. Memphis’ standup bass badass Amy Lavere will make an appearance, and Bark, featuring Tim and Susan Lee and Laurie Stirratt will round out the lineup.
This is guaranteed to be a fun day, rolling into the night. Of course, the Rebels will be playing Texas A&M, and yes it will be on the TVs so you won’t miss any of that action. Because the party is a mashup of several themes, be sure to come in costume or dressed in your best prom attire, Halloween costumes, or Christmas sweaters. Why? Because it’s fun to dress up! Also, there will be prizes. One of the big prizes will be a weekend trip to a cabin in Heber Springs, Arkansas. Another lucky winner will receive a $500 Ajax gift certificate. If that doesn’t get you inspired, well, you probably don’t put hot sauce on your turnip greens, ya square. See you at Ajax!