Photos by Anna Goodson
It’s been a team effort for us for sure,” laughed Julie Koestler, co-owner of Shapley’s Restaurant. Julie and her husband, Scott, have owned and operated the Jackson staple for the past 18 years. The restaurant celebrates its 31st anniversary this June. With the Koestlers running the business for nearly two decades, it’s an opportune time for them to reflect on the impact it’s made on their lives.
“The first five or six years we were married we worked together six days a week,” said Julie. “Some people probably couldn’t do that, but we enjoyed it. We both have a good sense of humor and laugh a lot – that, I believe, was the glue that held us together.”
Scott graduated college in 1992 at the ripe age of 22 and was in need of experience for culinary school. He decided to get his feet wet by working in the kitchen at Shapley’s. By the time he had been there a year, he was managing the kitchen and soon after, the entire restaurant. “One day sitting in the office, I asked the previous owner, ‘When are you going to sell Shapley’s to me?’” said Scott. “Shortly after that, and almost 18 years ago, in July of 1998, I bought Shapley’s.”
“When I really let the fact that we have owned Shapley’s for 18 years sink in, well, I kind of feel old,” said Julie with another laugh. “I feel like it was only five or six years ago that we had a pack-and-play with a baby in the front of the restaurant, next to the desk, hoping the busboys wouldn’t wake it up with the vacuums. [Our kids] are all teenagers now, so that really hits home.”
The couple says it was a big risk starting out. Even in 1998, Shapley’s had already been established as one of the area’s finest steak restaurants. Scott says his priority was to stay true to the Shapley’s way, and only make changes that would be positive for their guests. “Our goals were to keep the great food and service of Shapley’s the same,” said Scott. “Changes included upgrading our grade of beef, some cosmetics and creating one of the strongest wine programs in the state.”
Scott and Julie did just that. Since 2001, Shapley’s has repeatedly appeared on Wine Spectator magazine’s Award of Excellence list, and in 2009 it was the only Jackson restaurant to be awarded the “Best of Award of Excellence” for showing depth and breadth of vintages.
While the awards and features are appreciated and give a well-deserved nod to all the hard work poured into Shapley’s, the Koestlers say there are more important treasures than the accolades – the people. “Our greatest accomplishment has been serving customers for over 30 years,” said Scott. “Every year, day, steak, customer... every clean plate, knife, fork, spoon and glass are significant. We’ve survived 30+ years in an industry where 90% of all new businesses fail in their first year. We’ve seen many come and go, and it’s a great feeling to have worked really hard with our staff to become one of the cornerstones in the Jackson area restaurant scene.” But really, to the Koestlers, Shapley’s has been more than a business; it has become an integral part of their family. “It seems so long ago that we would tell people we were trying to have kids for cheap labor, kidding of course,” joked Julie. “But now two of the three have been working at the restaurant for a couple of years, and the third will start this summer.”
They also say in a way, the restaurant has extended their family, as they’ve built genuine relationships with their customers. “Over that past 30+ years we’ve seen some of our customers have children and then grandchildren,” said Scott. “I hope for continued success, so that in the future, we can feed their great- grandchildren.”