A new restaurant recently opened its doors in Martinsville and has already amassed a loyal following. The new steakhouse, which features smoked and grilled wings, ribs, and burgers in addition to several steak options, opened on July 2 and has stayed busy ever since, according to owner Clifton Barrow, a Martinsville native.
Roosky’s Bar & Grill has long been a dream of Barrow, a native of the Martinsville-Henry County area, though not for the reasons you might expect.
“It’s not about food or selling food,” he said. “It’s about people. Every table is different. I’m a people person, and you have to be able to relate to each one of those tables on a personal level, so it’s very dynamic. It takes a special person to be able to make that relationship with each individual table because there can be two completely opposite tables right next to each other. But it’s good to see them smile and enjoy the food too.”
He said he initially tried to open a restaurant shortly after leaving the military but discovered that, at the age of 23 and with little capital for the venture, “it just wasn’t possible.”
Barrow graduated Magna Vista High School in 2007 and joined the Marine Corps, serving in Iraq for most of 2009. The name of his restaurant takes its name from his time in the military.
“My Navy corpsman, he’s from Mississippi, had a habit of putting words on top of words,” Barrow explained. “My last name is Barrow, but he called me Baroosky, and Baroosky got shortened to Roosky over time.” That name now adorns the doors of the building at 54 West Church Street.
After leaving the military, Barrow said he moved to Daytona, FL, where he earned a B.S. in aviation maintenance and safety science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. While there, he also managed a Buffalo Wild Wings and an Olive Garden while in school full-time and raising two daughters.
“All that prepared me for this, because if you can manage all of those things, a restaurant, once everything is going, is definitely difficult but still doable,” he said.
In 2016, he went to work for Honda Aircraft in Greensboro, then moved home to Martinsville in 2020, working for Georgia-Pacific as a safety manager. He said he made the decision to return to the area to be closer to family.
Barrow said he decided to make another attempt at a restaurant again a few years ago. “I looked at the old Dairy Queen building in Laurel Park, then COVID hit,” he recalled. He decided that, once again, he would need to put his dream on hold.
That pause proved to be an opportunity, as Barrow used the time to enroll in the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce’s Startup small business program, which Barrow said proved incredibly helpful.
“There were a lot of things that I didn’t even think about prior to Startup. It really laid a good foundation for me to ask certain questions and to look into certain resources that I wouldn’t otherwise have looked into or known about. Just the knowledge alone is worth the time,” Barrow said.
Eventually, he said, “COVID wound down, this building presented itself as an opportunity, and I didn’t have any choice but to jump in.”
Barrow said he decided on a steakhouse because, “based on the demographics in the area, that’s what was missing. We’ve got a couple of BBQ places, but no place that really sells a good steak, so that was the focal point of the menu—high-quality meats and steak.”
He built the menu with Roosky’s General Manager and longtime friend, Jeremy Phillippi, who had long shared Barrow’s restaurant dream.
Phillippi said he had been in the restaurant business since the age of 18, moving into restaurant management at the age of 21. “I hired Clifton as a busboy when he was 16-years old,” he recalled. “That’s how we got to be friends. He told me at that point that he had a vision, that he was going to have a restaurant, and here we are.” Phillippi said the friends sat down and wrote a menu for their dream restaurant several times over the years.
Beginning in Nov. 2021, the pair spent 8-months renovating the space, which Barrow rents from property owner Tim Martin. “Tim has been awesome to work with,” Barrow said. Barrow left his job at Georgia-Pacific in January to focus full-time on his new endeavor, going six-months without a paycheck as he worked to open the restaurant he had dreamed about for much of his adult life.
The restaurant is divided into two parts by a wall. On the back side of that wall, farthest from the entryway, is the bar area. Barrow said he liked the space both for its size as well as the ability it offered to serve family diners as well as those looking for a bar or late-night atmosphere.
“Families can go in on one side and never have any interaction with the bar,” he said, “which makes some families comfortable, they feel comfortable bringing their children here.”
The layout, he said, is a different approach than many other local restaurants. “Most of them, the bar is the focal point of the restaurant,” he noted. On nights when those bars are showing Sunday Night Football or another sporting event, “the sports fans get loud, and it carries over into the dining part.”
Leading up to the opening, Barrow said Roosky’s encountered the same staffing issues that have plagued many businesses since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, though he attributes his issue more to a lack of time than a lack of willing employees.
“Our opening date was very up in the air” because of uncertainties with when various licenses, permits, and even food supplies would arrive, Barrow said. He did not want to offer someone a job then keep pushing their start date back because the business was not ready to open.
Now, however, the restaurant is fully-staffed with 49 employees on the payroll. “Once word got out that we’re open and we’re busy,” employees came onboard, he said.
Both Barrow and Phillippi agree that how they treat their staff is central to how they run their business.
“You’re only as good as your people,” said Barrow. “If you don’t have good people, you don’t have anything. Our management style is probably different than some other places. I’ve got an open door policy—anybody can come to me with any problems they have, and I’ll take care of it. Respect is a big thing. We can disagree, but we’ve got to respectfully disagree. That’s been hand-over-fist beneficial because people realize, ‘I can say what I want to say but I’ve got to be respectful about it.’”
“Our people are our people,” Phillippi said. “We want everyone to be happy at work,” rather than just coming in to collect a paycheck. “They say that if you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life.”
With licenses, permits, and much of the staff in place, Roosky’s opened to the public on July 2 following two soft openings. The community response, Barrow said, has been overwhelming. The restaurant has run out of many menu items more than once but, Barrow said, “it’s not because we ordered the same amounts each time, we increased our order, but we had more people.
“Me being a local hometown boy that everybody knows, they’ve done nothing but be supportive,” he said. “Even on our rougher nights, everybody’s been patient and understanding and it’s only gotten better since then. I’ve had some people come in two or three times every week since we’ve been open because the food quality’s there. At first, it took a little longer to get the food out, but now our ticket times are down and we’re where we need to be.”
Phillippi, who is charged with running the back-of-house part of the business, said that getting procedures mastered in the kitchen was a speedbump the new business encountered upon opening.
“It’s easier when you don’t have anybody barking down your neck,” he said, then, once open, “suddenly you’ve got a bunch of people and you realize, ‘I’ve got to speed up on this. I can’t just take my time and make it look pretty, I’ve got to make it look pretty but I’ve got to rush.”
Numerous times over the years, Phillippi recalled, the two friends sat down to write a menu for their dream restaurant.
The current menu includes a number of steaks, ribs, wings, and burgers—the build your own burger and the smothered hamburger steak are quickly becoming some of the restaurant’s most popular menu items, Barrow and Phillippi said—they sell more than 50 hamburgers each day, on top of their smothered burger steak sales. Barrow said they plan to add some signature burgers to the menu in the near future.
Overall, Barrow describes his relationship with Phillippi as yin and yang—the two balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
It seems that, in Roosky’s, the two have found a recipe for success, as even at 3 p.m. on a Friday, as the pair shared their story, several diners were enjoying a meal and other servers were talking about taking a break before the restaurant became busy later that evening.
However, the two are not yet done.
“There are definitely some growth opportunities here,” Barrow said, adding that eventually, they hope to offer a low-country boil at one of the larger tables in the back of the restaurant for those who reserve the table 4 to 5 days in advance. He envisions the boil spread out on butcher paper that covers the table.
“That’s an experience,” Barrow said, smiling at the thought. “People will come here for that experience.
Roosky’s is located at 54 West Church Street in Martinsville. For more information, including open days and hours, find Roosky’s Bar & Grill on Facebook.