An EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011, and at least two businesses, one a hometown favorite for almost 20 years, have yet to reopen one year later.
When driving to Joplin, Mo. on the one-year anniversary of the devastating tornado, I decided that I would treat myself to dinner at Jim Bob's Steaks & Ribs after taking photographs of businesses along S. Range Line Road and getting an interview with someone at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP).
I took photographs but neither of the other two goals came to pass. I had assumed that, like many businesses on S. Range Line, Jim Bob's and IHOP would have reopened by now. These two restaurants are particularly important to me, but for different reasons.
Last year, when I first drove on S. Range Line Road only two weeks after the EF-5 tornado reaped utter destruction upon Joplin, one of the damaged buildings seemed to draw me to it. From the outside, it was impossible for me to tell what business it used to be. I decided to get a closer look, so I parked my car in an area free of debris and walked toward the building. You can see what I saw by looking at the photos below.
Inside the devastated IHOP restaurant on S. Range Line Road. Joplin, Mo. June 5, 2011
On May 22, 2012, I was disappointed to see that the IHOP had not been reopened. But, construction was going on. I spoke to the construction foreman, Lorenzo Soto, of Southfork Construction out of San Antonio, Tx., who told me that he fully expects IHOP to reopen in early August.
IHOP, seen on left, is under construction. Joplin, MO May 22, 2012.
Due to liability issues, I was not allowed to enter, or take photographs inside, the building. Soto also noted that it was a mess inside. I assured him that nothing could be worse than what I saw this time last year.
Inside the IHOP on S. Range Line. Joplin, MO June 5, 2011
It was, however, what I saw almost directly across the street from the IHOP that caused my heart to sink. Or, more appropriately, what I didn't see. The site of Jim Bob's Steaks & Ribs was empty and bleak. The building was gone and the only thing remaining was a broken restaurant sign. A "For Sale by Owner" notice was posted.
Site of Jim Bob's Steaks & Ribs on S. Range Line. Joplin, MO May 22, 2012
The thing is, Jim Bob's has been at that location since 1992. And, it really was a special place. The food was beyond good, the atmosphere was fun and interesting, and the service...well, customers were made to feel right at home. The last time I ate at Jim Bob's was a few years ago, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to take a few pictures. I'm glad I did.
It was sad enough to know that Jim Bob's didn't make it to its 20th anniversary, but to see that the site is for sale was just heartbreaking. So, in order to find out for certain about the fate of Jim Bob's, I called a number listed on the "For Sale" sign. A woman answered and we started talking about how much we like Jim Bob's and if it has a future or not. The woman said, "We're working on getting another property and hopefully we'll know something this week. It's just taking longer than we thought." As it turns out, the woman on the other end of the line was Stacey Gamble, the owner of Jim Bob's Steaks & Ribs.
Gamble said there had been a lot of obstacles to rebuilding on the same site, but she is determined to rebuild somewhere in Joplin mostly because "I miss my customers," she said. Gamble, who was practically raised in the restaurant, said there were many customers who "came every day" to eat and had "become family."
As noted on its website, Jim Bob's Steaks & Ribs has been "Joplin's Best Steak House - Voted 4-States Favorite year after year." The "4-States" are Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and my home state, Arkansas. It goes without saying that Jim Bob's customers, family, miss it, too, and are anxiously awaiting the return of the restaurant.