Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

The Cockeyed Rooster Cafe Story


Great food and good times at “the friendliest restaurant around”

by Rob Lauer

Cockeyed Rooster Cafe Owners Chris and Roxanne Christou on either side of Ruben the Rooster.

Cockeyed Rooster Cafe Owners Chris and Roxanne Christou on either side of Ruben the Rooster.

Roxanne Christou has a story that she loves to tell about her husband, Chris. Several years ago, when the strain of owning a successful restaurant began taking a toll on him, she convinced Chris to step back from it all and to start enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

“He stayed home and became more involved with our kids,” she recalls. “He got to work on a long ‘honey-do’ list of projects around the house. Things were fine for a while. Then one afternoon when I came home, I noticed something odd in the front yard.  The rocks lining the flower beds looked wet, but it hadn’t rained that day. I went for a closer look and discovered that Chris had shellacked all of the rocks in the yard.” She laughs at the memory. “When I asked him why he was shellacking rocks, he had this crazy look on his face. I said, ‘You’re losing your mind. You need to go back to work! Go save yourself!’”

For Chris, going back to work meant opening a new restaurant.

“Food is Chris’s passion,” Roxanne explains. “I remember one morning when our kids asked if he’d make them breakfast: he went all out—eggs, orange juice, homemade waffles with all of these different combinations of toping. I’ll never forget the expression on our daughter’s face when she walked into the kitchen and saw it all. Her eyes nearly popped out! She looked at Chris and said, ‘Dad, all we wanted was a bowl of cereal!’”

Chris’s passion for food might be hereditary. “I have relatives who owned restaurants in Hampton during the 60s and 70s,” he remembers. “My mother worked at one of them part time. I’d go hang out there after school, and when I finished my homework, she’d put me to work peeling potatoes. In college, I worked part time in fast food. I went to VCU and majored in commercial art, but after graduating found out that jobs in that field were few and far between. A friend of mom’s was opening a breakfast restaurant, so she offered me a  job. That gave me hands-on experience in all aspects of the business.” Years later, Chris opened a successful restaurant on the Peninsula.

Now living in Smithfield, Chris and Roxanne set their sights on opening a breakfast and lunch cafe to serve the fast-growing population of Isle of Wight County. “I wanted our place to be the friendliest restaurant around,” Chris reveals; “a place people would want to visit and be in no hurry to leave.” Opening the restaurant became a family affair, and  one of the first orders of business was to find a name for it.

“We were looking for something funky for a name,” Roxanne recalls; “something that would really grab people’s attention. I thought about roosters: they’re small creatures, but they’re forceful and run the show. I was driving with my mom one morning, and I asked her, ‘What do you think of ‘The Cocky Rooster?’ Mom thought for a minute and said, ‘What about the Cockeyed Rooster?’ I nearly wrecked the car! It was perfect!”

A sample of the wide variety of delicious homemade items served daily at the Cockeyed Rooster.

A sample of the wide variety of delicious homemade items served daily at the Cockeyed Rooster.

An artistic friend submitted several logo designs before creating one that the family thought was perfect: a bug-eyed cartoon rooster cock-a-doodle-doing. The public immediately embraced the character of Ruben the Rooster when he appeared on area billboards, inviting them to visit what, in 2016, became Smithfield’s newest destination for breakfast and lunch.

“I wanted our place to be
the friendliest restaurant around;
a place people would want to visit
and be in no hurry to leave.”
—Chris Christou

Evidence of customers’ fondness for Ruben can be seen in the dozens rooster sculptures on display all around the restaurant. “All of them were brought in by customers,” Roxanne reveals. “About once a week, a customer will bring in a rooster sculpture,” Chris adds, “and when we display them, we always attach a tag to them with the customer’s name.”

The Cockeyed Rooster’s inviting atmosphere is a unique blend of down-home-country and upscale urban styles. “We wanted the décor to have something for everyone,” Roxanne explains. “Style-wise, it’s a mix of posh and Farmer Jones.” Given the crowds that flock to the  Rooster daily, the public obviously loves the atmosphere created by recessed lighting, cool sage walls and rustic accents.

But Chris and Roxanne are convinced that it is the food they serve that has made the Cockeyed Rooster the go-to breakfast place in Smithfield. The menu features all of the dishes usually associated with a traditional Southern breakfast, along with specialty items usually found in posh urban eateries.

“Our Eggs Benedict is a favorite,” Chris says. “We have different homemade waffles, as well as gluten-free pancakes and French toast. We make our fresh handmade hamburger patties every morning, along with our fresh-cut French Fries. Our salads are very popular—especially our pecan Dijon salad. And we prepare our own corned beef for Reubens. Our daily lunch specials include my mom’s recipe for meatloaf, baked chicken casserole and, during the winter, homemade chicken and dumplings.” 

“We squeeze our own orange juice, too—which is really rare in most restaurants these days,” Roxanne adds. “We offer vegetarian options. And on our desert menu, we have the best carrot cake in the world—Chris’s mom’s recipe. Our deserts are totally ‘old school.’ We even have bread pudding with lemon sauce.”

Within months of opening, the Cockeyed Rooster became so popular that Chris and Roxanne made plans to expand. Now double its original size, business continues to boom as visitors from cities across the region gladly commute to Smithfield to enjoy delicious food made from scratch, at reasonable prices, served by one of the friendliest wait staffs around, in a welcoming atmosphere that blends the best of country and urban styles. Several local organizations now hold their monthly gatherings at the restaurant. The Cockeyed Rooster also caters private functions both on and off-site. Recently, Smithfield Little Theatre booked the restaurant for an opening night cast party.

In thanks for the public’s support, Chris and Roxanne are dedicated to giving back to the community: they periodically open for dinner, with the evening’s proceeds going to a selected charity or non-profit.

“We want to thank our customers, who have opened their arms to us,” Chris concludes. “We know many of them by their first names because they’ve made this place their second home. Our staff deserves a lot of the credit for that. We set out to make this the friendliest restaurant around. When I walk in every morning and see all those smiling faces, I feel that we’ve done just that.”

The Cockeyed Rooster Cafe

1268 Benn's Church Blvd.
Suffolk, VA 23430