When Jeff Spencer started to sell hot dogs downtown in 2013, he thought it would always be just him and his cart. Six years later, Just Jeff's has become the home of one of Columbia's best places to get burgers and dogs.
"I never intended on being anything more than me standing by a hot dog cart," Spencer says.
In late May, Spencer and his wife, Nicole, are set to open their second location at 510 E. Green Meadows Road, Suite 101, which formerly housed the second location of Carlito’s Cabo. The new spot will include indoor seating, an open kitchen concept, a drive-thru and plans for extended dinnertime hours.
Spencer says the opportunity to open a second location came knocking when a frequent customer approached the pair about the space. After taking a look, they knew it was a perfect fit. They'd long fielded requests from customers for a second location, and now was the time. Although the couple originally hoped to open the second restaurant in April, they're taking some more time to ensure the opening operates smoothly.
Currently, Spencer says Just Jeff's is running between 1,300 to 1,500 tickets during the five hours they are open every day during the week for lunch. The restaurant has become busy, but the team has had four years of experience at their first location to master the serving process. The new launch will be a head-first dive into a full house.
"That's why we're being so concerned about opening the new one is that we have had four years to groom ourselves to be able to serve those amount of tickets," Spencer says. "We don't have that opportunity with the new place; we walk in there, and we're just going to be busy."
Just Jeff's is a meat-lovers dream, and Spencer owes it all to the homemade seasoning he makes every morning. It's on the burgers, the tater tots, the french fries and more. And the community eats it up. Since Just Jeff's announced the second location, other local businesses are clamoring to get in the door. Even Harold's Doughnuts has reached out to Just Jeff's on Facebook, asking if they would ever want to collaborate on a burger with donut buns. Spencer says the proposed idea could become a possibility once the new store is up and running.
Spencer and his wife are big on supporting local businesses as well. He says the overall support from the community is one of the reasons why they're able to open a second store in the first place.
"People want to support local people," Spencer says. "It's important. It's becoming more and more important every day. Support local because that's your neighbor. That's not corporate America; that's the guy down the street who plays baseball with your kids."
If you can't wait for the new location to open in May, head out to 701 Business Loop 70 W. and look for the neon orange Just Jeff's sign. Spencer doesn't want you to miss it.
When he used to sell hot dogs at his cart near the Student Center, he would wear a neon orange shirt so students could find him.
"They would look up and you could see them," he says. "They'd be up there looking and looking. 'Oh, I see a shirt. He's here!'"