Bright Spots: Longtime Rama Jama’s owner retiring. Again

For University of Alabama fans, you could say it’s an end of an era. The man behind the iconic restaurant Rama Jama’s is retiring. Again.

But don’t tell former owner Gary Lewis that’s what he’s doing, even though he sold the restaurant in 2017.

“I don’t like to use that word,” he said.

So let’s just say he’s taking a break after 26 years of serving up some of Title Town’s fan favorites.

“September the 14th, 1996, is when we opened,” Lewis said. “That was a home football game. Probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life.  It was a disaster.”

Despite the opening-day disaster, Rama Jama’s is now a staple for many Crimson Tide fans, and it shows in the decor.

Inside the restaurant located a mere 87 feet from Bryant-Denny Stadium, each wall is covered with nearly three decades of Crimson Tide memorabilia gifted to the establishment Lewis took a chance on.

“I used to have to pursue the pictures,” Lewis said. “When I say pursue, I mean ask the players, ask the coaches, ask the lawyers and everybody else involved. It worked out so well, but it took a few years to catch on and then after that, they came to me. ‘Hey, can I put my picture on the wall?’ That made it really nice because I was not the pursuer anymore, I was the pursued.”

But the Crimson Tide memories aren’t the only unique items in Rama Jama’s.

“We have some novelty items on our menu,” Lewis said. “We have an 18-ounce burger that is obviously for the 18 National Championships. We have a BLT with 18 strips of bacon, obviously for the 18 National Championships. Football has been a really big deal for us here.”

Rama Jama’s became even more famous in 2007 when Nick Saban landed in Tuscaloosa. It was a match made in football history, you could say, because Saban and Lewis look a whole lot alike.

“I don’t see it,” Lewis said. “But if it helps me sell a hamburger, I was OK with using that as a way of marketing my restaurant. If you are right across the street from Bryant-Denny Stadium and you favor Nick Saban, why not use it?”

And would you believe that in the nearly three decades he’s been in the shadow of Bryant-Denny Stadium, Lewis has never been to an Alabama football game?  He may not have been inside the stadium, but he’s certainly heard many a Crimson Tide victory.

“To have 102,821 people screaming your name at the end of the football games every time we played football was a big deal to me that kept my name out there,” Lewis said. ” ‘Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer Give ’em hell Alabama.’ ”

There’s a lot of things Gary Lewis hopes his customers have taken away from Rama Jama’s over the years, including good food, a close-up look at Alabama football and the desire to come back for more.

“Those kinds of things were important to me,” Lewis said. ” I hope they will remember me for making them feel welcome, not just coming in as a customer. I tried to make them feel like family. I think it made them feel good that I did that.”

But is he hanging up his apron for good this time?

“Maybe there might be something in the future for us, and if so you’ll be the first to know,” Lewis said.

We’re going to hold him to that.

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