Article by Kathie Springer, Pictures by Elena Boyce
It was a quiet Friday night in Sandbridge. With the tourist season weeks away, the streets were void of the normal hustle and bustle of summer traffic. We were on our way to meet the owner of the Baja, a local Sandbridge restaurant. Entering the restaurant we noticed that life, absent from the streets of Sandbridge, was flourishing inside the Baja. It was all there, in the lively laughter of the customers at the bar and the animated discussions at the tables. Sandbridgers gathered inside and outside admiring the beautiful sunset and the sound of live music. We are Behind the Business with Jimmy Reeve.
Jimmy Reeve, just a Sandbridge visitor in his early days, is now a major contributor to the Sandbridge community. He is the owner of the Baja Restaurant. On a warm summer evening at the Baja, you will find yourself listening to the band play in the Bayview Lounge while relaxing on then expansive grass courtyard watching the most amazing sunsets over the bay. It’s a favorite gathering place for Sandbridge residents and summer visitors. We wondered how an environmental engineer by trade, ends up as the owner of one of the most beloved places in Sandbridge.
If you ask Jimmy, he’ll probably answer, “by way of Costa Rica”. We were intrigued too. It seems years ago, as an environmental engineer, he was looking for something fun and exciting. He found himself investing in a lodge in Costa Rica. Working the lodge during his visits, Jimmy started to enjoy the rewards and demands of the hospitality venue.
About that time back in Sandbridge, the owner of the Baja was ready for a change. Jimmy and Doug Wilkins came to an agreement and Jimmy became the General Manager of the Baja. Jimmy found his passion at the Baja. He also found that beautiful sunset view after cutting down the weeds in the small courtyard. A few years later, Jimmy approached Doug again, this time with a buyout request. Another deal was struck and Jimmy was the owner of the Baja.
In an effort to make the Baja more inviting to residents and visitors, first he gutted the inside to create a better flow. Next he added a dodgeball court to the now expansive courtyard. Lastly, he attacked the Bayview Lounge, with new bathrooms, a stage and a larger dance floor. The Baja now fulfills the need of an open gathering space for Sandbridge families, both residents and visitors. It’s a place not only to dine, but also to relax and enjoy.
Jimmy approaches the operations of the restaurant from an engineering standpoint. Does he have the right product, at the right place at the right time? “A restaurant could be like a factory”, Jimmy says, but he realizes that it also has to be a friendly comfortable environment to bring people back. “There’s nothing more personal than serving a meal. It may be something everyone has to have, but they get to choose how they want to have it.” At the Baja, Jimmy has fulfilled his aspiration of a personal family friendly atmosphere.
Not only is the Baja family friendly to its guests, the staff is almost on its third generation of employees. Sandbridgers that worked at the Baja, now have their kids working there. And some of those “kids” are married now and their kids are almost working age. Jimmy expects they too will join the family tradition of working at the Baja. The families of Sandbridge entrust their kids to work at the Baja. For many of them, this is their first job. They go on to college and come back to work the summer months. They work here prior and in between jobs. As Jimmy put it, “the Baja is not just serving a steak or a hamburger or fish sandwich. It’s truly woven into the community.”
Woven into Jimmy’s DNA is a need to get involved. Whether it is a mission trip for two of his employees or the City Council, when he sees an opportunity to help the community, he takes it. Every Thursday, he donates ten percent of food sales to the mission trip. Going one step further, Jimmy is also raising money for the mission group to build a home while they are in Nicaragua. The home will be donated as a gift from the entire Sandbridge community. He also gives back to the Sandbridge community by working with the Sandbridge Beach Civic League to host many of their events. Jimmy even dabbled in politics.
Back in 2002 through 2006, Jimmy ran and won a seat on the Virginia Beach City Council. “It was probably the most rewarding but the most eye-opening four years of my life”, Jimmy says. He became involved when he was unhappy with the way some local issues were proceeding. During his tenure, the City Council completed safety improvements on Sandbridge Road, created the land plan for the Transition Area, addressed Oceana Encroachment and designed the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
With all of his responsibilities, one would never think Jimmy could possibly have the time to take his family on a 4-month tour of the world, or go back to Costa Rica to work in the lodge, or serve as President of the Sandbridge Beach Business Association. Yes, Jimmy has adopted Sandbridge as his community and we are proud to have him as one of our own. So, as we leave the life inside the Baja behind, for the quiet streets of Sandbridge, we take one last look at the beautiful sunset knowing that Jimmy will take care of it or make it better for the next time we are here.
Find the Baja Restaurant website here