Aiken restaurateur 'EJ' Jones dies at 72

Elvin Jones: 72-year-old restaurateur founded the popular restaurant in 1978 and worked long hours until his death Saturday.

 

 

Aiken restaurateur Elvin Darsey "EJ" Jones, who was known for his personal touch at his establishment, EeJay's, died Saturday. He was 72.

Jones opened the restaurant, known for being family friendly and having a fun, intimate atmosphere, in 1978. Though he graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in accounting, his roots to the restaurant business stretched back to growing up in McRae, Ga., where his family owned a small country diner.

He originally worked as an accountant for RMS Inc., which operated Shoney's and Green Jacket restaurants. His work as a restaurant manager began when he took over a Shoney's branch that was struggling and managed to turn it around.

Jones' success could be traced to his people skills and attention to detail, said his son Elvin "Butch" Jones Jr.

"I think he enjoyed the food aspect of it," he said. "I think in later years he really enjoyed the extended family. His employees and customers became a part of him."

Good food and good service were important staples, said son Lee Jones, who managed the restaurant with his father.

"The (restaurant) design is pretty old school. He always told us if the food is right and the service is right, they're going to come back," he said. "He wasn't so concerned with modernizing as making sure about the quality of what people had."

His father was still working 60- or 70-hour weeks up until his death, Lee Jones said.

"We all considered him more like a dad than a boss most of the time," said restaurant manager Sissy Luke, who has worked at EeJay's for 22 years. "But when the time came and he needed to be boss, he was the boss."

Jones will be remembered by patrons for the personal connections he made, Luke said.

"He talked to everyone who came through the door. Ninety-nine percent of his customers knew him personally," she said. "That's what most people came back for was him."

He was preceded in death by his wife, Donna Lee Hurst Jones, who was his partner in the business.

Jones was caring and always put his wife and children first, his sons said. Despite his long hours at work, he never missed any sports competitions or events, Lee Jones said.

"He was the most giving person that I ever knew," he said. "Even when he didn't have anything to give, he gave."

Jones was a Navy veteran and a member of St. John's United Methodist Church. In addition to his sons, he is survived by a granddaughter, Kaylee Jones of Aiken; a sister, Kathryn Batchelor of Chapin, S.C.; and a brother, Robert Jones of Locust Grove, Ga.

A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. John's United Methodist in Aiken, and the family will receive friends from 6-8 p.m. Monday at Shellhouse Funeral Home, 924 Hayne Ave. in Aiken.