Their hands are full

It is a good thing Amy Bailey is hyper. A person needs to be energized to home-school seven children, read avidly, get all the kids to their activities and somehow manage two restaurants.

Nothing scuffs your knuckles like shucking oysters by hand, said the co-owner of two Rhinehart's Oyster Bars, restaurants bearing her maiden name.

"I'll go to Belair Road and start shucking oysters, and the shuckers will get real nervous. I'll do it bare-handed because I've been doing it so long," she said. "I never really cut myself, but I'd buzz my knuckles a lot. It is usually the hand that is holding the knife. You'll slip and scratch your knuckles."

The employees who are shuckers serve as the unofficial maintenance crew. They've got the task of watching over the walls and tables, which are filled with messages and drawings -- penned, carved and gouged. The writing on the walls is encouraged, though there are frequent touch-ups to remove items that are too explicit. The paint comes out.

"People will get real excited when there's a new wall," Mrs. Bailey said.

The oyster bar on Washington Road was originally a sandwich shop with a residence above it. In the early days, the Baileys could afford only retail appliances, not the commercial kind found in restaurants, and they named their appliances. The big brown refrigerator was Susie, the short freezer was Ralph. (Linda was the microwave.)

Craig and Amy Bailey were married in 1985 after being business partners since meeting in Florida.

"Amy and me are the most motivated nonmotivated people you will ever meet. It is a Catch-22. We love business but it is not the world," Mr. Bailey said. That's why it might be many years before there is a Rhinehart's in Aiken.

Open for two years, the Belair Road oyster bar was designed to resemble the older one. That made it easier, Mr. Bailey said. The original was created over the years, paved with oyster shells.

Mrs. Bailey handles the marketing. Mr. Bailey takes care of the operations and money.

He handles the sports aspects of their children's upbringing. She does the school lessons.

Robert Tankersley has been working for the Baileys for a dozen years. He is one of three general managers and a kindred spirit, having six kids.

"They're wonderful people," he said.

In peak season, there are 170 employees in the restaurants. That dips to 130 in the low points.

A lunch rush at Rhinehart's tests the mettle of the employees.

Mrs. Bailey said that is why other restaurants hire Rhinehart's people when they leave.

"Everybody knows Rhinehart's. They know that if you have been to Rhinehart's, you have got the proper training," Mr. Tankerlsey said.

It is not a top-to-bottom-run business, though.

"We always let our employees create their own improvements," Mrs. Bailey said. "We have all these changes that become different jobs depending on what group made them. It is the waiter's job to make cocktail sauce, but it is the prep cook's job to do all the other sauces."

Even after being in Augusta 27 years, the Baileys have had to become creative in order to keep the restaurants going well in this economy. Monday specials, for example.

"The thing about this economy is that you're busy when you've not supposed to be and slow when you're supposed to be busy," Mrs. Bailey said. "Be ready. Get it when you can get it. And be happy about it."

Seven wonders

Mrs. Bailey shrugs when asked how she handles seven children every day.

"December is so insane. Because you've got recitals, parties, Bible study parties," she said.

The first six children came in nine years; then there was a break before the youngest was born three years ago.

"Now that they're bigger, my kids are self-sufficient. They all cook. The top four know how to iron," Mrs. Bailey said. "Peach, my 15-year-old, she'll do entire meals. Candlelight, and she garnishes the plates."

Campbell, the oldest at 17, takes gourmet cooking classes and works at the restaurants.

They are self-motivated, too. They'll get up and begin doing their schoolwork, she said.

"My kids are big readers. They are faster than me," Mrs. Bailey said. "They've taken speed-reading courses ... Your brain thinks at 70,000 words a minute."

Home-schooling isn't always so orderly.

"A teenager can sit at a table for four hours pretending to work and get nothing done," she said. That's why she has accountability worksheets to keep the kids on task.

Home-school doesn't stay home. There are trips to art class. There are trips to music class. Sports practices are at Warren Baptist Church's leagues.

Mrs. Bailey said she has become a logistics expert.

About 15 years ago, Mrs. Bailey had a Saturday morning radio show and interviewed a guest about home-schooling. She thought the method of tutoring that the guest discussed was powerful enough that nearly anyone could do it.

It is called delight-directed -- lead the children through what they love, which works better than "shoving it down their throat."

"Don't home-school thinking they are going to become docile, obedient. They really become free thinkers," she said.

At their lake home in Thomson, the children use Internet-connected work stations as part of their studies. The oldest children take college board prep testing online, meaning they can take a test and opt out of freshman courses.

Big family equals big expenses. Mrs. Bailey's a bargain hunter.

"Yard sales and pawnshops for my Christmas," she said. "And consignment stores."

Hard work is nothing new to the Baileys.

"We had the sandwich shop, and it was just Craig and I; we couldn't afford any employees," she said. "We had this hand slicer because we couldn't afford an electric slicer."

Opening an oyster

The Baileys' business began as Sub Club Deli sandwich shop 27 years ago.

Then they added a fondue cafe and Rhinehart's coffee house.

"None of it making any money. We still lived upstairs," Mrs. Bailey said. "We had been in business three years. Here we are, working until 4 in the morning. We had shifts taking naps. Up early in the morning to make bread. Up late at night with the coffee house. It was killing us."

The Baileys had seven employees, who all quit. They shut down the three businesses.

"We had always wanted to open an oyster bar," Mrs. Bailey said. "Craig had been in the oyster bar business in Florida."

After some retooling over a Fourth of July weekend, they opened their new restaurant. It was called Rhinehart's Raw Bar. Mrs. Bailey smiled and said the original name raised some ill- conceived notions of what was going on in the restaurant.

"We were getting some real interesting phone calls," she said. "Raw" was changed to "Oyster" on the sign.

Only fancy restaurants in Augusta served oysters back then, she said.

"And then they would be out, or when they get them, they would not be juicy," Mrs. Bailey said. "When we first opened, people would order half a dozen and I would look at them like they were psychotic."

They wanted a casual oyster restaurant. She was from Florida, where eating oysters meant not stopping until you couldn't eat anymore, where every corner had an oyster bar, and those bars concentrated all their money in the food, not the furnishings or ambience.

"To eat oysters, you want them opening in front of you. I'm picky about eating oysters," Mrs. Bailey said.

The Baileys came to Augusta in the summer of 1983. She wanted to see an aunt in Barnwell County, S.C., and Craig was interested in checking out the second-fastest-growing county in the country -- Columbia County.

"Craig is a feasibility genius," she said. "Two of the fastest-growing markets were near Austin (Texas) and west Augusta, Columbia County."

They spent weeks canvassing the area and settled on property on Washington Road. They had only $3,500 to invest.

Mrs. Bailey had gotten a job at the Forest Hill Racquet Club and was staying with her aunt.

Washington Road hadn't exploded with commerce.

"Down where Outback is, there was nothing. There were tumbleweeds blowing around," she said.

The Baileys selected a sandwich shop because it was a cheap way to start a restaurant. They got the land in July and opened on Christmas Day 1983.

It was a memorable day for other reasons. The water pipes froze, so they had to walk to a nearby convenience store to use the bathroom.

"We would get a case of Miller Lite every other week ...," she recalled. "To tell you how safe this neighborhood was then, we used to leave it out on the stoop to cool it."

They bought oysters from Island Seafood in Augusta until they had gotten big enough to arrange for their own supply.

"Our volume increased quickly," Mrs. Bailey said. "We started doing steady advertising. People don't realize you need to keep that up. If you're doing $1 million, next year you've got to spend $1,000 a month in advertising, but people don't want to do that."

She knows marketing. She once spent $14,000 on books one year, and most of them were on that subject.

In the early 1990s, they made an ill-fated expansion to Athens, Ga. They took over an old Western Steer and quickly got swallowed up by the high overhead and expensive gas bill.

"Had a store in Athens for a year. Closed that one quick," Mr. Bailey said.

"Some restaurants make good parking lots," his wife said.

There was a positive to be had from the failure, Mr. Bailey said, and that was bringing the focus back to their Augusta business. It also helped make the Belair Road expansion a success, because they chose to keep the new Rhinehart's resembling the original.

"We won't ever (expand) and hurt the other restaurant again," Mrs. Bailey said.

Business first

After five years of living at their business, they moved into a house in Spring Lakes.

Mr. Bailey had always lived on lakes, beginning with his upbringing in Alaska. The family found land next to Thurmond Lake.

"We ended up buying our next-door neighbor's house and knocking it down," Mrs. Bailey said, to make the chicken coop.

The Baileys were reared in rural areas.

She was born in Perry, Fla., 4,600 miles from her husband's home town of Palmer, Alaska. Their fathers were doctors.

Amy attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, a "sorority girl living off Daddy." She initially sought a degree in dermatology.

"I'd always been really brainy. (My father) had these ideas that I'd marry a doctor or become a college professor," she said. "I got fascinated with business."

She never finished her degree. She met Mr. Bailey, who went to Florida because of his mother's health. The family lived on Finger Lake in Palmer until he was 10 years old. His mother became allergic to volcanic ash, so they moved to Florida.

"Arizona was hot and dry. It didn't work, so we went to Florida, hot and wet," Craig said.

The family settled in the Orlando area.

"My dad told me, You're going to have to work for yourself. You have that personality; you won't be happy working for anybody else,' " Mr. Bailey said. "And he was right."

Well, not right away. While living in Winter Haven, Fla., he bused tables at a supper club and then waited tables and did a stint in fast food.

He went to college in Wyoming, simply because someone walking down the hallway of his private high school handed him an application. He wanted to see what the West was like. When it wasn't cold and snowy, Mr. Bailey played rugby. A broken shoulder slowed his athletic career and led to other pursuits.

"I did a lot on my thumb. I did a lot of hitchhiking while I was in college," Mr. Bailey said. "I went from Laramie to Seattle on $7."

He shoed horses, moved from Wyoming to Texas to Oklahoma. He worked with racehorses before returning to Florida to attend hotel restaurant school at Florida State University.

"He was doing classes on gravies and sauces when the rest of us were in real school," Mrs. Bailey quipped.

The Baileys' first meeting was at a Benigans in Gainesville.

"He walked up to talk to me, and I don't talk to strangers in bars," Mrs. Bailey said. "He followed me home and did doughnuts in front of my house."

Mrs. Bailey was concerned about Mr. Bailey's antics in his car because she was living in a boardinghouse.

"He wouldn't leave until I promised to go to breakfast with him. There was this place in Gainesville called Skeeters Big Biscuits. It is open all night. We ended up talking until 4 in the morning about business. He had been in business for himself. I got real excited about that."

After a few dates, Mr. Bailey said he began to view their relationship in terms of a business arrangement.

"I recognized that she was an intelligent person," Mr. Bailey said. "At that time in my life, I didn't want a social life. I was interested in getting a business going."

He left FSU two courses short of a degree. Those courses were finance and accounting.

"Those are things I learned on my own," Mr. Bailey said. He learned about business feasibility and spotting trends.

The Baileys became business partners and landed in Augusta with the sandwich shop. They admit they never dated in a traditional way before getting married.

He charged her $200 a month rent to live in the apartment above the restaurant. The property was in his name then and he was seeking an income stream.

Mrs. Bailey said she dated other men to make Mr. Bailey jealous.

"Right before Thanksgiving, he says we're going to be down, be closed for a week. We're going to down to Florida to be with our parents. 'I think it would be a good time to announce our engagement.' It was the first word about it," Mrs. Bailey said.

"A lot of people go into marriage with rose-colored glasses. But if you started like we started, scrubbing floors, working seven days a week, you find out real quick what a person is made of," Mr. Bailey said.

Mr. Bailey is "Mr. Outdoors," his wife said, although she said she is as good of a shot as he is.

Mr. Bailey plays tennis and coaches the children in baseball and basketball.

"He's not a nerd reader like me," Mrs. Bailey said. "He's smart like a wolf, perceptive."

Mrs. Bailey is the writer. She said she has written two novels and a few nonfiction books.

She has written articles and a humor series. The articles in restaurant magazines are good ways to vent, she said:

"Restaurant people can't take advice."

Reading and writing are her hobbies.

"I write as fast as I talk, which is fast," she said.

She studies languages and can speak some Mandarin Chinese.

"She learned how hard you have to work to succeed in business," Mr. Bailey said. "You're only as good as yesterday."

Mr. Bailey spends a lot of time on the company books at his office at the Washington Road restaurant. He said he gets to work about four days a week, socially stopping into the other store.

He said he can be a little overbearing, so he works with the general managers on concepts and concerns and lets it trickle down from there. He relies on them to run the business so that he has time to spend with the children.

"I don't hang over people's shoulders. I give them a job and leave them alone," he said.

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or timothy.rausch@augustachronicle.com.

AMY BAILEY

BORN: May 8, 1962, Perry, Fla.

EDUCATION: Attended University of Florida

FAMILY: Husband, Craig; children, Campbell, Peach, Lex, Maddie, Sam, Teal and Jake

HOBBIES: Reading

CRAIG BAILEY

BORN: Dec. 22, 1955, Palmer, Alaska

EDUCATION: Attended Florida State University

FAMILY: Wife, Amy; children Campbell, Peach, Lex, Maddie, Sam, Teal and Jake

HOBBIES: Fishing

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