Published 3:06 pm Saturday, November 5, 2016
After traveling nearly 3,000 miles around the country of France it is apparent Scott Randall Rhodes is becoming a French icon. Crowds go wild with excitement when they know “Oncle Scott” will be in the house. They clamor for his autograph, and in a quite unassuming and humble voice, Rhodes says there have even been some who have wanted him to place his signature on their body.
Rhodes, who is a hair stylist and singer song writer, has just recently returned stateside after his three and a half week tour of the European country, where he performed country music and visited the 17 restaurants that bear his name and face.
“Laurent Marie said he wanted to make me the most famous uncle in France, and he is slowly making me a very famous uncle,” Rhodes laughed.
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The first Oncle Scott’s Restaurant opened in 1998 and for the past 18 years has grown to 17 restaurants with that number rising to 30 by the end of next year and 50 by the year 2020.
“They are really catching on,” Rhodes said.
Oncle Scott’s features a French/American cuisine with many of the restaurant themes geared around western décor.
Rhodes’ road to notoriety ironically began after a chance meeting with Marie in 1996 — one that both men have called destiny.
Rhodes had stopped to dry his car off after a washing and Marie was lost and sick.
“When I first met him he had been to Marshall Texas and he was at a rest stop near Bovina,” Rhodes said.
“His car was loaded down with all kinds of western memorabilia, like road signs and there was a set of Texas longhorns, and of course I saw them in his car and asked him if he was a collector. He said ‘no, I am going to open a bar called Le Tennessee in Cherbourg France, and I want authentic decorations for this bar.’ Well I said oh, I sing country music and he said, ‘well you have to come and sing for my grand opening.’”
Rhodes said this was the beginning of the men’s nearly 20-year friendship and one that Marie has called as le destin — or destiny.
Rhodes’ wound up inviting Marie to his home that day and the Frenchman stayed for three days.
Before returning back to France, Rhodes promised Marie he would come visit him at his home in France and perform at his bar.
That promise came to fruition later in the year, but not without fate still in play.
Rhodes had originally been scheduled to fly on the ill-fated TWA flight 800, but because a friend who was accompanying him on the trip, suggested they take an earlier flight to have more time in France, Rhodes changed their itinerary and made it safely to his destination and was able to perform at Marie’s bar.
Months later after returning home, Rhodes moved to Nashville to continue with his music and songwriting, and Marie once again made a visit to the U.S. with his wife and the couple made a visit to Rhodes at his new home.
Rhodes said he took the couple to a little restaurant called Uncle Bud’s Catfish cabin, and this was the catalyst that inspired Marie to open Oncle Scott’s.
“It was rustic in theme and that kind of planted an idea, so he went back to France and called me about a month later and said, ‘I have a business proposition for you. I want to make you the most famous uncle in all of France.’ Of course I was flattered and then he said of course I have no money, but I want to use your face and your name, and I will give you a small percentage ownership and when things are better I can do more,’” Rhodes said.
Each of the Oncle Scott’s Restaurants has its own little theme and a sculpture of Rhodes on the wall.
Most are decorated with a western style, Rhodes said.
“The French are still fascinated with our old west and still air “Gun Smoke” there,” he said, adding the country has a line dance organization with more than 600,000 members.
“It is not unusual for them to organize a dance and have a 1,000 or 2,000 people show up to do a night of line dancing,” Rhodes said.
All of the Oncle Schott’s Restaurants have a place for line dancing and one also has a 22-lane bowling alley.
“It’s our biggest restaurant and seats 350 people.”
During the tour, Rhodes said he and the crew would usually arrive at the restaurants around 5 p.m. A stage would be set up and then he would meet the owners and staff and at 7 p.m. have dinner.
Shows would usually begin around 8:30 p.m. with everything winding down around midnight, he said.
Rhodes said he and the crew would break everything down and pack up and drive until 6 in the morning.
Once stopped, they would sleep until noon and then drive to the next stop and begin all over again.
Rhodes said it was the people that were the highlight of the tour.
“Mississippi has got such a great grasp on hospitably and they are right there with it. Contrary to most things you hear about the French they have been very far from that with me,” Rhodes said.
One of the most touching incidents while on tour Rhodes recalled occurred following his last performance.
“It happened to fall on what would have been my Dad’s 93rd birthday. I was real emotional that day and at the end of the night, Marie got on the microphone and shared with the audience that the day had been difficult for me. He told them it was the last day of the tour and it was my Dad’s birthday and then he said, ‘let’s show him some French solidarity,’ so they started playing the Star Spangled Banner and everybody stood up and clasped their hand over their heart and stood at perfect attention and looked at me. I can’t tell you, besides my own crying eyes, how many people stood there and cried. It was a moment I will never ever forget.
“And then after that he (Marie) handed me a book in which he had been collecting messages from many of the people I had met during the tour.”
Rhodes said it would be a gift he will always treasure.
In 2001, Rhodes said Oncle Scott’s was named the number one company in a national contest for a new concept.
“It won out over 600 entries,” he said, and in February of 2017, Oncle Scott’s Restaurant will be featured on France’s second largest TV network, M6.
“They filmed us on tour and visited some of the restaurants, and we are going to be highlighted on a show called ‘Capitol’ that comes on Sunday nights. Capitol is a series that has a viewing audience of 3 to 5 million people, and on this episode they chose three French companies who have American themes,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes shared some interesting statistics about Oncle’s Scott’s Restaurant.
“In 2016, we served around 800,000 meals, and it will be over a million by next year. There are currently 3,200 chairs and by February there will be more than 4,000, he said. This year the restaurants have served 450,000 pounds of French fries, 20,000 bottles of wine — 45 percent of those are American, 70,000 liters of beer, 23,000 pounds of ribeye steak, 230,000 hamburgers and 66,000 pounds of chopped steak. The restaurants also use American brand products, which include Coca-Cola, Sprite, Nestea, Budweiser, Gallo, Tabasco and Jack Daniels.
Although Rhodes said he is not a millionaire, he did say his percentage of the business would allow for a nice retirement.
Currently Rhodes and the original investors own 51 percent of the business and franchisees own the remaining 49 percent.