Owner, A Social Affair, operator of Oscar's
At Oscar’s at the Museum, Jim Cobb successfully combines his passions for food, music, and historic and cultural preservation. Jim opened his first restaurant, Diamond Jim’s, at the ripe age of 22. With a turn-of-century theme and prime location on downtown Birmingham’s newly revitalized Morris Avenue, Diamond Jim’s quickly became a local hot spot in the mid-1970s. Jim soon spread that knack for creating a unique culinary experience to his port city hometown with Trinity’s of Mobile, a restaurant and jazz club, again in a historic downtown location.
Over the years, Jim has managed several celebrated restaurants in Birmingham and Mobile, but most will recognize him as the owner of the popular catering company A Social Affair, located in Mountain Brook for 24 years. “The catering business is built on trust,” Jim says. “And we’re bringing that same kind of relationship to Oscar’s at the Museum.”
Along with the decades of experience in food business that Jim brings to the Museum, he also upholds the belief that, at the end of the day, it’s about the food. “I love to cook and to eat,” he says. “I have to admit that I’m really a red meat guy. I love the grill.” Jim’s commitment to fresh, local ingredients will be reflected in every Oscar’s menu, including some fresh-smoked meats that he’ll prepare himself. “I’m excited about bringing new and different energy to the Museum,” Jim says. “There’s great momentum in downtown Birmingham right now. I started in downtown, and now I’m back.”
When you see Krystal Cobb busily preparing Oscar’s for another day of managing the staff and serving customers, you’d never know that she wasn’t a born restaurateur.
The fact is, however, that she spent most of her time in a completely different field – broadcast media sales – before joining husband Jim and twin sons at Oscar’s.
“I started out being an announcer on radio, then the opportunity for sales came open and I begged for the opportunity to move over into sales,” Krystal says. “That was really where I thrived. I sold radio advertising for probably 25 years. I really thought I would retire in the media industry. But over the years as many things do, it really changed and I didn’t have the passion for it in the end that I did in the beginning.”
She tried her hand at television, taking on big advertising accounts, and doing so successfully. But still, she wanted a change. The right thing came along when Jim’s business, A Social Affair, took over management of the Museum’s café.
To anyone watching Krystal tidy up before and after a busy day, arranging tables and chairs, consulting with BMA staff as well as Oscar’s team members, it’s obvious that Krystal takes ownership of her new venture.
“It’s yours,” she says. “You’re working for yourself. You’re trying to grow a business that belongs to your family. Jim sees our business as a legacy,” to be passed on to the next generation, she notes. “Jim is committed to making this perfect for the Museum, so he’s making it a family affair. He has both of his sons working here, now,” Krystal says. He’s grooming both of his sons to take over his business someday.”
Of course, as many couples have discovered, it can be a challenge to work with a spouse. “He is such a perfectionist -- and so am I -- that it’s difficult for him to get out of the businessman mode when he’s around me,” Krystal says. The challenge of two perfectionists in one business is worth it, though, because with Jim’s experience in food service, Krystal feels like she has access to a great resource, and a continual source of ideas to make things better. “It’s fun. I learn a lot from him,” she says. “He knows his business. And he’s very creative.”
Besides that, she added, it would be hard to find a better locale for dining than the Museum provides. “Every day you come into a beautiful setting. It just lifts my spirit,” she says.
Chef, Oscar's at the Museum
Lorrin Rames learned to cook from masters, beginning with his mother when he was just eight years old. His trail to culinary excellence led him to some of the finest hotel kitchens in the country before ultimately delivering him here to Oscar’s. “It’s just something I love doing,” said Lorrin, a native of Kauai, Hawaii.
Lorrin began preparing family meals when he was too little to reach the counter to mix ingredients. He had to climb on a stool and follow the written directions his mom left for him every morning. “I learned by notes from my Mom,” he said. Everyday was like learning a new dish. That’s how I started cooking.”
By the time he was 15, Lorrin was cooking at a local diner in San Diego (the family had moved to be near the Naval base where Lorrin’s brother was stationed). Over four years he learned how to make soup, then the diner’s breakfast menu, then to run the business on the weekends. “I was already in love with the business at that point. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
Going to work at a Sheraton hotel, Lorrin started as a breakfast cook. Within three months, he had filled in on every position in the kitchen, beginning with butcher. Under the tutelage of the Sheraton’s staff, he trained as a sous chef, learned fine dining, banquets, and every aspect of food service, and management. The daily training he received taught him the value of learning on the job. Like a sponge, he soaked up knowledge about the art he loved, and developed a determination to pass on not only the fruits of his skills, but his knowledge as well.
Lorrin moved to Birmingham in 1994 and has cooked at the local Sheraton, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, the Birmingham Country Club, and A Social Affair. It’s the connection he built with A Social Affair owner Jim Cobb that brings Lorrin here to Oscar’s, where he will head a team of three cooks. He looks forward to being a part of something new and different at the Museum with Oscar’s. “I’m excited about being hooked up with the local farmers down here. As a chef, I won’t accept anything but fresh, quality, good products.”