Rojo’s Seafood Express prepares triumphant return.
Published 11:27 am Monday, November 27, 2023
In 2021, Roosevelt Johnson, the culinary mastermind behind Rojo’s Seafood Express, delighted residents of Selma with a menu featuring shrimp burgers, grouper, catfish, flounder, steak or shrimp fries and steak sandwiches – all crafted with his signature homemade seasoned butters. From a humble beginning selling plates out of his home, Roosevelt’s journey led him to own both a food truck and a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
However, Johnson’s journey took an unexpected turn when the global COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing even established businesses to close their doors. As the economy slumped and many people chose to remain at home, Rojo’s Seafood Express was hit hard, closing in 2022.
The entrepreneur said he didn’t always enjoy cooking and credits his mother with fostering his talents.
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“My mother forced cooking on me. While my friends were outside playing basketball and kickball, I was inside learning how to cook and washing the dishes,” Johnson said. “I hated it. I wanted to be outside.”
Roosevelt’s initial reluctance to cook evolved into a genuine passion for creating tantalizing recipes and unique flavor combinations. Having managed restaurants early in his career, he aimed to translate his skills into his own brand. Recognizing a gap in Selma’s culinary landscape, he birthed the idea for Rojo’s Seafood to bring delicious, fresh seafood directly to the community.
Johnson’s sister, Dr. Tina Mitchell, attests to Roosevelt’s drive to feed people and contribute to the community. Mitchell recalled a time after a tornado caused many in the area to lose power and water, that Johnson took to the streets, cooking and handing out hot meals to those in need.
“He’s been cooking on and off for ten years,” Mitchell said. “He says he wants to feed the world. Selma needed a seafood place and he’s always been business minded.”
Jackie Smith, owner of the Selma Coffee Shoppe and vice chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, played a pivotal role as Roosevelt’s mentor during the early stages of Rojo’s Seafood. After meeting Johnson during his grand opening, Smith felt compelled to share some of the secrets of her success with the new business owner.
“To whom much is given, much is required,” Smith said. “I took the opportunity to share with him some different nuggets about being in business and tried to be available for him to reach out for advice and opinions.”
The closure left a significant impact on Roosevelt, who had invested heavily into the venture. Jackie Smith, reflected on the challenges faced during the pandemic, noting that at the end of 2023, even well-established businesses are just beginning to normalize.
Despite the setback, Roosevelt found resilience and returned to the corporate world, managing a local restaurant. However, his heart remained dedicated to resurrecting his dream. Currently, he is focused on reviving Rojo’s Seafood Express, with plans to relaunch the food truck.
Johnson hopes to have his food truck back in service within the next few weeks and said that over the coming months, he’ll also be working on forming partnerships with local businesses to provide quality meals to their employees as well as catering services.
“We just want to feed the world. And we will, one meal at a time,” Johnson said.