Shoney’s employs celebrity

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The Walterboro Shoney’s Restaurant has hired a celebrity chef.

J.R. Tiger, 55, originally from Beaufort, competed in the television program “Chopped” on the Food Network’s popular show in 2016, winning the competition.

Since the chef has a long history in the Lowcountry, he wanted to come back to the area and is very happy to be working for Shoney’s.

“I have always loved the food at Shoney’s,” said Tiger. “This is a wonderful opportunity, and I am excited about living and working here.”

Although the Tiger family is new to Walterboro, he isn’t new to the Lowcountry. Years ago, he graduated from Battery Creek High School, the son of a marine. While trying to figure out what he wanted to do in life, he sold and financed cars, tended bar, catered, cooked in restaurants in Shell Point, St. Helena Island, Alaska, and the Travel Centers of America truck stop near Carlisle, Pa. For a while, he was even a professional wrestler known in the ring as the “Russian Assassin.”

But he always loved cooking since his first experience when he was about 10 years old. “I had been sent home from school for getting in trouble, and at that time my mother, whose leg was broken, said she’d like some pancakes. I made some for the very first time and loved it,” said Tiger.

But he never thought to pursue cooking as a career until much later.

Tiger was bartending in Shell Point, when the owner told him he needed to be in the kitchen, not the bar. He then found a job managing the kitchen for Maria Jackson at Bella Luna Cafe on St. Helena. Eventually, he would become known as the “Cheesecake King” of Beaufort.

Because of his love for cuisine, Tiger and his wife always enjoyed watching the television program “Chopped” — where four chefs face off in producing a three-course meal using surprise ingredients in a basket. After the judges sample each course, one chef gets “chopped” or loses that portion of the competition.

Every time he watched the show, he would say to his wife, “I can do that.” Finally, he decided to try his luck.

He landed the opportunity to be a chef competitor as a “Truck Stop Star” on the Food Network’s show starring Ted Allen.

Tiger tempted the judges with cream puffs filled with apple pie-flavored cream and topped with a cactus pear glaze. The highlight of the competition was Tiger’s use of pancetta, which he deep fried and then grated over his grits.

Judges for the competition, which is hosted by Ted Allen, were Amanda Freitag, Chris Santos and Aaron Sanchez.

He won the championship and $10,000. Now he is working for Tom Lewis at Colleton County’s local Shoney’s.

“I saw an ad by Tom Lewis, got excited right off and answered the ad. And here I am,” said Tiger, a motorcycle and bacon lover.

Shoney’s owner Tom Lewis is delighted with this new addition. “Shoney’s needed to do something special to bring in diners. So there has been a change in personnel as well as the addition of our new chef, J.R. Tiger,” said Lewis. “J.R. is terrific, funny and friendly, and I think everyone is going to enjoy the changes he will bring to the restaurant,” said Lewis.

Tiger is also happy to be in Walterboro. “My wife Melissa and son Jordan are working here with me at Shoney’s, and we are enjoying how friendly everyone is. My first day here, a gentleman came by and introduced himself. I discovered that he knew my father, and I hadn’t seen this man in over 47 years. We already have friends here and have made many more. When we lived in Pennsylvania, I really missed people saying hello and waving as they drive by. I’m glad to be back in the South with my family,” said Tiger.

Lewis and Tiger hope everyone will come to Shoney’s to see what’s cooking … and even better, who is cooking.

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