JCKC Owner Steve Andris Looks Back on 50 Years of Running Greyhounds
Bettin’ ManSteve Andris took a gamble on the dogs — 50 years later, they’re still runningBy Lee Gordon
"Here comes Rusty … "
Steve Andris has heard those three words 13 times a night, six nights a week, for the past 50 years. Rusty is the mechanical rabbit that starts the greyhounds at the Jefferson County Kennel Club, and Andris is the man that made it all happen.
Back in 1958, the Savannah, Ga., native decided to build a greyhound track in Monticello. But at the time, he’d never seen a race in person and didn’t know much about the dogs.
"When we came down here, I borrowed $25,000 from my dad. The only thing he said to me is, ‘Son, is it honest?’ I said, ‘I’m sure it is, I’ve never seen one.’ We read about the facilities in Miami and Biscayne and all you read was ‘millions.’ That was a fascination, I guess."
It was a fascination that became reality. But first, Andris had to win a Jefferson County referendum and then figure out how to pay for it.
"It was truly difficult, even in a small county," said Andris. "There were people for it and against it. We won on the open ballot in ’58."
But Andris didn’t have millions when the facility opened a year later, in 1959. So, he sold stock in the track. Investors could buy a piece of the company for $1 to $3 a share. At one point, there were close to 500 stockholders. But Andris always maintained majority ownership, and when people were ready to cash out, he was the buyer. Eventually, in 1994, he bought back all the stock, some for as much as $20 a share.
Half a century after launching himself into the world of dog racing, Andris now knows everything there is to know about running a successful kennel club. Each morning, he arrives at 9 a.m., stays until noon, and then comes back before the first race. And you’ll never see him without a suit on, because his attitude is, how you look reflects how you feel. After five decades at the JCKC, he feels pretty good.
"It’s hard to say you expected it to last 50 years. It’s a lifetime," said Andris. "It’s been good to me. It’s great when there’s action, but it’s slowed down. Perhaps the Legislature will help us."
That’s a fight that Andris is hoping will result in slot machines at his facility. Already, the JCKC has a poker room where Texas Hold ’Em is played. Over the past few years, the card games have become more profitable than the dogs. But the slot machines are what Andris is holding out for.
"Great expectations, great hopes. I can tell you that is what’s needed," he said. "It would put you back into action and make a great deal for the state. They are in dire need of money, right?"
Steve Andris has always been very good with his money and through the years he’s given a lot back to the community. But while some like to talk about their charity work, Andris prefers it remain confidential.
"I think most people think we are good citizens," said Andris, "And we try to help whenever we can, to whatever degree we can. When you do things to help other people, I don’t like to talk much about it."
Now, at the ripe young age of 80, Andris should be thinking about retirement. But that’s not even an option, at least not in the near future. He will turn the kennel club over to someone else one day, as all good things must come to an end — just not any time soon.
His advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is pretty simple: When you run a business, the customer is always right. And if they like your product, they’ll come back for more.
"Work hard and do the absolute best you can to satisfy the customer," Andris counseled. "Pleasing the public and working hard is the basic thing in business."