Robert Ott, who owns Bobby Jayz Cafe on the state Capitol Campus, celebrates six years of business this month.
The business, which calls Office Building 2 home, serves breakfast and lunch and feeds 800-1,000 state workers daily. The cafe is named after his 10-year-old son and is known for its taco salad, Ott said.
“Taco salad is a huge seller,” said Ott, who will turn 48 in July.
That date is another reminder for the New Jersey native and longtime Washington state food service employee and owner that he has spent more years of his life blind than with eyesight. He lost his eyesight in a flash in October 1990.
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“It’s been a journey,” said Ott, who stands more than 6 feet and hasn’t lost a trace of his New Jersey upbringing. “It’s not perfect, but there’s progress. Some days I have steps back and steps forward.”
Before coming to Washington state, Ott was a 20-something man, studying and teaching Korean martial arts. It was an interest, he says, that helped him with his confidence and self-esteem.
On Oct. 6, 1990, Ott was set to travel to Michigan to compete, but also to test for a higher rank in his chosen martial art. Unable to unwind, he picked up a friend and they went to a local bar. He was talking to a woman at the bar when another man entered and was rude to the woman. Ott stepped in to defend her.
A fight ensued. Ott finally pinned the man on the floor, then let him go. Minutes later, the man returned with a gun, put it to Robert’s head and pulled the trigger. Robert recalls the following:
▪ A nurse who fought for him to stay alive.
▪ His mother reminding him that every day he spent in a hospital bed was another day his assailant “keeps winning.”
▪ Seventeen hours spent in a trauma center and a month in a hospital.
▪ A friend who encouraged him to return to martial arts.
He also emerged blind.
“That’s a heavy thing,” he said. “It was really tough.”
But five years later, he learned that Washington state needed blind entrepreneurs for a business enterprise program run by the state Department of Services for the Blind. He moved and worked in Seattle in food service with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. He later ran Certain Victory Food Service at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Bobby Jayz Cafe is his primary business today.
As for the man who shot him, he was caught nine months later and was ultimately convicted of second-degree aggravated assault. He spent only a few years in jail. Ott, who used to keep close tabs on him through a parole office, is unsure of where he is today.
Business Enterprise Program manager Bobby McCalden couldn’t speak to Robert’s career, but he could to his character.
“He’s just somebody you want to know and that you want to be friends with,” said McCalden. “If you’re friends with him, it’s a pretty lucky thing.”
Bobby Jayz Cafe
▪ Owner: Robert Ott.
▪ Location: Office Building 2, 1115 Washington St. SE, Olympia
▪ Employees: 6-8.
▪ Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The cafe is open to the public.
▪ Online: Facebook or go to www.bobbyjayz.com.