GRAND CENTER, Mo. – Robert Dukes, the man known as “Mr. Next,” died this week. He was the iconic order taker at The Best Steak House on Grand Avenue across from the Fox Theatre.
It’s a familiar sound at The Best Steak House restaurant when someone exclaims “Next!” when a customer walks through the door.
Since 1964, the restaurant’s been a great place to get a bite to eat and there was no one better at barking out a loud “Next!” than Dukes.
However, Mr. Next, a 45-year employee, passed away due to cancer.
“Rob was one of the most wonderful people I ever met in my life and I’m glad I had the opportunity to work with him,” said Judy Leachman, a 40-year employee.
“Rob Dukes everyone called him Dukes or the Next Guy,” co-owner Dean Kases Jr. said. “About 45 years he’s been working here. I’m 45 and I don’t ever remember him not working here.”
“Most important part of the job is saying next,” Leachman said. “You’ve got to be ready when they say, next now.”
Co-owner Phil Schreiber said being “next” can be intimidating sometimes, and Mr. Next liked to use that to his advantage.
“Yeah, when somebody would freeze or get a little nervous, that’s when Rob had the most fun,” Schreiber said. “He wouldn’t let it go. After a while, they’d feel comfortable and come back next time waiting for him to call ‘Next.’”
In 2019, longtime morning cook Terence Crawford died of a heart attack.
The family-owned business that makes everyone feel like an extended family is mourning their longtime cooks and letting customers know they’ll still be shouting “Next!” for the next customer through the door.
“There will never be another ‘Next!’ man like him,” Kases said. “Even though we have some great cooks that have been for 10 or 15 years themselves.”
“Last night I couldn’t sleep. I kept looking at his smile in my head,” Schreiber said. “That’s what made your day when you came in.”