BLUFFTON, S.C. — It started with Chick-fil-A.

Rob Jacobs, youth pastor at LowCountry Community Church in Bluffton, is a self-professed food addict. When he moved to the Lowcountry 15 years ago from Atlanta, he was disappointed at the few dining-out choices available in town.

But then he got wind a Chick-fil-A coming to town.

An idea was hatched.

“I said, ‘I’m going to be the first customer,”’ he said. “So I was.”

The employees at Chick-fil-A framed the $5 bill he paid with on that first day, which marked the beginning of a restaurant-opening hobby that has grown to 14 “firsts.”

Recently, Jacobs was found inside Zoes Kitchen, the vibrantly painted, fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant that opened in Tanger Outlets Center 1 in Bluffton.

While the employees and managers huddled in the back, getting each other pumped up before officially opening, Jacobs snapped a selfie while standing in line as the first customer at the counter.

Soon afterward, his phone began to beep -- his Instagram fans all knew about his obsession of being the first customer at Bluffton restaurants and were favoriting the selfie.

“I have a reputation,” he laughed. “I get here so early that, a couple of times, I’ve been confused (for) an employee.”

Jacobs loves food and said he’ll try “just about anything.”

But does he really mean it?

“Just not pickles and peppers,” he said. “Those are the only things I won’t eat.”

Jacobs has been going up and down U.S. 278 in Bluffton as restaurants of all varieties popped up over the past 15 years.

He was there at 5 a.m. when Cracker Barrel opened in Okatie.

He gathered 20 of his friends and took up an entire back room when the Olive Garden opened at Bluffton’s Tanger Outlets Center 1.

But it was a close call at Mellow Mushroom.

“I wasn’t the first person to be seated,” he said. “So I ordered a sweet tea and told the waiter I would pay for it right away, so I would technically be the first paying customer.”

Not only does Jacobs like to be the first, he enjoys taking on food challenges.

He participated in a burrito-eating contest at Moe’s.

He’s taken on -- and triumphed over -- a challenge that involved eating two large burgers and a side of fries at Harold’s Diner on Hilton Head Island.

As he talked, the Zoes Kitchen cashier appeared at the register as punctually as opening day gets, 11 a.m. sharp.

Almost instinctually, Jacobs pivoted and steps up, taking his familiar spot as the first paying customer.

With a menu featuring pita pizzas, salads, sandwiches and a wide variety of hummus, Jacobs chose a turkey stack with a Greek salad on the side.

It was as if his reputation had preceded him.

The cashier told him his order would be out shortly and handed him a small metal sign.

On it was a colorful “1.”

It wouldn’t be right to give him any other number.


Information from: The Island Packet,