The writing was on the wall, hidden beneath the artifacts defining 20 years of restaurant operation.

The writing was on the wall, hidden beneath the artifacts defining 20 years of restaurant operation.

Jim and June Potter, whose homespun hospitality made Rooster's an enduring success in south Medford, had decided 2013 was going to be their last in the restaurant business.

With retirement nearing, the Potters' options were fairly simple: One, sell the business; two, close the doors.

When the wall calendar turned to November, there was a fair amount of angst among the staff, some of whom had been around many years. It was then Annette Clayton decided to step forward — a hired hand taking a leap of faith.

Ready, or not, Clayton became Rooster's owner two weeks ago.

"You see so many restaurants closing, family operations, mom and pops going out of business," Clayton said. "I didn't want to see another one close, I just didn't want to see that happen here."

After taking an extra day off to make sure the paperwork was all in order on Jan. 2, she reopened Rooster's the next day, keeping the staff largely intact.

One manager left for another restaurant and a cook moved to Utah.

While most people were Christmas shopping, attending holiday parties and hunting for trees, Clayton was going down her to-do list and checking it twice. During the final week of the year, it meant signing papers with her landlord, changing documents and billing information.

The Potters bought Rooster's in 1994 from its original owners, who had converted their restaurant from a Mr. Steak two years earlier.

"She (Clayton) was very energetic and wanted to learn all aspects of the restaurant," June Potter said. "When she had learned all the baking, she started giving the cooks breaks."

When it came time to leave, the Potters desired someone with her mettle to follow in their footsteps.

"You want people like that not only to make the restaurant better," Potter said, "but to encourage their drive and ambition."

Clayton arrived at the 350 E. Barnett Road establishment three years ago, following an earlier stint at the Country Cottage Cafe in Phoenix.

She recalls Jim Potter suggesting she'd one day be the owner.

"In reality," she said, "I didn't think that would ever happen."

As an employee, Clayton handled baking, waitressing, cooking and "a little bit of everything."

In a matter of days, the erstwhile waitress went from 30-hour workweeks to 12-hour days, arriving at 4:30 a.m. and leaving at 4 p.m. or later.

"I'm still baking most mornings, and either the second waitress or going out on the floor on weekends," Clayton said. "Our weekends are really, really busy, even though the first of the year is always the slowest time."

When the south Medford freeway interchange shifted in 2010, Rooster's no longer had direct freeway access. Eventually, dinner hours were curtailed. Although Clayton would like to work on special holiday dinners, starting with Valentine's Day, she has no plans to restore nighttime hours soon.

Lacking the exposure of chains via national advertising, she said Rooster's scores well when travelers go to social-networking sites Yelp and Trip Advisor.

She's hired and fired as a manager in the past, so it's not all new to her.

"Firing someone is never a pleasant experience," she admitted.

The Potters have remained her mentors, and she continues to look to them for advice, she said.

"Jim taught me all of his recipes and baking methods," Clayton said. "They basically made me a well-rounded person."

"I doubted whether I should do this at first," said Clayton, 50, who overcame addiction issues after a brush with the law in her 30s.

"I'm who I am, and a better person for it because of it. You can never make up for that period of time, but I can still show my kids and grandkids that just because you make mistakes doesn't mean you can't be successful."

Ultimately, she said, she wants to continue a two-decades-plus legacy.

"I'm going to give it my best shot," Clayton said. "My biggest fear is failure, but I'm not going to let that happen."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at Edge.