Reopening of beloved Old John’s restaurant
As the economy accelerates, the most beloved Big Apple restaurants that have been left for dead await enterprising owners ready to bring them back to life.
Take, for example, Old John’s Luncheonette – a cozy, classic diner that has fed hungry residents of Manhattan’s Upper West Side since the 1950s.
The old school lunch was pronounced dead last fall after failing to recover from the pandemic. But it reopened last week with a new look and updated menu – thanks to Louis Skibar of Toloache Restaurant Group.
Skibar is an experienced restaurateur with 10 restaurants to his credit, including Toloache, Tacuba, El Fish Shack and Coppelia. But he made his debut 37 years ago as a short-lived delivery boy and cook at none other than Old John’s, when actor Kevin Kline was having lunch there.
âKevin Kline always ordered poached eggs on a toasted English muffin,â Skibar said of his days feeding celebrities like Susan Lucci, Peter Jennings, Tony Danza and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
He has reopened Old John’s with a new name – Old John’s Diner – and plans to open an Upper East Side chain in Greenwich Village.
âI love the dinner culture,â Skibar said. âThe guests are great equalizers. They are part of the community they serve. Everyone can go to a restaurant and feel comfortable. It would be nice to see more of them coming back, but they also have to serve really good food.
Indeed, Skibar loves diners so much that he already has his eyes set on another beloved victim of the pandemic’s laid-back restaurants: Restaurant Odessa.
âThe Odessa is next on the list,â Skibar told Side Dish. âIt reminds me of Old John’s. They both had a wave of support from the neighborhood when it closed. The guests are part of the city. If there is anything we can do to preserve them – me or someone else – then we should. This is a good thing.
While the Odessa owners and broker could not be reached for comment at the time of publication, sources say other restaurateurs have also expressed interest and a potential deal may already be in the works. preparation.
Although not as old as Old John’s, Odessa has been feeding the East Village’s late-night revelers since the early 1990s. Open 24 hours on some evenings, it served the equivalent of European cuisine from the east, like kielbasa and pierogies.
Like Old John’s, Odessa was pronounced dead from the pandemic – apparently shutting down last July for renovations only to appear for sale on Craigslist months later.
At Old John’s, Skibar has worked hard to retain its old world charm while sprucing things up around the edges.
Menu favorites like waffles, meatloaf, chicken pie, and egg custards are always on the menu. But Skibar also enlisted consultant chef Grayson Schmitz and pastry chef Tanya Ngangan to help flesh out the menu.
Updates include cracker crusted cod and homemade ice cream with flavors like toasted coconut and roasted banana.
âI think it’s unfortunate that so many restaurants are closing, but a lot of them are mediocre and maybe that’s why. The feeling of nostalgia is there, but diners should always offer quality and very good food. We are very aware of that, âhe said.
He also updated the look of the restaurant. It retained classic touches like the black and white mosaic marble floor, pewter ceiling, and Art Deco lighting. But he gave the outdated entrance a clean new look, replacing the faded dark red vestibule that once greeted customers with a simple glass door.
It also updated the restaurant counter space, removing the old dark and heavy counter with a light and sparkling white version.
Skibar worked at Old John’s from 16 to 22 years old, handling everything from deliveries and meal preparation, to work behind the counter and as a short-term cook.
When it started in 1984, there wasn’t even a table in the restaurant – just counter service.
The restaurant, Skibar said, âhad its own charm. There were only stools, no tables or chairs. It was very popular in the neighborhood. Everyone knows you, and you know what they like and where they like to sit. It’s a nice feeling – and that essence is still there.
At 22, Skibar had “saved enough money” to buy his first restaurant in Brooklyn.
This type of entrepreneurial success is still possible today, says Skibar. âIt just takes a lot of 18 hour days. I love this city and I love the restaurants, seeing happy customers and employees, âhe said.