Beloved diner Old John’s opening again

As the economic system revs up, extra beloved Big Apple eating places that had been left for useless stand to seek out enterprising proprietors prepared to convey them again to life.

Take, for instance, Old John’s Luncheonette — a comfy and traditional dinner that’s fed hungry residents of Manhattan’s Upper West Side because the Fifties.

The old-school luncheonette was declared useless final fall after failing to bounce again from the pandemic. But it reopened simply final week with a brand new look and up to date menu — because of Louis Skibar of Toloache Restaurant Group.

Skibar is an skilled restaurateur with 10 eateries beneath his belt, together with Toloache, Tacuba, El Fish Shack and Coppelia. But he obtained his begin 37 years in the past as a supply boy and brief order prepare dinner at none aside from Old John’s, again when actor Kevin Kline used to breakfast there.

“Kevin Kline always ordered poached eggs on a toasted English muffin,” Skibar mentioned of his days feeding celebs like Susan Lucci, Peter Jennings, Tony Danza and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Louis Skibar sitting at a diner counter
Restaurateur and former supply man Louis Skibar rescued Old John’s from the diner scrap heap of historical past.
James Keivom

He’s reopened Old John’s with a brand new title — Old John’s Diner — and plans to open a sequence of them from the Upper East Side to Greenwich Village. 

Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline
Kevin Kline, seen right here with spouse Phoebe Cates, was a daily at Old John’s.
Restaurant exteior
In its new iteration, the restaurant might be often called Old John’s Diner.
James Keivom

“I love diner culture,” Skibar mentioned. “Diners are great equalizers. They are part of the community they serve. Anyone can go to a diner and feel comfortable. It would be nice to see more of them come back — but they also need to serve really good food.”

Indeed, Skibar loves diners a lot he already has his eyes on one other beloved informal eating casualty of the pandemic: Odessa Restaurant.

“The Odessa is next on the list,” Skibar advised Side Dish. “It reminds me of Old John’s. They both had an outpouring of support from the neighborhood when it closed. Diners are part of the city. If we can do something to preserve them — me or someone else — then we should. It’s a great thing.”

While Odessa’s homeowners and dealer couldn’t be reached for remark at press time, sources say different restaurateurs have additionally expressed curiosity and {that a} potential deal might already be within the works.

While not as previous as Old John’s, Odessa has been feeding late-night revelers to the East Village because the early Nineteen Nineties. Open 24 hours some nights, it served the Eastern European equal of diner meals, like kielbasa and pierogies.

Like Old John’s, Odessa was declared useless on account of the pandemic — closing final July ostensibly for renovations solely to pop up for sale on Craigslist months later.

Over at Old John’s, Skibar has labored exhausting to take care of its previous world allure whereas sprucing issues up across the edges.

Menu favorites like waffles, meatloaf, hen pot pie and egg lotions are nonetheless on the menu. But Skibar has additionally introduced on consulting chef Grayson Schmitz, and consulting pastry chef Tanya Ngangan to assist beef up the menu.

The updates embody saltine cracker crusted cod and selfmade ice-cream with flavors like toasted coconut and roasted banana.

“I think it’s unfortunate that so many diners are closing, but a lot are mediocre and maybe that’s why. The feeling of nostalgia is there, but diners still have to deliver quality and provide really good food. We are very aware of this,” he mentioned.

He’s additionally up to date the diner’s look. He’s stored traditional touches just like the black-and-white mosaic marble flooring, the tin ceiling and the Art Deco lighting. But he gave the outdated entranceway a clear new look, changing the light deep purple vestibule that when greeted prospects with a easy glass door.

He’s additionally up to date the diner’s counter area, eradicating the previous darkish heavy-looking counter with a light-weight, glowing white model.

Skibar labored at Old John’s from ages of 16 to 22, doing every part from deliveries to meals prep to working behind the counter and as a brief order prepare dinner.

Back when he began, in 1984, there weren’t even any tables within the diner — simply counter service.

The diner, Skibar mentioned, “had its own charm. There were just stools, no tables and 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.”

By age 22, Skibar had “saved up enough money” to purchase his first diner in Brooklyn.

That sort of entrepreneurial success continues to be potential at the moment, Skibar says. “It just takes a lot of 18 hour days. I love this city and I love restaurants— seeing happy customers and staff,” he mentioned.

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