Johnny’s Luncheonette in Newton Centre, Mass., has been serving up memories and good food for over 20 years.
Started in 1996 by a couple of guys who aimed to create a diner similar in feel to the fictional coffee shop Monk’s Café on the popular sitcom Seinfeld, the upbeat eatery, with its 1950s-style booths and laminated countertops, has served up memories and good food ever since.
“When John Fuerst and Neal Solomon first opened Johnny’s in 1996, they wanted it to feel like the coffeeshop on Seinfeld,” says managing partner Ken Brienza, who now operates the eatery with partners Karen and Kevin Masterson.
In 2014, the trio purchased the restaurant from its longtime owners, gave it a facelift, while staying true to the vibe, and enhanced the diner menu with locally sourced beef, bread and produce.
The effort has paid off in a 5-8 percent growth year after year and has helped fund the acquisition of a second restaurant.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Brienza explains how the trio breathed new life into the luncheonette.
Q: What was the first thing you did to revamp Johnny’s Luncheonette?
After we bought it in 2014, we immediately gave it a facelift while keeping the same vibe. We freshened up the space with new paintings, but tried to keep the same colors, and we also invested in new equipment. Karen Masterson oversaw our upgrades and used the opportunity to build in energy efficiency where we could. So, for example, she put in place a technology that recycles the heat from our ventilation system for use in heating our water. We’re very conscientious about conservation – we’re one of the first restaurants to switch to using paper straws—and we recently picked up a local award for our efforts to go green.
Q: How have you handled staffing?
We’ve been really lucky there. There’s a big problem these days in staffing, but our crew came with us when we bought the place in 2014. We have a great team, especially in the kitchen. We’ve got guys who’ve been with us for 15 years or longer, and servers who’ve been here for five and 10 years. I’ve been involved in other businesses before this— I went to school for finance and accounting before I decided to go into restaurants—and I can tell you that this business has been very good.
Q: Did you face any challenges?
In the first year the biggest thing was getting customers to accept us as the new guys. But after the initial nine months we took to get settled, they began to understand how we were improving quality, and they liked it. After we were nine months into it, our profits rose 5-8 percent year after year. We’re doing so well that in November we purchased a restaurant in North Reading, Mass. called Mario’s Ristorante. It’s the same sort of deal. It was a longtime family owned restaurant. The former owner was there for 30 years and wanted to retire. We came in and bought it in November.
Q: How did you enhance Johnny’s menu?
It’s a huge menu! We kept 15-20 signature items, and moved the rest of the menu to include locally sourced foods. Karen Masterson goes weekly to local farms and a Boston fishing company to get the freshest ingredients. Our beef comes from a farm in Maine. Our fish is local and fresh. And our commitment is to deliver the best possible quality.
The Phantom Gourmet did a piece on us and our popular crunchy French Toast. It’s a toast coated with cornflakes, bran flakes, almonds, and walnuts. It’s one of our best sellers. Our Reubens and matzah ball soup are also really huge sellers.
Q: What advice do you have for someone dreaming of owning their own restaurant?
Don’t do it! No, I’m kidding. But, you need to do your homework and partner with solid people who understand business. A lot of people dream of owning a restaurant, but if they don’t know about business, they probably won’t make it. On the plus side, though it’s very demanding work, it’s very rewarding, especially at a place like Johnny’s Luncheonette. — Johnny’s Luncheonette uses Deluxe Café covers from Boxerbrand in its table presentation. Thank you!