The Coastal Star

Dining: John G’s new owners won’t change much, but will take credit cards

The sale of John G’s in Manalapan puts Doris Di Meglio, left, in charge. Wendy Yarbrough, the founder’s daughter, helped the family choose the Di Meglios. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

By Jan Norris

As John G’s transitions into its new ownership, the family taking it over wants to reassure its longtime fans that nothing will change, including the name.


And, they say, their own 13-year-old Boca Raton restaurant will remain as it is.


Doris and Laurent Di Meglio, Parisians, own Casimir Bistro, a traditional French bistro in Royal Palm Place. It’s been there 13 years.


“It’s our baby over there. We’ll keep it for sure,” Doris said. Laurent will continue cooking and operating it, while she runs John G’s.
The purchase of a second restaurant was to gain “a life,” she said.


“We have three kids. We want to have a life and to be with our family.”


A daytime restaurant will allow that; Casimir is open for lunch and dinner, while John G’s is breakfast and lunch only.


Longtime customers were shocked to learn of the beloved Manalapan eatery’s sale last month; there was no announcement or signs; the news spread by word of mouth.


It was a quiet transition with a staff meeting the day of the handoff, Wendy Yarbrough said.


Yarbrough, John Giragos’ daughter and manager of the restaurant since his death, said the sale had been planned.


“It was bound to happen. It’s time.” Grandkids and other family members weren’t interested in the hard work involved in running the seven-days-a-week bustling business, she said.


The family — Jay and Keith Giragos, cooks, and Wendy, manager — handpicked the buyers from a huge pool of bidders. Their experience as longtime restaurateurs with a solid reputation sealed it for them, she said. The couple started Cafe des Artistes in Jupiter; they sold it after a couple of years and started the slightly larger Casimir.


Yarbrough said a sale has been considered for years, ever since her dad’s death in 2010. But two years ago, a motorcycle accident that left her brother disabled for a time was a game-changer, Yarbrough said.


“After Jay’s accident, it’s been hard on all of us, him especially. He’s so frustrated since he can’t do anything. But he was worried about me. I’m 60 and it’s time for me to retire.”


She predicts a slight transitional time as the Di Meglios get their footing: “They’ve never done a breakfast. They’re counting on my staff and customers to help them.”


Doris Di Meglio confirmed it would be near blasphemy to change anything. She’s aware of the beloved reputation the spot has with residents and tourists alike.


“We fell in love with the story,” she said. “We’ve read all the reviews and heard the customer stories. They are so nice. They have come up to me and wished us well.”


The new owners will add credit cards — a benefit to customers, staff and kitchen, streamlining orders. A training period for the point-of-sale computer system will take a while, Di Meglio said.


But most of the staff remains, bringing decades of experience and customer appreciation with them.


Yarbrough said, “I took Doris around to meet the staff and went around the room. I told them to introduce themselves. It was, ‘Heather, server, 32 years.’ ‘Beverly, 27 years.’ ‘Busboy Romeo, 15 years.’ It was amazing. That’s my staff. They’re my family.”


The recipes were included in the sale, and the Di Meglios intend to keep them as is, along with the John G’s name, Yarbrough said.
“They’ve got all the recipes: the clam chowder, gazpacho, the French toast, down to the tartar sauce. All the soups Keith poured his heart into,” she said.


The new owners say they’ll also keep the chocolate-covered strawberries handed out on Sunday mornings to the line that still forms outside.


Di Meglio said they will add cappuccino and espresso to the menu, which brought a laugh when she learned of John Giragos’ story about desserts.


He once said he’d never offer dessert because he didn’t want diners lingering at the tables. “If I could get away with it, I wouldn’t even serve coffee,” he told this reporter.


“That’s funny,” Di Meglio said. “And now we’re offering more coffees.”


Yarbrough is making peace with the decision to sell, though it was bittersweet. Wondering whether the sale was the right thing to do, she lost weight and sleep, she said.


“My stress level is over the moon. It’s like walking-down-the-aisle jitters. Are these the right people to take over my life? My dad’s legacy? But we’re survivors. Look at all we went through and we’re still here.”


The 46-year-old eatery was first located at the old casino building at the Lake Worth pier, but it was ousted in the 2010-2011 season for construction. It moved in 2011 to Manalapan’s Plaza del Mar in the site of the old Callaro’s Steakhouse, “the scariest year,” Yarbrough said.


“We survived the bridge closing the year we moved in. We thought that was the end, but we made it. Then the plaza reconstruction and Publix. Thank God my customers crawled over the construction to get to us. They’re so loyal. We did fine,” she said.


Doris Di Meglio agrees, and it’s why she’s not changing anything. “The people working here are amazing. It’s perfect as it is, so why would we change something like that?”


Yarbrough sums it up: “It was a pretty good run, as my mom would say.”


Her parents’ approval still means a lot, and some peace comes from their spirits.


Just after the sale, she said, she visited her parents’ graves. Tess Giragos died in 2016.


“I go talk to them all the time,” Yarbrough said. “I told them we sold the restaurant.


“They said, ‘That’s OK. It’s time.’”

***

It’s never too early to start thinking about Thanksgiving — and pie.


Meals on Wheels of the Palm Beaches comes around for its fifth year with Pie It Forward, a campaign to benefit the hot-meal delivery program for homebound older adults.


A number of hotel restaurant and club chefs get into the spirit and bake pies for the campaign. This year, the Key lime pie will be baked by Eau Palm Beach’s pastry team.


How it works? Go to the organization’s website, www.mowpb.org, and order a pie (pumpkin, apple or pecan for $25, or Key lime for $35). Pick it up at the Palm Beach County Convention Center or Roger Dean Stadium on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.


Your donation goes entirely to the program, and one pie purchase will feed one senior for one week.


Don’t need a pie but want to participate? Buy a “virtual” pie — just click on the box that allows you to make a donation to the nonprofit organization.


Meals on Wheels volunteers pack and deliver meals to hundreds of seniors each week.


They pay what they can for the service, which gives them a delivery person to check on them and interact with and meals they can heat up.


For more information, call 802-6979 or visit www.mowpb.org.

***

The buzziest restaurant around may be the post-apocalyptic Rex Baron, soon to open in Boca’s Town Center Mall. Both eatery and video-game bar, it’s one of the new waves of “eatertainment.” Audience participation is required. Read that: Patrons cook their own burgers and filets on lava rocks at the table. “Survivors” play at one of 32 virtual-reality games in a lounge, where drinks are served from IV bag tubes (through the VR helmets). Armageddon-chic decor married to Boca glitz is the theme.

Jan Norris is a food writer who can be reached at nativefla@gmail.com.

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