By Jan Norris
A shocker for diners in South County: Wendy Yarbrough confirms she’s sold the family restaurant: John G’s.
The deal took place over the weekend, and the new owners of the Manalapan eatery are already on site, eager to learn the breakfast-lunch business that has held a place in so many residents’ memories for so long.
“Don’t make me cry,” Yarbrough said by phone. “It was bound to happen. It’s time.”
The family — Jay and Keith Giragos, cooks, and Wendy, manager —handpicked the buyers from a huge pool of bidders, she said.
“They’ve taken on a monster. I think they’ll do just fine.”
The 46-year-old restaurant started by her father, John Giragos, is celebrating eight years at its current location in Plaza del Mar. It’s been the Sunday morning go-to for hundreds of thousands of multi-generational diners.
A sale has been considered for years, however, but two years ago, her brother’s motorcycle accident that left him disabled for a time was a game-changer. “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,” she said. “I’m 60 and it’s time for me to retire.”
New owners are Doris and Laurent Di Meglio, Parisians, who own Casimir French Bistro in Boca Raton.
“They’ve never done a breakfast. They’re counting on my staff and customers to help them,” Yarbrough said.
She says nothing much will change: The recipes were included in the sale, and the couple intends to keep them as is, along with the John G’s name.
“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.”
The new owners appreciate the longevity of staff, too, she 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.”
“We had customers who heard about it, and said, ‘We’ve been coming for 25 years.’ They’re in shock, too. ‘We’ll come in for a last meal.’ I’m like, no! Come in and support the new owners.”
Wondering if 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.”
They were first located at the old casino building at the Lake Worth pier, but were ousted during the 2011 season for construction. They moved later that summer to Manalapan in the site of the old Callaro’s Steakhouse, “the scariest year,” and there, she 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.”
The new owners have already made overtures to the staff, getting input on what should remain and what should change. They say they’ll keep the chocolate-covered strawberries handed out on Sunday mornings to the line that still forms outside the door.
But one thing that will change, Yarbrough said, is the cash-only policy her dad initiated and carried through all these years later.
“It’s time for that, too. It’s an inconvenience to be a cash-business in this day and age. The servers are excited about it. People will spend more.”
She’s both sad and relieved, though it hasn’t all settled in.
“I have no regrets, going in early all these years, kissing everyone goodbye in the dark. My kids are proud of me.”
There are 10 grandkids — none of whom wanted the restaurant, she said. “They didn’t want all that work. It was a pretty good run, as my mom would say.”
Her parents’ approval means everything, even today, and some peace comes from their spirits.
Over the weekend, she said, she visited her parents’ graves. “I go talk to them all the time. I told them we sold the restaurant.
“They said, ‘That’s okay. It’s time.’”