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EatBeat: Happy 40th Anniversary, John G’s! Party is Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013

September 17th, 2013 · 7 Comments

The new John G's in Manalapan. /photo by Jan Norris

The new John G’s in Manalapan. /photo by Jan Norris

Richard Nixon was president, and was making news for pulling U.S. troops out of Vietnam when John Giragos opened a diner on the beach in Lake Worth.

It was 1973, and Giragos had moved his family from Michigan to Lake Worth. Not much was at the Lake Worth Casino at the time; the pool and beach were the big draws. He bought a failing restaurant, and without ever having been in the food service business, went to work to open John G’s On the Beach, and enlisted his kids to help.

At first, he tried to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Over the years, realizing dinner wasn’t making as much as the breakfast and lunch, but requiring twice the work, he quit the evening meal service and “had a family life” by closing at 3 p.m.

Gazpacho with all the trimmings at John G's. /photo by Jan Norris

Gazpacho with all the trimmings at John G’s. /photo by Jan Norris

Serving home-cooking style foods he grew up with – Detroit sliders, Greek salads and shrimp scampi – the restaurant eventually gained a following. Over the years, a Palm Beach style gazpacho, always-sold-out seafood chowder (Fridays only) and nut-crusted French toast have wooed locals and tourists alike.

Their award-winning fish and chips (fried or broiled; regular or petite), a corned beef brisket, and quarter-pound hot dogs are on the menu. Seafood Newburg en casserole is here, with clam strips, some scallop dishes and chili.

Fresh, gorgeous roses are on the tables – another little “extra;” they’re delivered from Miami twice a week.

What you won’t find here is dessert. Ever. Giragos, in an interview for their 25th anniversary, told me why: “Oh no – never. I want to turn the tables, that’s why! I wouldn’t serve coffee if I could get away with it, but we have breakfast, so you have to have coffee.”

He also wouldn’t go for credit cards. “Too much hassle,” he said, plus he wanted the service fees they would have charged to stay in his cash register.

A landmark restaurant

Wendy Yarbrough, at the old John G's on the Beach. /photo by Jan Norris

Wendy Yarbrough, at the old John G’s on the Beach. /photo by Jan Norris

Cash-only didn’t deter his customers. John G’s became a destination – for tourists and locals alike. The crowds for years moved in and out as the tide ebbed and flowed outside. Older longtime customers whose photos were on the wall passed away. Their kids replaced them. The mayor held brief meet-ups for breakfast here – but he had to wait in line for Wendy Yarbrough, John’s daughter and general manager, to call him just like all the others. TV personalities, athletes – didn’t matter. “Wait your turn.” It was understood. The ones on line were polite, remarkably, many giving up their places for those on walkers – and with value prices and consistent quality, there were plenty of senior diners.

The popularity of the one-room eatery kept growing and the lines, especially on weekends, got much longer. Ten years after opening, a small room was added to the south – with a counter and walk-up window for fish-to-go boxes. Two pieces of fried fish and two corn fritters: a beach picnic for $4.

Finally, the casino allowed Giragos to add a patio – outdoor dining, closed in with removable windows, so the line and beach dunes were visible from your seat. Still, it meant even more diners, and lines continued to wrap around the building. “Only 20 minutes today – we’re lucky,” waiting diners would say. A bench held those with walkers.  It was understood that being at the front of the line didn’t mean you got the next table, either. Diners were called according to how many were in the party and what tables were available.

Jay and Keith Giragos handle the stoves at John G's. /photo by Jan Norris

Jay and Keith Giragos handle the stoves at John G’s. /photo by Jan Norris

Kids take over

In  later years, Giragos wanted to slow down, and handed over management to three of his six kids –  Yarbrough took over all the front of the house, and her brothers Keith and Jay manned the stoves. Their dad could be found at the counter, greeting his golf buddies, or behind the register (cash-only, please!) or walking along the line handing out chocolate dipped pineapple and strawberries to grateful diners.

Giragos passed away in 2010 just as the Lake Worth Casino building was about to be rebuilt. John G’s had to move, at least temporarily. They found a spot in Plaza del Mar, Manalapan, directly across from the Ritz-Carlton (presently called Eau Palm Beach) and reopened in 2011. Crowds quickly found them, and they’ve now got the same lines outside as before. An extra 60 seats means they’re packing that many more John G’s fans in as before. Parking is free, too – a bonus.

The Lantana bridge, closed for rebuilding, is scheduled to reopen this year, and that’s going to bring everyone back, Yarbrough said, fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, the Giragos kids keep at it, greeting everyone with a smile, flouring fish and chopping tomatoes and celery for gazpacho and razzing the customers who’ve become friends over the years. “My dad wanted it that way,” Yarbrough said when they reopened. A big round table in the window is “John’s table.” It always has the freshest, biggest roses in the center.

The big 4-0 party

For the 40th celebration this Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, John G’s will offer special deals on the menu, including the Big One breakfast for $1 (a 1-egg breakfast with coffee and bacon), and 40-cent sliders. Drawings for prizes and other surprises are planned.

John G’s

  • 264 Ocean Drive, Manalapan (in Plaza del Mer, across from The Ritz-Carlton)
  • 561-9860; www.johngs.com
  • Open for breakfast and lunch, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily.
  • No reservations; cash only.

Tags: Calendar: SoFla Food Events · The Eat Beat: Restaurant News

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Judy Stoffel // Sep 18, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    We feel this is the best place in all of the USA. We live in Pembrokes Fl and will make the drive because we love John G’s so much especially when we have guest from out of state…this is an experience for all.

  • 2 Cherie Meredith // Sep 18, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    I`ve known the family since like 1980. Jay lived downstairs from me in my Parents rentals for 6 years. I`ve eaten there forever & it`s just the best. Keith used to make fresh soups everyday. I`ve been living out in Wellington but now I`m back in Lantana, so I`ve got to go see my old buds & EAT there. In the early 80`s me & my friend Patti List used to meet up there every day for lunch, and as big as the meal on our plate was, if Jay saw us he`d put shrimp & other “tasties” added on our plate. So sweet!! Love these people & love their food!!! XOXO

  • 3 Tamara Casey Wendt // Sep 19, 2013 at 9:06 am

    my husband and I got married in 1972 i was sweet 16,,, yes we are still married to!! but moved to ga 28 yrs ago to raise our family,,, we use to John G;s for breakfast about every other Sunday loved the French toast,,, we all felt we were special because we got fresh fruit with our breakfast it had class made you feel good the way they served you,they had great omelets, fried eggs,, real fried potatoes,,,, love the place,,,keep it going yea 40th year!! tammy also loved walking across the road to the Ocean and walking down to the pier.

  • 4 ann grippo // Sep 19, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    It’s me, Ann Giragos Grippo!! I am soo proud of my two brothers and sister for their tireless work in keeping our fathers & families legacy alive!!

  • 5 Ann Giragos Grippo // Sep 21, 2013 at 10:55 am

    It seems like yesterday….moving to Fla. with the family…my senior year….and I worked at my dad’s new restaurant…all of us!!! All new to the job!!! Hey, it was hard work and in the end, the strong survived!!! Congratulations to you, Wendy!!! My dear darling sister who tirelessly, with the men in the family, Dee, Jay, and Keith turned this place into a most special treasure !!! My heart is soo proud of all of you!!! And now with Susan on board…hears to many more years of success and fun memories !! I love you all

  • 6 Penny Eiting Bungey // Nov 2, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Hi! Remember me? Or my Mom , Pat? She was your Dad’s cook when he first opened John G’s. I was a waitress there and my brother Allen was a cook too. We grew up with you kids! So many memories………..

  • 7 EatBeat: Happy 40th Anniversary, John G’s! Party is Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 | heathynews.com // Nov 23, 2013 at 12:08 am

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