John’s Country Kitchen has served its last pancake. Closing on Saturday, May 30, John’s has been a Plaza Midwood staple for 38 years. It joins a growing list of long-time Charlotte establishments closing their doors due to increased rent and newer, hipper restaurants and bars edging their way into the market.
I’d passed John’s for more than a year before going in, finally deciding to give it a try. I was met with the hiss of bacon on the griddle and the low roar of a packed house.
“Order,” came a nasally male voice over the din of the crowd and two servers rushed to grab a plate from Jimmy, the cook and owner.
I sat next to Rick Wagoner, a longtime customer, who has eaten at John’s the past 20 out of 30 days this month in anticipation of the close. “I ate my first John’s burger in 1977,” he said. “It’s hard to believe they won’t be here anymore.”
John and Margaret Margiotis opened the diner that same year — in 1977. When John got sick, Jimmy took over while still in high school and has run the place with his mother ever since.
Wagoner said the most unique aspect of John’s is the mix of people.
“A lot of old bank guys come in,” he said. “Hugh McColl. It’s just an amazing place like that. There are no social boundaries. There are wealthy lawyers and bankers enjoying a greasy egg next to the guy who didn’t go to bed last night.”
Jimmy echoed that observation. He leaned over the counter and whispered that the number one divorce lawyer in Charlotte was sitting next to me. Then he pointed to the man sitting behind me and said he drives in Obama’s motorcade. “We got all kinds of people in here,” he said.
In between flipping pancakes, Jimmy told customers to talk to me. They all have a story or a favorite memory, many are saddened, and all were unsure of where they will go to eat once John’s closed.
“There’s a lot of lessons to be learned in a little place like John’s,” Wagoner said. “It’s nice to go into a place where the guy cooking the food owns the place, looks you in the eye and asks if everything is OK and he means it. You just don’t get that anymore. You just don’t have these places. A lot of people will be very upset when he closes.”
Jimmy explained part of the reason they are closing is that he was unable to come to an agreement about the lease with the landlord, although the family will continue to operate a pizzeria on Carmel Road called The Rusty Onion.
A man yelled “bye!” to Jimmy on his way out and he said, “My brother, you going to be here Saturday?”
“I’ll be here,” the man said.
“We’re like ‘Cheers’ without the alcohol,” Jimmy told me. “It’s the most diverse place in Charlotte. You don’t know what’s going to come through that door.”
And with that, he turned back to the griddle and poured on more pancake batter.
Photos by Brittany Smith.
Brittany Smith can usually be found assuming the role of “least athletic cyclist” while biking around Plaza Midwood looking for good people, stories and beer. Follow her on Twitter @BrittanyAMSmith.