Customers at John’s Bar & Grille tell Ana Johnson stories about her family that she’s too young to remember.
Johnson, 36, is the fourth generation carrying on a tradition begun by her great-grandfather in 1945. What started as a lunch counter at a grocery store has grown into a thriving restaurant with a 73-year legacy in Canton.
Johnson’s great-grandfather, John Varavvas, came to America from Cyprus in 1926. After opening a series of grocery stores—including one where the restaurant stands today—Varavvas tried his hand at a restaurant. The original John’s Restaurant was housed in what today is the barroom. Three employees served mostly Greek food to a place that seated 48.
In 1953, the restaurant began offering beer and wine, so the lunch counter was removed, the bar was put in, and the name was changed to John’s Bar & Grille. Since then, the restaurant has seen several other expansions: A second kitchen was built in 1960, the restaurant expanded into the store room into where the main dining room now stands, and a third room was added in the 1980s.
Johnson’s father—John Varavvas, who now owns the restaurant—said the food has changed, too. In the 1950s and 1960s, the fare mostly was sandwiches. Today, the menu still has sandwiches and pitas but also an extensive chef specialties section with dishes such as baby back ribs, lamb chops and lasagna.
Varavvas was born in the apartment above the restaurant and grew up helping his father, Tony. John’s Bar & Grille used to have a wine and beer carryout, and Varavvas got his start carrying bottles. He eventually moved on to dishwashing, working in the kitchen and managing the floor.
Johnson also spent time at the restaurant when she was young and liked to be behind the bar washing glasses. She officially began her career by working as a hostess and then served and tended bar once she was old enough.
She said her father never pushed her into the family business; it was something she wanted to do.
“I just felt like it was my passion, that I had it in me,” she said.
Johnson has two children, ages 4 and 6, who are growing up at the restaurant like she did. Whether they become the fifth generation to run John’s Bar & Grille remains to be seen.
“I would love to see this place go on forever,” she said.
Filet mignon on a stick slathered in the restaurant’s popular Dijon butter—garlic and Parmesan butter with white wine.
2. Broiled scrod.
Cod broiled in lemon butter and topped with house seasoning.
3. John’s burger.
5 ounces of beef with a variety of toppings, served with fresh-cut fries.