Postcards from Paradise: NYC’s Jo’s Restaurant Resurrects the Original Check-In

Jo's postcard features a photograph of owner Johnny Santiago's mother (and the restaurant's namesake) Josephine as a young child with playmates in Newark's Ironbound neighborhood.

Post-dinner gifts, or takeaways, are nothing new. Restaurants have been sending diners on their way with extras, ranging from muffins, cookies, madeleines, granola, truffles, and more, for years now. [Ed. note: If anyone reading this is like me, you probably forget about said muffin or truffle at the bottom of your bag until the next day when it no longer resembles a muffin or candy]. Recently, though, I encountered a very clever parting gift at Jo’s Restaurant.

Less filling than a muffin, and more fulfilling, Jo’s postcard program encourages diners to fill out post-meal postcards. Jo’s will then send the postcards to anyone — anywhere in the world. They serve hundreds of diners in a week, and of that number, about 40 opt to send post-meal postcards.

The brainchild of Johnny Santiago, co-owner of Jo’s restaurant in Manhattan’s Nolita, the postcards have been used to present dining checks since they opened their doors three years ago. Noting the fleeting nature of check-ins and posts to social media sites, Santiago wanted diners to create a more permanent memory of their time at Jo’s to share with friends. He says, “Everybody’s always checking in on Facebook and Twitter, but it wasn’t so long ago that you’d let people know you were visiting somewhere new or on vacation by sending postcards, so we had this thought that our diners should revisit that tradition.”

Were there any challenges in getting people to write something on the spot that was longer than 140 characters? Santiago says, “Some people have balked and wound up writing things like, ‘You got so $#@&-faced tonight.’ Actually, though, the biggest challenge is that many people don’t know if they have anyone’s physical address. Also, some people don’t even know how to fill out a postcard; they’ll fill the entire postcard with their message, not realizing that there has to be an address on the right-hand side for it to find its way to the recipient.” So what are people writing in these missives? “One of the first postcards written was by an expectant couple who had picked their baby’s name during dinner and used the postcard to share it with their parents.” Anything weird? “A woman came in with a companion, and she was role playing or something and wrote, ‘Dear Love, my husband doesn’t know I’m sending this right now, but the next time I see you, we have to go to Jo’s.’ At least I hope she was kidding around,” he notes.

Jo’s postcards, which have reached recipients in dozens of locales, including Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong, and Japan, will be available, “indefinitely — as long as we have stamps. We’re trying to keep the post office in business!” Anticipating the holidays, Santiago expects that they will be helping deliver some postcards to Santa Claus.

Has Santiago joined his diners in the practice? Santiago admits, “I did send a postcard, but it got returned. Since starting this initiative, though, we have received several postcards from diners and friends on their travels.”

Jo’s is open seven days a week. Stop in for a bite and take part in this very literary project.



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