Last Call at Jo’s in NYC: Too Brief a Treat

The stylish-yet-seemingly-secret dining rooms at Jo’s in Nolita.

Every time a restaurant closes, a piece of my heart breaks — for a hundred different reasons. Primarily, though, it means a dream has, at least momentarily, been dashed.

So is the case with Jo’s in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. Established four years ago by Jim Chu and Johnny Santiago, Jo’s sought to fill a unique gap — that of neighborhood watering hole and everyday restaurant with a warm, welcoming vibe. They courted their regulars, held fun contests (Pancakes!), created an anti-social media postcard campaign, and tweaked their menu very carefully, seeking out kitchen talent who understood their vision and respected the price point they had set for their unusually accessible menu. Chu and Santiago, both longtime veterans of New York City’s bar and restaurant scene (despite their youthful looks), gave cheeky seminars on how to semi-succeed in business, always maintaining their optimism and good humor. On any given night, either one or both could be found on premise, greeting diners, pitching in when duty called, and making sure guests were having a good time.

Despite these careful and creative efforts, Jo’s will shut its doors at the end of service tonight after not even half a decade in business. What led to its untimely demise? Well, this piece by Josh Ozersky regarding the state of dining, blogging, and PR in New York City may shed some light on why only those with the deepest of pockets seem destined to survive. But, ultimately, says co-owner Santiago, “I think for us the biggest issue was our space itself. The location was tough, the physical location. In the end, that’s what did us in.” Continue Reading

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.”

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Chefs and Restaurateurs Share Five Favorite Mobile Apps

Everyone at OpenTable is pretty proud of our mobile apps, but we also love lots of other apps (except for Angry Birds — or is that just me?). We reached out to a few of our restaurant partners and chefs and asked them to share the apps they find most appetizing.

Epicurious: Chef Michael Mina, the creative force behind such well-respected restaurants as Bourbon Steak and XIV, picks this recipe-oriented app. “Epicurious for iPad is a neat application for the home cook and it is organized nicely,” he notes.

Pulse: Former Top Chef competitor Kelly Liken, whose eponymous restaurant in Vail has earned rave reviews, likes Pulse “for reading the news I want to read. I have Eater, GrubStreet, and The New York Times Dining & Wine section all loaded in my feed!”

Shazam: Restaurateur and man about town Johnny Santiago, who, along with Jim Chu, runs Jo’s in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood, counts on Shazam to help set the mood at his establishment. Santiago reveals, “I’m always thinking about playlists for the restaurant. Whenever I hear something great or that I’ve forgotten, I Shazam it and save it to a list of songs that make the ‘must add’ list.”

Twitter: Everybody’s favorite personality on Top Chef Just Desserts (Sorry, Yigit!), Zac Young is currently flexing his muscles as Executive Pastry Chef for the two Flex Mussels restaurants (downtown and uptown) in New York City. He says, “My favorite mobile app right now is Twitter. I finally figured out how to use it, and I’m kind of #obsessed.” PS: Follow Zac!

Units: Ryan Hardy, the busy Executive Chef at the elegant Montagna at The Little Nell in Aspen says, “Chefs are constantly converting units – liters, centigrade, grams, etc. The Units app is in use every day on my phone.”

What are you favorite apps – food-related and otherwise? Join the conversation here or on Facebook.