John Konstin Jr. surveys the restaurant as he prepares to open John's Grill on June 15, 2021 (Examiner/Allen Matthews)

The restaurant that survived two pandemics in one lifetime

11:15 a.m., a half hour before the lunch doors open, isn’t exactly a restaurant’s witching hour.

But on June 15, even the most mundane tasks took on a Cordon Bleu significance.

“It’s like opening a new restaurant,” said John Konstin Jr., whose family has owned John’s Grill for 52 of the Union Square institution’s 113 years. “It was amazing to walk in to see all the tables back to normal.”

Staff adjusted tables, prepped steak and removed nighttime coverings from the Ellis Street parklet as they awaited customers without restrictions for the first time in 15 months. Though everyone is fully vaccinated, workers wore masks (and will continue to do so) in order to keep customers at ease.

“We survived two pandemics in one lifetime of John’s Grill,” said Konstin, noting the three-story restaurant opened a decade prior to the 1918 flu.

Before the shutdown, the restaurant was generally packed with professionals and tourists. Those diners departed and, like many restaurants, John’s closed as sweeping COVID-19 shutdowns began in March 2020. The steakhouse reopened in July, closed again during the winter surge and came back to life in February. The Konstin family owns the building, a key factor that helped John’s stay afloat.

A GoFundMe campaign raised $28,000 to help the staff. About half have returned to work so far, Konstin said. The good news: No one was lost to COVID.

Pre-COVID, John’s served about 200 lunches per day. June 15’s number was 230, which Konstin attributed to the parklet.

Some diners didn’t want to wait until the doors opened. At 11:15, Gary Manson popped in the front door to ask if the restaurant was open. Hearing he had to wait, Manson departed, only to return a moment later to see if his group could hang out in the parklet.

“Of course,” Konstin said.

Manson and his wife, Carol, and friends Adrian and Cheryl Carroll had just arrived by train from Modesto. They planned to take in a Giants games and celebrate Cheryl Carroll’s birthday, which coincided with the state’s reopening.

“This is always our lunch stop when we’re in town,” Manson said.

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Carol and Gary Manson (left) and Adrian and Cheryl Carroll of Modesto wait for John’s Grill to open in the restaurant’s parklet on June 15, 2021 (Examiner/Allen Matthews)

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