Article Contributed by
Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist
Growing up on Derby Street, a residential area that skirted Brooklyn Square to the south, meant that I was part of a close-knit community. We often celebrated birthdays together, various religious and national holidays, and the end of WW II in August 1945 when the conflict with Japan finally ended. Warm summer nights would find some of us, young and old, sitting on our wide porches or on the concrete “curb” of the front lawn at my home at 17 Derby, catching a cool breeze and sharing the latest family news.
But one of my most vivid memories goes back to the night when we all had a hankering for a snack, and one of our neighbors suggested we pool our money and have someone from my end of the block go to Johnny’s Lunch to buy some of those delicious Texas hots! Who could resist? As I recall, it was my father who volunteered to make the short trip to that famous staple in the Square, bringing back a bag full of mouthwatering franks topped with Johnny’s famous sauce, a stripe of mustard, and minced sweet onions, all wrapped in deli tissue paper. I didn’t know anyone who declined a Johnny’s hotdog, and often some kids I walked home with from Rogers School for our noon day meal would boast that they were “having Johnny’s for lunch!” That was enviable.
Established in 1936 by John Colera and his wife Minnie, this small store front eatery at 27-29 S. Main Street was right next door to the equally well-known Roosevelt Theater. (Johnny’s Lunch, Brooklyn Square) Night out for a date? What better than a movie and a stop at Johnny’s? Johnny’s Lunch featured good, home-cooked food at a reasonable price, which certainly appealed to the public in a country that had experienced some of the worst days of the Great Depression. But the signature food that really put Johnny’s on the southwestern New York state map was the Texas hot topped with Johnny’s sauce. My brother recalled that one night when he and my parents were patrons at Johnny’s, Mr. Colera came over to their booth and said that he had paid a guy from Texas $100 for the recipe for that sumptuous sauce. My brother declared that it went right from Johnny’s lips to his ears! One hundred dollars was a lot of money at the height of the Depression, and in the late 1930s, that $100 would be equivalent to between $1,600-$1,700 these days.
In 1972 Johnny’s Lunch moved from their original location in Brooklyn Square to its current place of business at 966 Fairmount Avenue.
Going out of business because of urban renewal was never an option, and Johnny’s is still owned and operated by Diane Colera Calamunci and husband Gus. It was a “must” on our visits to Jamestown, and to this day, our children still remember being treated to Johnny’s Texas hots washed down with a glass of birch beer!
It must have been some time in the early 1970s when my late husband, Hal Lindquist, and I stopped at Johnny’s for supper rather than lunch. We were about to dive into one of those delectable hotdogs, when I noticed a flash of headlights as a pink Cadillac pulled into a space just opposite the front window where we were sitting. Out stepped a familiar figure. I could hardly believe it, but it was John Colera himself, now retired but still interested in the family business. We motioned him over, and Hal reminded Mr. Colera that his grandfather, Ernest Lindquist, had been the owner of Fashion Clothes at 14-16 N. Main Street. And like many of the old-time merchants who had businesses on the Square, John Colera recalled that men’s clothing store. We spent quite a few minutes reminiscing about Brooklyn Square, Derby Street, and many of the other businesses and merchants that had once made Brooklyn Square the commercial and industrial heart of the city. It was a great treat to see Johnny once again, this time not across a counter but across the table! What a story and what longevity. To date, Johnny’s Lunch has been in business for 83 years.