Lisciandro’s Restaurant Celebrates Six Decades of Home Town Cooking

The staff at Lisciandro’s Restaurant. (From left) Toni Hultin, Jessica Taylor, John Lisciandro, Carol Lisciandro, Patty Ristau.

JAMESTOWN – The NRA forecasts that the business will top $200 billion in 2012.

That’s the other NRA, the National Restaurant Association, and they predict it will be the “Table Service” restaurants that hit that mark… $6 billion more than last year.

Sam Lisciandro and his wife Beatrice opened their own table service restaurant at the corner of Second and Main in downtown Jamestown, New York, in 1954 and three generations of their family have been riding the crest of that success for nearly 60 years now. The open secret of their achievement has been what NRA surveys say 75 percent of restaurant patrons want; quality and service based on nutritious food from local sources.

“There’s never been a frozen potato in this place,” John Lisciandro – Sam and Bea’s son-says with obvious pride. “And whatever I don’t make myself, like my produce and baked goods, I buy fresh and locally as often as I can.”

John started working in his parents’ restaurant when he was young, just learning the basics of hard work in the business. “I started on July 1, 1962. My sister, Mary, and I took turns busing tables and washing dishes,” John reminisced with a customer recently. “Dad was a good person to work for on my first job. He was my dad, but on the job he was my boss. He taught me a lot.”

“I still serve one of my dad’s favorite recipes, Hungarian Tomato soup,” John said. “And I make my own Italian sausage. Everything I serve is fresh; no pre-made, mass-produced factory foods. All my soups are made right here, all year ‘round. My soup goes over really big in the cold weather. A lot of people who start their day here with breakfast come right back for lunch.”

One of the most important challenges facing restaurants for 2012, according to the NRA, is the wholesale price of food. The average food cost to a restaurant owner rose by 8 percent in 2011, with some relief slated for 2012, at a predicted 4 percent jump. But a 12 percent jump over only two years remains a major hurdle.

“Nobody in town wants to raise their prices, but there’s not much relief in sight,” John explained. “Partly, it’s the corn crop. Too much corn is going into gas tanks. That raises the cost of cattle feed which then raises the price of beef. And now there’s the drought. Cattlemen are slaughtering their animals early this year because it will cost too much to feed them.”

John Lisciandro, however,—working side-by-side with his wife, Carol, in the traditional family way —loves the business and his customers. “I enjoy the people. I enjoy talking, and I really enjoy the cooking. This work is all I’ve ever done,” John said. “People like the friendly, home town atmosphere here. A lot of people even drop in as they drive along Route 86. They don’t want the standardized franchise food along the highway. They appreciate home made.”

“The hometown feeling is interesting to watch,” John mused recently. “You often hear of young people who can’t wait to leave town when they think they’ve grown up. But later, when they really do grow up, they can’t wait to get back”

The personal connection among home town folks began early for John. His father, Sam, became ill and couldn’t work anymore in 1968, the year John was due to graduate from Jamestown High School. John’s teachers, guidance counselors and the administration arranged a special schedule that released him from 10:30 to 2:00 every day to work the lunch hour at the restaurant and then to return to finish his school day after 2:00 p.m. “They were really great,” John recalled. “They understood family was as important as education and helped me take care of both.”

When asked whether John takes his love for cooking home with him, he winked at Carol and said he was only the “outside man” at home. “I only cook outside. I’m the BBQ man. Carol works the miracles cooking inside.”

John Lisciandro is a working boss. At any given moment, especially during the busiest of rush hours, a customer can watch him prepare food, restock supplies, set a plate before a customer or even stoop to pick up a scrap of paper off the floor as he walks quickly along a row of tables where his customers are eating.

Few indicators of employee satisfaction are as telling as the number of years they stay on the job. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the median number of years that wage and salary workers stayed with their current employer was 4.4, as of January 2010. At Lisciandro’s Restaurant, Jessica Taylor is still the “new girl” at 5 years. Toni Hultin has completed 15 years and Patty Ristau is a 20-year employee.

“Our customers are old friends,” Toni said with a smile and a wave to a departing breakfast customer while she described her job. “We all get along and our customers are like family.” It appears to be the kind of service the NRA’s restaurant industry surveys say customers value most.

“People get used to my regular specialties too,” John said. “Some of them come in just for them. Like on Tuesday and Thursday when I make my Rigatoni and meat balls and my own homemade Italian sausage.  Some folks have been coming here for a long time. July 1 was our 50th anniversary of moving to this location (207 N. Main) just up the street from my parents’ original corner store at 2nd and Main.”

John’s sister, Mary, who learned the business along with him, is still in the restaurant business. With her husband, Jim McCusker, she owns and operates The Pub, where she started as a waitress in 1965, next door to Lisciandro’s Restaurant.

John and Carol’s son, Sam, the third generation of Lisciandros in the business, also learned the restaurateur’s craft in his parents’ store. Local residents have learned that some of Jamestown’s most successful businesses are multi-generational. Family traditions of hard work and honest business are the bedrock of the community.

“September 3, 2004, was a special day,” John said, pointing out a large, framed collage of photographs on the wall near the entrance of the restaurant. “It was the 50th anniversary of the business. We had quite a party. One customer took pictures of everybody who came in, right at the door. Some of our oldest customers even came over from their nursing homes to be with us.”

Jamestown Gazette readers are invited to stop in for a cup of hot coffee or a satisfying meal at 207 N. Main Street or simply to say hello and check out the menu of fresh, homemade and nutritious specialties.

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.