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The Windsor Diner Becomes Johnny K's, Will Reopen in November

The Clark landmark will still offer family dining, but in a totally renovated space, with upscale menu additions alongside Windsor signatures. Patch went behind the scenes for a sneak peak at the new digs.

Gil Benjamin is hoping the Windsor Diner regulars will be able to appreciate Brussels sprout hash.

When the restaurant relaunches as "Johnny K's" in November, the sprouts will sit under a seared, lime-and-apricot-marinated salmon fillet – while the customers will sit on an open-windowed patio, or past the floor-to-ceiling waterfall in the entrance, or perhaps cozied up near the dual-sided see-through fireplace.

In other words, this ain't your mother's Windsor Diner.

Benjamin was hired by the Kallas family, who've owned the Windsor for 35 years now, to serve as executive chef and general manager, and to transform the landmark diner into something brand new – but with the trick of not changing it so much that their decades-earned customer base wouldn't recognize the place.

The new restaurant, named after patriarch John Kallas, will offer a heart healthy menu, tapas, an expanded wine list, two banquet/conference rooms, free WiFi, a high-tech sound system, a totally new interior and an updated exterior.

"No more greenhouse. No more leaks. Our regulars know we've always leaked," laughs Nick Kallas. "A lot of people are concerned about what’s going to happen to the diner. Everybody's curious, maybe some are a little scared, but it's going to be great. We're worried about how the regulars will handle the change, but we hope they'll see we're changing for the better."

Kallas's business partner/uncle Tom Milonas says he's been fending off rumors that Johnny K's will be a sports bar.

"We'll have a small bar with a TV, but it's not going to be anything like that and it's not going to be too fancy, either," says Kallas. "I like what Gil calls it – 'nice dining' but not 'fine dining.' We want to keep prices affordable and we want everyone to leave here happy."

And fear not, Clark, there will still be Saturday and Sunday's breakfast buffet – but with higher end and more choices, says Benjamin, plus carving stations, things made to order, eggs Benedict and more.

"We still want to be a family place," says Kallas. "We want the high school kids and the seniors. We want to have something for everyone."

Also, no menu item has increased by more than a dollar in price, says Benjamin, plus, all your Windsor favorite dishes will still be here. Any dish that they sold more than two of a day has made it onto the new menu.

"You have to understand the Greek style of restaurant management," says Benjamin. "They live to run their business, and that’s why they’re hugely successful. But when you concentrate so much of your effort on that, when you know your customers by first name, know their birthdays, you also don't have the opportunity to fully experience what rest of world is changing to. They've succeeded beyond all expectations, but the place is getting worn. Their last renovation was in the 80s and the competition has changed. They needed an outsider."

Benjamin is just that; he comes to Clark from Neptune, with 35 years of experience and several restaurant launches under his belt. He most recently worked at Beacon Street Grill in Neptune. Kallas and Milonas found him through friends of friends after interviewing some 40 candidates.

"I would call Johnny K's an American Contemporary restaurant," says Benjamin. "The menu will be heart healthy, food that’s good for you. A lot more seafood. Nothing frozen. What we want people to do is relax by the fireplace, unwind, hog a table, maybe have a bottle of wine and order off the tapas menu. Then if you feel like dinner, you can have dinner."

Benjamin says the menu will also offer more choices for burgers and a special short-rib, sirloin, tenderloin ground beef blend – plus homemade turkey, chicken, salmon and veggie burgers. "Not the veggie burgers you get at the grocery story that are like hockey pucks," he says.

Other highlights? Benjamin says seared mahi-mahi over a misu and heirloom tomato salad and of course the salmon with the Brussels sprout hash. See pictures of them and PDFs of some of Johnny K's menus in our gallery. 

"I know it’s a landmark and everybody knows the Windsor," says Kallas, "but it was 35 years ago when they picked the name and went with a sort of English theme, the castle and sword, before the roof collapsed. This time, I wanted to honor my father and make it feel like it's truly my family's restaurant."

Kallas is shooting for a Nov. 1 opening and plans to donate opening day proceeds to charity. He says Johnny K's hours will likely be from 8 a.m. to midnight during the week and till 2 a.m. on weekends and they'll serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. He also plans to bring back entertainment, offering blues, jazz or comedy after 9 p.m. on select nights.

"What do I want people to say after they visit?" says Benjamin. "Thank you and we'll be back."

"I want people to know that we're still here," chimes in Kallas. "A lot of them think we left. We’re nervous. We hope we’re doing the right thing. Johnny K's is just the next generation. The Windsor Diner was here for 35 years, and I want Johnny K's to be here for the next 50 and to pass it down to our kids."

Check out Johnny K's website and Facebook page.

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KJS September 28, 2012 at 05:59 PM
The place was dated and needed a face lift. The menu was also too large and needed to be scaled down. I stoppped going there and started going to the Westfield Diner on North Ave. I will give them another chance when they re-open.
Gladys Mconkey September 28, 2012 at 09:38 PM
The owners sound all over the place. Sounds like they do not know themselves what this place will be. Is it a Diner? Is it Fine Dining? Is it a night club? Benjamin Gill makes it sound like the Rams Head Inn, Kallas makes it sound like a glorified diner, and Milonas's comment suggests that he himself has no idea what kind of place it will be. My take is that no one who loves fine dining will go to a place that sounds like a glorified diner, no one who loves traditional diners will go to a place that does not offer traditional diner food, and no one who enjoys pubs and clubs will go to a glorified diner or a fine dinning place to hang out with their friends.
Debbie Sedita-Kosiarski September 28, 2012 at 10:37 PM
@John... When I hear "high end" and "renovation", I associate that with higher prices. Even though the article says prices won't go up higher than a dollar per dish, it's probable that won't last as they've got to pay for all this work some how. I'm not a regular, but that had become an option for me recently because I had gone there mainly because I was starving one day and wanted a change. I totally loved the place, the people and the food and decided that when I wanted something special, I would treat myself. Unfortunately, I need to pinch my pennies and I see this place slipping out of my price range. I'm sure the regulars and residents of the area will love the improvements and will continue to patronize this diner.
Mathew Glass September 29, 2012 at 12:47 AM
I thought listening to the U.N Assembly was bad till I read this article "What we want people to do is relax by the fireplace, unwind, hog a table, maybe have a bottle of wine and order off the tapas menu. ""We still want to be a family place," says Kallas. "We want the high school kids and the seniors. We want to have something for everyone." "He also plans to bring back entertainment, offering blues, jazz or COMEDY after 9 p.m. on select nights." You do not need to bring back Comedy, your business plan is comedy!
john September 29, 2012 at 02:58 AM
It does sound like a mixed bag. The photos look really good. I went there quite some time ago and it was totally forgettable and I never went back but frankly it was so long ago and from some of the nice remarks here I may have missed out on something. Several months ago I went to a new diner in the area on Rt 22 West and ordered an omelet -- it was so bad that I never went back - if you can screw up an omelet -- what's can you cook that's good? Made me want to swear off diners entirely. I can't wait to check this new restaurant out and hope it's not too pricey as some fear.
jessie September 29, 2012 at 05:38 AM
It will be awesome. An amazing family who puts their decades long experience and hearts into their business- cant go wrong! For sure, my family will continue to support the new Johnny K's and can't wait for the doors to open!! There's something to be said and valued today in a family run, non-chain, small business and I love supporting that.
Johnny K's September 29, 2012 at 01:53 PM
(Note from Gil) - I guess I should address prices first. There are no price increases with one exception. A few of our materials have increased in price considerably (such as beef) and a few of the menu items have gone up in price as much as a dollar. As a matter of fact, based on many emails, letters, and direct comments from our customers, we have made it a fabulous place for them to enjoy with outside dining on the porch, 2-sided fireplace, new furniture, and so much more. As for the food, our customers also told us they wanted better. So the family hired people like me to step it up but with the challenge to maintain the price points of the Windsor. They also asked for more heart healthy options and to address the numerous food allergies out there. I did and as you'll see from the rest of the menus I'll be posting next week, the prices are less than our closest competition and while I might be a little biased, I think ours will not only look better, but also taste better. All I can say is to give it a try. As I stated in the article, what I want to hear when you leave is "Thank you - I'll be bacl". I even saw an article about a business plan and all I have to say about that is that Johnny K's has a formal business plan second to none and it is absolutely needed. In a time where so many people (and businesses) are experiencing financial crisis, Johnny K's is spending a lot of money to be what their customers want. Give the family a chance. <more>
Johnny K's September 29, 2012 at 02:03 PM
(More from Gil) - After 35 years, the Windsor is gone and Johnny K's is emerging. It is not fine dining. I prefer "nice" dining with great food and atmosphere. I have no doubt you'll find it to be a great experience. AND - NO! it is not like other places. How can we be unique if we're like other places? To everyone - I am very proud to be working with the Kallas family. I've been in the industry for years and have never met anyone like them. They really care about their customers and they too are proud to be in Clark. How many of you have been hugged by Lilly as you come in the door - or greeted by Uncle Tommy's handshake? I feel the same as many people I've spoken to - like I've been adopted into the family. I do agree with the comments above that Johnny K's is the best thing to happen to Clark in a long time. The town deserves it, our old customers deserve it, and the Kallas family, after 35 years there, deserves it. After all, who else out there is going out on a limb like they are? Everyone else seems to be scaling back, offering lower quality, or simply closing their doors...
Leenie2u September 29, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Oh, for Pete's sake! The Windsor Diner is getting a much needed update and new name to reflect that change. I don't understand the negativity about a decor the public hasn't seen yet and a menu they haven't experienced yet. I prefer to check things out for myself before I decide if its not for me. Good Luck to Johnny K's. I'll be in to check out your restaurant a little while after you open and all the hoopla dies down.
john September 29, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Sounds great Gil. I don't cook and struggle every night after work to find dinner that's reasonable and still good at the same time. Will be looking for your grand opening.
Mathew Glass September 30, 2012 at 12:06 AM
"(Note from Gil) - I guess I should address prices first. There are no price increases with one exception. A few of our materials have increased in price considerably (such as beef) and a few of the menu items have gone up in price as much as a dollar." Are you a politician or a Chef? You said 2 completely different things in one sentence, than you quickly changed subject to something completely irrelevant. First you said no price increases with one exception(Beef), than you come right back and say that items on menu were increased a dollar. So it is not just beef, it's across the board increase. "As for the food, our customers also told us they wanted better. So the family hired people like me " Gill I do not know what they hired you as, a Chef or an owner, but your concept is completely different than the one Kallas described. You are describing the old Sleepy Hollow, while Kallas is describing a diner. "Johnny K's is spending a lot of money to be what their customers want" I think Johnny K's is spending a lot of money to be what you want, because the township of Clark wants a diner, not a steakhouse.
Mathew Glass September 30, 2012 at 12:16 AM
"It is not fine dining." Gill "What we want people to do is relax by the fireplace, unwind, hog a table, maybe have a bottle of wine and order off the tapas menu. " Gill Sounds like fine dining to me. Do you think before you speak or are you an ego maniac who just loves running your mouth? Your food may end up being good, but that does not change the fact that you are an imbecile. Your business plan is a train wreck ready to happen, and you Gill are the engine driver.
Rita September 30, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Well Said Mathew. We want a diner in Clark, not the return of the Sleepy Hollow.
Carmine V. September 30, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Looks like the Westfield Diner is where my family and I will be going. Thank you Gill. Clark had a successful diner for 30+ years till you came in the picture and decided Diners are out, and Gill's food is in. Hope you do a lot of advertising in Hoboken and Summit because Clark residents want their diner.
Richard T. Seng September 30, 2012 at 12:58 AM
If all is true what Benjamin and the Kallas family have stated about the new Johnny K's, then it will be a success and I look forward to continue to dinny there. Never got a hug by Lilly but always got one from Cammile.
Carmine V. September 30, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Camille is gone. Mike is gone. All the old faces are gone. The diner is gone. Westfield Diner here i come.
Emily September 30, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Johnson Regional Sr here. No mozzarella fries, no pizza fries, no fries with brown gravy, no taylor ham and cheese on hard rolls, No high school students at windsor or whatever the new name is.
Debbie Sedita-Kosiarski September 30, 2012 at 02:08 AM
I can't believe the petty feel of all these negative comments. I commented from a fear of not being able to afford what new menus came in.... but everyone here is blasting the place before it's even opened and that's just not right. Why don't you wait and try it out? How can you turn so fast on this family who's been running this business for 35 years? I for one am rooting for the success of this new venture. Geez... please remember they are doing it for you, their customers... Maybe old dogs can't learn new tricks.
William September 30, 2012 at 02:24 AM
@Mathew, Surprised this quote didn't stick out to you by Gill "What do I want people to say after they visit?" says Benjamin. "Thank you and we'll be back." Most businessmen are the ones who say thank you to their customers, but this cat wants his customers thanking him. Oh My, no comment
Johnny K's September 30, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Thank you - everyone - for your comments. The pro and con passion is overwhelming. We can only pray we meet or exceed your expectations.
Arnie September 30, 2012 at 05:53 PM
I have known John Kallas since he opened the Parsonage Diner, and I was a regular at both the Parsonage and the Windsor when Bob and Harry owned it. Both places were very successful diners, and their diners were family friendly. I am greatly saddened to see that his family has essentially handed over the keys to an outsider, rather than stick to what made their father successful. Good ran Diners in New Jersey are a major draw for families. The Parsonage Diner and Windsor Diner were the epitome of diners. No reason why Johnny K's can not be the same. As a father, i would be moved if my kids wanted to name their business after me, however I would be appalled if they handed over the keys to an outsider to run that business. John Kallas taught his kids to be able to stand on what he built, he did not teach his kids to hand over everything he built to an outsider to run to to the ground. Give my regards to John for me from Arnie G.
Melissa September 30, 2012 at 07:52 PM
I hope you keep Chicken noodle soup on your daily menu. It was a convenience for us working moms to run to the diner and get real chicken broth when our kids came home sick from school. Will you still offer items like grill cheese for the kids? How about Reubens, tuna and chicken salad platters for dinner? Danish or muffin and coffee after a pta meetings? I remind you that Clark Twp and the surrounding area are family towns who like their diners. We are not Manhattan.
Johnny K's September 30, 2012 at 09:16 PM
We'll still have it Melissa - plus the grilled chhese and an expanded Kids Menu. I hope to test it on a few of them and will post a time/date closer to opening. Reubens are still there and you can still get the tuna/chicken even though it isn't on the menu for dinner. I certainly understand the "not Manhattan" bit. Nick asked for a NYC Steakhouse type of prime steak that might rival one you'd buy in the city - but also asked that we be able to do it at half the price. We will. I believe you'll be pleased with the rest of the prices. Some have dropped a bit but none have gone up more than a dollar.
Queenie September 30, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Avocado salad is good. Greek salad is good. Tuna salad is good. Mix all 3 and not so good. This concept of yours is not so good for a town filled with senior citizens and families with kids.
Drakes Cakes September 30, 2012 at 11:43 PM
It's not gonna be on menu but we can order it? BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHA. Thanks for the laugh
Carolina Pierre October 04, 2012 at 12:23 AM
I can't believe the things that I am reading here. First I would like to say just because the name has changed to Johnny K's, in honor of the Patriarch of the family and Diner, John Kallas, also, Gil's being hired does NOT mean that the Restaurant is going to be so different that you won't recognize it. They are doing a complete make over for the place, which is long over due! Yes,Gil is trying to put new great things on the menu with suggestions of everyone from area! If you look at the day menu the breakfast has stayed mostly the same, with the exceptions of some new tastes. If some of the prices go up, very slightly as Gil says, I will be more than happy to still frequent there!!!! Somewhere that I can take my kids to go for a great breakfast or lunch and then a more romantic dinner another night by the fire!!! I also know that the Kallas family has not turned the keys over to some stranger to let him run it. Gil is working very closely with the Family on every point of every decision of what goes into the details of trying to bring a nicer type of dining to our area. So while some of you decided to sit on your pedestals and point your fingers at the Kallas' for whatever rumors you may have heard or judging Gill for trying to help not only the Kallas' but the people in our area to have a more inviting place to go, from students to seniors, Congrats to John, Lily, Peter, Nick, I know you will do well! My family and I will see you on your opening day! Carrie Pierre
Tony Ventura November 06, 2012 at 03:25 AM
To all the negative comments: When the diner was old and run down everyone commented on how bad and dirty it looked. It was just too low class for all you hotshots with the wise comments. Now the Kallas family is going way out on a limb to renovate and give Clark a place to be proud of. A place where you can bring your family/ friends. A place where the food and service will be above the standard of most of the surrounding places You complain about prices going up.From what I saw of the not yet finalized menu the prices are pretty good. Besides have you been out to eat lately? Probably not because if you have you would see just how expensive eating out is and the quality most fast food and chain operations offer is sub standard. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and not everyone has to like johnny K's but to cast such negative remarks without really knowing Gil or the Kallas family and just speculate on what their business plan may be, with the intent to try and persuade others to think the same way makes me feel that you are not criticizing to be constructive but only trying to hurt good people that work very hard to keep their business going and you would actually be happy to see them fail and lose everything.That to me is just sad and wrong. I hope that you find that perfect place where the food, prices, atmosphere and service is just right for you but my opinion is that you never will.There will always be something for you to complain about because it's in your nature
Marilyn Price December 12, 2012 at 02:50 AM
I sure am going to miss the old Windsor. :( It's been around for so long, and I've been there innumerable times since early childhood. I'm now 25. If I'd known in time that they were going to be shutting it down for a while to completely change it, I'd have made sure to go and take some pictures before that happened. I liked the old look--the ramp entrance, the classic diner-style booths with the mini jukebox radios, the greenhouse section! I cannot believe it's all gone and totally redone, even if it's the same basic structure. =( I'm sure I'll enjoy the layout of Johnny K's, and some of the food, but I wish it hadn't had to take the place of the Windsor. Not that we don't have enough nice diners in the area, but we've also got enough nice restaurants, and the Windsor was just a good local standby to have there. Of course, I always find it extremely difficult to adjust to the thought of never being able to physically be in a place again, for it to exist as it was only in memories. I desperately miss our Bradlees (I virtually lived there as a kid..it makes so much less than no sense for that wonderful store to have gone out of business...my family alone should have kept them going!!), the old Clark ShopRite and A&P, and the way various other places used to be before closing or changing.
Marilyn Price December 12, 2012 at 02:51 AM
I miss the cute little old house on the corner that was bulldozed for the bloody bank (of which there are way too many, auugh...) And that other cute blue one over on Bonnie Burn Rd. that they recently demolished. :(ANYWAY, a few of my family members were disappointed with the layout because we liked the "diner" style as opposed to what they called "more restaurantish, with tables everywhere." They described the menu to me as being "very limited," with no more all-day breakfast options and not nearly as many choices. I love having breakfast foods offered all the time. They also found the prices a little higher than they perhaps should be, but still acceptable...and the food itself they seemed to enjoy for the most part, but didn't rave about. What they brought home for the rest of us to try wasn't something I'd have chosen myself, so my opinion of it won't really affect my willingness to try the place eventually one way or the other. Right now I'm just wishing that they'd renovated the Windsor, cleaning and freshening it up, maybe introducing some of the new elements, but basically keeping it the same. But hopefully I'll like JK's enough not to feel too sad for it. After all, it seems as if they tried not to get rid of our old diner entirely...maybe it's just really, really covered up? I don't know. The lack of greenhouse, breakfast, booths, and jukeboxes I definitely find depressing.
peggy December 31, 2012 at 03:17 PM
my son and daughter in law surprised me sunday morning came up from the shore to bring my christmas gift and have breakfeast. i had an omlet it was excellent. the service was prompt a nice old fashion home feeling. i love that there are choice's for healthy stuff like fruit would also be nice if they have wheat and rye bread. my grandchildren loved the buffet. i live in scotch plains my son wanted to go somewhere close i picked it and i am glad i did. hopefully the prices will not go up to high. our waiter was very helpfull, prompt, and courtious. because sometimes my experience of waiters are they just want a tip but give lousy service. i will be back. have a blessed new yerar

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