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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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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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