Barrydowne and Lasalle is a busy corner. For more than 30 years, Jak’s Diner has been here serving breakfasts, seven days a week. All around the calendar this New Sudbury business was where people met over coffee and toast or maybe egg, fried, over-easy, sunny-side up, scrambled, or poached.
“Sue and George ran a very successful restaurant. Now it is my career … maybe for the next three decades!” new owner Chris Cunningham told me.
Cunningham made the leap and bought this legendary location in September. Pretty bold. Did anyone tell him about COVID and the pandemic? Don’t worry. He has it figured out and definitely has his eyes open.
“We’re the same place you’ve always loved,” Cunningham said.
“It’s not easy to start a new venture, especially during these crazy times. I purchased this in September. It’s my first time being an owner. I always worked back of house, but I did get education in managerial skills while at culinary school in Barrie. I have support. It’s a big responsibility, I trust this will work.”
Cunningham knows this industry and is fully aware of the hours, the sweat equity required and the importance of developing and retaining that loyal following.
On Oct. 26 after deep cleaning, some painting and double-checking compliance directives for restaurants, Cunningham used word of mouth to tell a few friends that it was time to open the doors.
It was no “soft” opening. The place was humming.
“I get up at 4 a.m. Trust me, I don’t stay up to midnight watching Netflix! I’m thinking about tomorrow’s guests. Breakfast places have to deliver what you want, when you want it. When there are three choices on this one street alone (Barrydowne Road), you have to be better than good. One of the reasons I love this place is for the legacy and the classic diner feel.
“It’s real, not manufactured. Look at those stools along the bar. Sadly these are not in use at this time; but we will bring them back once we can.”
Cunningham wants to develop even more of a 1950s diner feel, but right now it is all about the food.
“Reliable, efficient, consistent. We are a bit of a destination because everyone knows we are not a chain. By 8 a.m. it gets hopping in here.”
He is right about that. Regular customers are greeted by name and staff are already becoming family.
“I want to create an environment where you enjoy coming to work. It will show you will care about the customer. The plates — how they look — and even how the meals are delivered demonstrates a positive note and can-do attitude. We love what we do.”
Cunningham’s is a simple philosophy. “Scratch-made diner food served hot and to order.”
Ask him how it all started.
“When I was a kid, I stood on a chair learning how to on my Mom’s stovetop. I just was amazed about the chemistry of baking, too. You know my Mom makes all our pies? She taught me to do food well.”
This fascination is repeated here years later.
“You see, pretty much everything we can make in-house, we do. I do offer unique specials to stretch our skills.”
Check out his Facebook for images of what was — and what is — offered.
“Our breakfast is available all day.” Maybe not surprisingly lunch all day, too.
Fresh cut fries and home-fries tossed in proprietary Jak’s seasoning heighten Valley potatoes. “Of course we use local as much as we can. Our cheese curds for poutine are from Thorneloe. We have 42 seats now with plexiglass and blocked tables. No groups larger than 6. There are many options and we try to accommodate everyone. I am honestly finding this is working well.” You will too.
“It is my place, but we always will be Jak’s. I have not changed breakfast at all,” Cunningham said.
“My family and I used to come here and eat on weekends,” Brendan Skiffington of Garson told me. “It felt right then, and I’m coming back now with work colleagues for Jak’s pulled pork Cuban and Chris’s burgers.”
Check the whiteboard for specials. Waffles, crepes, omelets ... they have a menu that is quite extensive. Yes, every respectable diner has the liver and onions plate. Guess what, yes, here it is. Kids and families there are choices for you, too.
Have a hankering for a Monte Cristo? This sandwiched French toast ham and cheese is another classic. Return for the Reuben! Lunch or breakfast you can even choose home-made bread or rice pudding (with cinnamon), or a generous wedge of pecan pie.
The spirit of entrepreneurship and the drive to salute the best of history lives on at Jak’s.
1100 Barrydowne Road, across from the New Sudbury Shopping Centre.
Mon-Fri 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Hugh Kruzel is a committed foodie and a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury. Are you an advertiser? Learn more about our Community Leaders Program here.