Family Fealty

Food And Dining

It started out like many of the most charming success stories—with a tiny mom-and-pop operation. Today, Johnny’s Café is a prime destination year-round, not only for locals and regulars, but also visitors and seasonal residents of the Jersey Shore. This transformation did not happen overnight, however. It took years of resilience, determination, and hard work to make Johnny and Joanne Liccio’s dream a living and breathing reality.

Johnny and Joanne began crafting their legacy selling ice cream out of a very modest shop in Ventnor, N.J. They had a successful operation for their first summer season until the cold weather hit and the customers disappeared. Johnny, a notoriously hard worker with a genuine love of serving his neighbors and community, decided to offer a simple breakfast menu in hopes of bringing people in during the off-season using nothing more than an oven and a $49 grill.

The new breakfast menu went over so well that soon Johnny was offering simple entrées out of the tiny shop. In fact, it wasn't long before they had completely outgrown their small establishment. Joanne and Johnny sold the shop and moved to a larger property in Margate, and from there, it was a steady climb up. Over the years they developed the restaurant into the versatile, full-service culinary and nightlife institution it is today, with two dining rooms, lounge booths, two bars, a dance floor, and a stage.

What is most interesting about Johnny’s in its current form is that even with all the expansion and renovation, it remains a tremendously versatile space. The chic interior is perfect for late-night dancing or a family dinner, the bar is perfect for a beer and a sports game or a sociable happy hour, and the staff is so friendly and accommodating, it's remarkably easy to feel at home.

“I always tell my staff, ultimately it comes down to what brings people back and how we treat them. It's all about hospitality,” Joanne says. She couldn’t be more right. While the food is delectable and the drinks are inspired, the friendly neighborhood vibe is what truly enamors every guest. It’s a place to meet people and make friends, whether you're dropping by for your first or 50th visit. Johnny recently celebrated his 50th birthday party, as a matter of fact, and many of those invited were loyal regulars of the café who have become close family friends over the years.

This success story does not end here, however—not even close. Just a few yards down the block is Johnny and Joanne’s newest establishment, John’s Steaks. This South Philly-inspired cheesesteak standby offers overflowing portions of the gut-busting sandwich that made Philly famous. It's quick-casual and the steaks and roasted pork are absolutely spot on. “It seems like it popped up overnight, but Johnny has wanted a cheesesteak place since we were married 10 years ago, and we finally had the opportunity,” Joanne says.

That word—opportunity—has special meaning for the Liccio family. Whenever it seemed opportunity was lacking, they simply created it. It has come in the form of long, arduous hours on the job, putting everything they had into expanding the restaurant and going the extra mile to make all guests feel comfortable and accommodated. There's no doubt both Johnny and Joanne have the well-deserved reputation of genuine, hard-earned success.  They even have another project in the works, which shall remain nameless (for now). Suffice it to say there are big things on the horizon for fans of Johnny’s Café and John’s Steaks, and there is little evidence that the momentum of the Liccio family will wane any time soon.