SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Among the many Greek-owned family restaurants across the country, and indeed around the world, the tradition of philoxenia, hospitality, is something that endures and is often passed down from generation to generation. The Marcovici brothers are second generation restauranteurs with roots in Cyprus on mom Eleni’s side and Romania on dad Bernie’s side. They own Jack’s Restaurant with four locations in the Bay Area, but their parents first put them to work at Eleni’s, their restaurant in Clayton after they moved to the U.S. from Cyprus. With a strong emphasis on family, great food, and a great sense of humor, the family continues the tradition. John Marcovici spoke with The National Herald about the family business on behalf of his brothers, his twin David and youngest brother Chris.
TNH: Did all the brothers always want to continue in the family business?
John Marcovici: David always wanted to continue in the family business. Chris and I wanted to get out. After many years of failing to do that, we eventually opened a restaurant together after acknowledging that we had no other no monetizable talents and what we should really be doing is taking advantage of brother David’s exceptional cooking skills. Our better-late-than-never insights led us to open Jack’s in 2010.
TNH: Where in Cyprus is mom from and where is dad’s side from?
JM: Mom is from the village of Ardana in Cyprus. When she returned to Cyprus from New York in 1970 with her family in tow, the coastal city of Famagusta was our home. Our dad’s family came to the United States in the late 19th century from Romania.
TNH: What is the most challenging and also the most rewarding aspect of working in the restaurant/family business?
JM: The most challenging aspect of working in the family restaurant is to not eat constantly. The second most challenging part is hiring.
There are many rewarding aspects of working in the restaurant business. We love working with all the amazing people that make Jack’s a special restaurant. One thing we didn’t anticipate was how lucky we’d be to build something together with so many exceptional individuals and how these ladies and gentlemen who come to work every day and create a great experience for our guests would become our second family.
And along those lines, it’s most rewarding to see individuals who started with us climb the Jack’s ladder– like Samantha Oei and Julio Torres, who began as a server and line cook respectively, and now are the General Manager and Kitchen Manager of our San Mateo location. When our team members want to become a bigger part of what we do and flourish in each successive role, it makes us very proud of them and very grateful for how they make Jack’s better every day.
Last but not least, it is also rewarding when our guests make it a point to tell us how much they love Jack’s. Like most people who got into the restaurant business because their older brother was born to be a chef and they were just smart enough to ride his coattails, we ended up discovering that we’re not just serving people a great meal; Jack’s is a meaningful part of our guests’ lives. If we had known the impact Jack’s would make in the communities we serve, and the joy and satisfaction to be found in that, we would have exploited Dave’s cooking skills a long time ago.
The Marcovici family with Mama Eleni in the center. Photo: © 2019 Marc Fiorito / Gamma Nine Photography
TNH: Where do you see Jack’s in the future? Is there a younger generation that might be interested in taking over one day?
JM: We see Jack’s in Maui. If we open a Jack’s in Maui, I think the younger generation will be very interested in taking over.
TNH: What are some of your favorite dishes to cook and/or enjoy at Jack’s?
JM: It sounds like a cop-out to say this, but we enjoy everything at Jack’s. Our menu is a reflection of what we love. We love the breakfast burritos, the new churro waffles, our all natural hamburgers, our variety of mac n’ cheese dishes, and our gyros and souvlaki, just to name a few. Of course, we lean toward the Greek dishes my mom cooked at home – especially our lamb chops. And we don’t just enjoy these dishes while at work. We eat there all the time! It’s our families’ favorite restaurant. Most importantly, Mama Eleni won’t eat anywhere else.
TNH: What can guests look forward to at the refreshed Jack’s?
JM: They can look forward to a more refined and inviting space where our guests feel just as comfortable celebrating their most special occasions as they do making Jack’s their local hangout.
With the remodel, we wanted Jack’s to truly feel as a home away from home, with family photos that pay homage to our mom and dad and to our Greek heritage. Plus we added two large booths that seat up to ten guests and we put an old school neon “Jack’s” sign over the entrance to our Tap Room. It looks really cool.
More information about Jack’s Restaurant is available online: https://ilovejacks.com