JJ’s American Diner, an oldie but goodie

For those days when you’re missing momma and her home cooked meals, there is a fresh alternative to flying home. A new restaurant just opened this summer, located across campus, and this one is co-owned by one of UM’s students.

JJ’s American Diner, which closed 11 years ago, re-opened this summer after senior Jeff Howard, Jr., a finance and entrepreneurship double major, and his father decided it was time to bring back the family business.

Not much changed over the years-on a weekend, Howard’s mom can sometimes be seen greeting customers and wearing a purple apron with the word Mom on the front. In fact, she’s at the restaurant almost as much as he is.

“I moved out three years ago,” Howard said, “but now I see her almost every day, working on menus and talking to customers.”

The restaurant originally opened in 1984, when Howard was only a 1-year-old. The city of Coral Gables loved it so much the restaurant turned itself into a small chain. Unfortunately, while the original diner flourished, the others did so poorly that all of them had to close by the early 90s.

Howard grew up hearing people talk about the restaurant’s closing and how they wished it would come back. Many spoke of it as one of the only places to find old-fashioned American food such as meatloaf, mashed potatoes and French toast. After working as a manager at Johnny Rockets, Howard was presented with an opportunity to reopen JJ’s and discussed it with his family.

“We decided to do it because this was fitting a need people felt, a place to go that had old-fashioned food and atmosphere,” he said.

They made an offer to the owners of The Diner, which was up for sale at the time, and the transformation quickly took place. The new restaurant sprang into full swing in August, with a jukebox in the front, TV screens set up on the walls, a new bar, oldies played during the day, and plans for student deals and discounts in the works.

While many students on campus don’t know much about JJ’s yet, some have heard about its opening. Many have noticed it driving by on U.S.1 or in an advertisement on thefacebook.com.

Those who haven’t heard anything yet seemed excited about a new convenient location to hang out around campus.

“If you live on campus, especially in the towers, you only have a couple of places to go and you get bored after a while,” Vanessa de la Portilla, junior, said.

Already the family-owned restaurant has a large following from returning customers and Howard hopes that as people try the food they’ll continue to keep on coming back. But when I asked whether the family would ever consider expanding this JJ’s American Diner to a chain, Howard quickly said no.

“[We] are not in the restaurant business, we’re in the JJ’s American Diner business, and that’s it.”

Candice Castaneda can be contacted at c.artemis@umiami.edu.