Tuckerton/Little Egg Harbor Leader

John & Sonia’s: ‘Great People, Great Food, Great Price’

By MARIA SCANDALE | Jun 07, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Mystic Island — If you’re new to John & Sonia’s Luncheonette on Radio Road, prepare to keep looking up to see whether a celebrity walked in.

John Spinelli shouts out greetings that make customers feel that way when they walk in the door. That's because most are regulars returning. You soon want to be like them.

Sonia Milagros Spinelli smiles from the register at the counter, and says, “We have a lot of locals who have been coming here forever. They have their own personal mugs up there. We know them by name and if we don’t know their name, we put their name on the mug until we know their names.”

In a strip mall at 978 Radio Rd. in Mystic Island, this neighborhood breakfast-lunch-Friday dinner place has a long history. It is known to be the longest continuously running restaurant in that area.

“It’s been here for 60 years now, and we’re here 16 years,” said John Spinelli. A vintage photo shows Mystic Luncheonette back when a nearby amusement park and community pool entertained summer people. Later it was Beverly’s. Now they are the fifth owners.

The New York couple made it their own but kept a simple charm: “Great people, great food, great price.” Customer reviews say folks appreciate it, and they come back, bringing guests and widening the circle.

“We give them very fresh food. Almost everything is homemade,” John and Sonia added to each other’s sentence. “We’re just trying to keep it old-fashioned; everyone seems to like that.”

Two years ago, popular demand called for expanding to add a 35-seat room to the original 60-customer capacity at tables and the diner-style counter.

“We want to keep it like this, and I think that’s the appeal,” John described, “that people have been coming here for so long, and we haven’t changed it. They get good food at a great price, and it’s real homey – I think, anyway.”

The blackboard, and the Facebook page, list specials with the price first. That’s because the prices are so reasonable.

One Sunday’s lunch specials: $9.99 fish & chips (fresh cod); $10.99 BBQ ribs served with macaroni salad; $9.99 Chicken Murphy over rice or pasta with garlic bread; $9.99 fried or grilled pork chops with mashed potatoes and applesauce; and others, with the most expensive special being the $14.99 fried panko fluke sandwich with lettuce & tomato, Old Bay fries & coleslaw.

Remember, the potato salad and other salads are made there; the meatballs are made there, so is the apple pie, the soups, almost everything.

“We have a lot of soup recipes,” Sonia remarked. “Like, 200,” John put in.

They both “always cooked,” as John explained what led them to this business. “And I’ve always been in the food business. I was a supermarket manager, then we owned a deli, then we bought this. And we have the same cooks here for a long time. The one cook is here about 20 years.

“I grew up with my grandmother; I use a lot of her (Italian) recipes,” John added. “And I worked for a German man for a long time and I owned a German deli, so I cook a lot of German food, and she cooks a lot of Puerto Rican food, so we’ve got a nice mix.”.

The quality seafood comes from the well-known supplier, Point Lobster Co. in Point Pleasant Beach. Clams are locally sourced from Parsons’. “We have a lot of fresh fish come in. We’ve got the fresh fluke, the fresh cod, Scottish salmon, we have shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, crab cakes.”

They do a lot of catering for parties and family events, Sonia said. Other events are held right there in the restaurant’s new room.

“We use it for dinners on Friday nights, and on Sundays it’s always full. And we use it for parties during the week after we close or during the day. We get groups from church, a lot of organizations come out,” Sonia added. “A lot of people from Mystic Shores come, and Citizens on Patrol, and St. Theresa’s Church. Special needs kids from the high school come a few times a year. They learn life skills. We teach them to go to the register and pay, for instance.”

The restaurant doesn’t have the staffing crunch that so many shore businesses battle before schools are out.

“We have a lot of customers that we met them before they married, and now they have kids. Now those kids want to work here.”

“I’m scared,” John joked, “pretty soon they’re going to start calling it ‘Mom and Pop’s’ instead of John and Sonia's.”

Relating to their neighbors has been part of the business. It hasn’t been that many years since Superstorm Sandy deluged the scenic waterfront.

“Right after Sandy, we started taking credit cards,” Sonia related. “After Sandy was rough,” John explained. “More than ever.”

The online review of a customer who has been going there for six years sums up a lot of what John & Sonia’s is about.

“The first time I went there was right after the Sandy Storm – was so impressed with the staff, owners and how good they were to all the people coming in to eat and get warm. Always have such great service with a smile. It is our family/friends get-together for breakfast and lunch! Just had breakfast there this morning with two of my sisters, my husband, and one of my brother-in-laws and it was crazy busy and they were so accommodating and exceptional as always!”

The restaurant closes at 3 p.m. every day except for Fridays, when they serve dinner. The phone number is 609-294-9670.

— Maria Scandale

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

 

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