15 Sep 2014
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The Story Behind Skokie's Iconic Jack's Restaurant

Jack's Restaurant was the place to be after hours for almost a half-century. While the hours have scaled back, the Skokie restaurant known for it's comfort food is still a popular destination to many.

The Story Behind Skokie's Iconic Jack's Restaurant The Story Behind Skokie's Iconic Jack's Restaurant

For many people, Jack’s Restaurant was the after hours place to be seen. While it’s scaled back its hours, the business still holds a Cheers like atmosphere.

The venerable eatery at 5201 Touhy Ave. in Skokie has been welcoming customers for generations. With its comfort food menu, Jack’s provides a sense of community, which likely explains its longevity, said owner George Koretos.

Jack’s, which was originally known as Jake’s, opened sometime during the Eisenhower administration in the late 1950s. The restaurant was renamed Jack’s in 1965 when not so coincidentally it was taken over by Jack Koretos and his business partner Jerry Rubin. Jack’s son, George, now 49, has been running the day-to-day operation since 2000, a job he has been preparing for his whole life, he said.

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Sometimes when small business owners operate a successful enterprise it comes after years of trying something else. That is not the case for Koretos, who realizes his career was predestined.

“I’m Greek, I had no choice,” he said with a grin.

But it wasn't only the ethnic heritage, there was the family pull as well.

“I pretty much knew I was going to go into the restaurant business,” Koretos said. “My grandfather owned a dairy in Humboldt Park and he serviced restaurants.  My other grandfather had cafeterias.”

But there were other stops along the way to get to him prepared.

Koretos worked two years as a busboy at the Willow on Wagner Road in Glenview, starting when he was 13.

A Glenview native, Koretos went to Glenbrook South and helped out his father at Jack’s along with some caddying at North Shore Country Club before enrolling at the University of Wisconsin-Stout where he studied hotel and restaurant management. It was an experience he is lukewarm about today.

“College taught me how to implement food cost percentage and payroll and general accounting to a degree,” Koretos believes. “In this business you are better off going hands on, I learned more in the field than I did at college.”

After college there were stops at local restaurants where Koretos started evolving into management before heading back to Jack’s in his young 20s with the idea of eventually taking over the business. Today, it seems that script was followed perfectly.

Koretos oversees an operation where he has 27 employees most of whom have been there for more than 10 years. He also added that about 300 to 400 people come through the doors on an average day, he said. Koretos is determined to make sure he has warm relationships with everyone.

“Eighty-five percent of our customers come in almost every day,” he said. “We treat them like family and I do the same with my help. That is why I have such longevity.”

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been or continue to be challenges. In terms of competition, there are now about two dozen restaurants within a mile.

“Managing the people and managing the business,” he said. “These days you have to micromanage in terms of food costs and payroll. Food isn’t cheap anymore and they go up and down every day.”

The local teen hangout 

Jack’s used to be a destination for high school students the way Arnold’s was in the 70s sitcom Happy Days, but those days are no more given a smoking ban that was at first implemented by Skokie and then eventually made statewide.

“The smoking ban really hurt me at night,” Koretos said. “Kids would come in and have a smoke and have appetizers.  It was a young adult crowd that smoked a lot.  It has probably changed for the better (in terms of fewer teenagers smoking) but it did put a dent in the business.”

The smoking ban meant the days of Jack’s being a round-the-clock operation came to an end and now it is only open from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. On the positive side, that gives Koretos more time to spend with his family.

“Everything is different,” he said. “There is a sense of excitement and I like people. You have to like people to be in this business.”

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