GTPulse: Jonathon B’s – The Best Stop of The Mall

“You aren’t from TC if you haven’t been to Jonathon B’s,” a friend said to me a few months back while walking through the Grand Traverse Mall. As we passed the quiet mall pub I gazed into a portal from a different time. Cozy, dark lighting surrounds booths partitioned off from each other with curtains, each table with its own mirror and sconce light. It was mid-November right before dining in at restaurants was off-limits again. Instead of going back home to eat, we wandered in.

There’s something warm and nostalgic about Jonathon B’s that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. When I shared the sentiment with owner Duncan McCall he asked where I grew up.

“Dearborn, downstate.”

“Are you familiar with Fairlane Mall? There used to be a Jonathon B’s right there,” he said.

The Jonathon B’s at the Grand Traverse Mall was the last one to open out of three, and also, the last one operating today. All three were mall-concept pubs, but not all three had Duncan at the helm.

As a young man, he began working at the first Jonathon B’s while going to school for engineering. 

“The man that started the pub was named John Baja. He was a very prominent businessman in the metro Detroit area. I believe he was a councilman for the city of Dearborn. He had three sons. He came up with this concept and put them in malls around the metro area. I worked for the old man, JB. One of the sons found out about this mall opening in Traverse City.”

The family didn’t approve of the idea. But the son Glenn Baja approached Duncan about taking the plunge and doing it anyway and Duncan said yes.

“It was always a family-owned operation, never a chain. It was that way then, and it’s that way today with my family.”

He moved his young family up to Northern Michigan and bought Glenn out several years after the pub’s opening in October of 1992. Today the pub is still family-owned and operated. Many of the employees who started there from the beginning are still there today. 

“I’m very proud of my staff. We’re closed Mondays and Tuesdays because I don’t want to burn them out. I am not a greedy owner, and money isn’t everything. I want to pay people well so they stay and so I don’t have to train someone new. Most of my staff has been here for almost 30 years. And so we just, we just have a great bunch.”

The employees have stuck around, and so has the Original Moviegoers Special. John Baja and a few MGM officials came up with the idea as an easy date night for couples. For the past 29 years, it’s been a way to keep dinner and a movie cheap. The AMC Classic Cherry Blossom movie theater used to be inside of the mall and right across from the pub. The theater has moved but the special is still around.

“We still do that here. It’s not as prevalent as it once was since the movies have moved away but we still continue the special. I have a great relationship with AMC.”

The special might not draw the crowds anymore, but the food still does. In my quest for living perfectly during Lent, I’ve found the best fish and chips among other typical pub fare. The shepherd’s pie takes three days to make and uses seasoned and shredded blade steak. 

“We have everything from cheese sticks to hand-cut steaks. Meats are locally from Louie’s and GFS has also been a big part of the Pub’s success. It really shows you the quality of the food. We have good portions here and I also try to keep my prices down. My overhead isn’t what the chains are so I’m able to do that.”

For someone who didn’t plan on spending his life in the restaurant industry, Duncan has made a great go of it. 

Do yourself and favor and get some fish and chips or go on a quintessentially ‘90s TC date night with the Moviegoers Special at this little mall pub that could. 

“People don’t think of a restaurant in the mall as a great restaurant. I wanted to break that barrier and I think that I have. This is one of the longest-running independent restaurants in town, and there are only a few of us left. I’m very proud of that. Very proud.”

 

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