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Jahn's Reopens With Vintage Look After Renovation

By Katie Honan | March 28, 2016 4:23pm | Updated on March 29, 2016 7:50pm
 The renovation was inspired by vintage Jahn's, including the old booths, stained glass lamps and ceiling fans, owner Nick Moukas said.
The renovation was inspired by vintage Jahn's, including the old booths, stained glass lamps and ceiling fans, owner Nick Moukas said.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

JACKSON HEIGHTS — Jahn's on 37th Avenue reopened Saturday after just over three weeks of renovations, with work that sets the historic restaurant back in time. 

Vintage fans stick out from white copper ceilings and specially-made stained glass lamps that shine with the diner's name around the brim hang above the counter.

The multicolored lamps on display behind the front counter are original to the restaurant, which opened on March 28, 1957.

They had been in the basement of former owner Tom Moukas' home in the Bronx, according to his son, Nick, who co-owns Jahn's with his brother Peter.

They were brought there in 1987, the last time Jahn's was renovated and expanded from ice cream parlor to full restaurant.

"[My dad] had his vision," Nick Moukas, 51, said of the 1987 renovations while greeting customers Monday, almost all of who were congratulating him on the changes.

Moukas said his own dream was to restore his restaurant, the last Jahn's left in what was once a chain with dozens around New York and New Jersey, back to its original look. 

"I've been to a lot of different Jahn's and remember what they look like," he said.

His father would bring him to other chains as a kid to see what others were up to. So when it came time for a spruce up, his vision was to bring back some of the original charm.

"Jahn's were always very warm, cozy, inviting, and you felt comfortable right away," Moukas said.

They closed for 19 days, getting work done as quickly as possible.

"Time is money," Moukas said with a smile. 

The changes are so subtle most customers had to ask what was different. Jahn's kept the wood paneled walls and shelf with white bulb lights, but upgraded the booths, adding stone countertops.

They made minor changes to the expansive menu, upgrading some sandwiches and dinners but keeping the famous "Kitchen Sink" — a massive ice cream sundae, that, true to its name, features almost every ingredient.

The stained glass lamps were custom made by a man whose grandfather made similar lamps for other Jahn's around the city, Moukas said.

The counter at Jahn's with new lights. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)

John Jahn opened his first ice cream parlor in Mott Haven in 1897, and later opened other shops around the city for each of his three children. They soon expanded, serving ice cream as shops in New York City, New Jersey and Florida.

They all closed, and the second-to-last one in Richmond Hill closed in 2008.

Tom Moukas started out as a waiter at the ice cream parlor near 81st Street in 1960. Ten years later, he bought it. His sons took it over in the mid 2000s.

As every other Jahn's closed around them, they stayed open — with credit given to the switch in 1987 from ice cream parlor to full-service restaurant.

Nick Moukas behind the counter of Jahn's, the last shop in the chain left. It underwent its first renovation in decades in March 2016. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)

"We're holding the torch, keeping it going," Moukas said.

He's grown up with his customers, who were happy to see it back open Monday after the brief closure.

"You feel an obligation. People said, 'Nick, I have nowhere to go eat,'" he said.

As for a revival of the chain, he was hopeful.

"Who knows what the future holds," he said. "Maybe they'll come back."