Northside SF
Appetites and Afterthoughts
Original Joe's comes to North Beach

An artist's rendering of the cookline planned for the new Original Joe's restaurant
in North Beach illustration: courtesy of Arcanum Architecture, Inc.
For months the rumor mill had it that Original Joe’s was coming to North Beach. When word got out recently that the old-time Tenderloin restaurant was actually making the move to our neighborhood – that at last it was a done deal – there was rejoicing in the streets. And North Beach is a neighborhood loaded with restaurants of all kinds and is not given to much rejoicing.

Yet, John Duggan, Original Joe’s floor manager-maître d’hôtel and spokesman for the family that started the restaurant in 1937, said he planned to open the doors at 601 Union Street in October this year, four years after a disastrous fire closed the Taylor Street establishment.

“We want to make a seamless transition to our new location and stay true to what we do best – serve good, honest food to all kinds of customers,” Duggan told me.

The site of the reincarnation of Original Joe’s – the corner of Union and Stockton across from Washington Square Park – couldn’t be more propitious. “There has been a restaurant on this corner for many years,” Duggan pointed out.

The most recent tenant was DiMaggio’s Italian Chop House. Earlier it was the historic Fior d’Italia, now down on Mason in the San Remo Hotel. 

The original Joe: Tony Rodin, who founded the restaurant in
1937 photo: courtesy of Elena and John Duggan
Interviewing John Duggan about Original Joe’s was a labor of love. In my salad days (and this doesn’t mean when I was eating a lot of salads), my family and I ate at Original Joe’s regularly. The food was good, there was plenty of it, and it was reasonably priced. And as I recall, when I ate in the Taylor Street establishment shortly before the fire, it was still good, still plentiful, and still reasonably priced.

What John Duggan intends to do is to replicate the Taylor Street Original Joe’s – not only its 1930s’ Art Moderne look with the long counter and its tuxedoed waiters, its battery of line cooks, up front and center – but with basically the same food that pleased me when I was a kid and later whenever my stomach growled.

“What will be on the seven-days-a-week lunch and dinner menu?” I asked. Here are the daily specials – real food for real folks.

Monday: beef stew and barbecued lamb
Tuesday: oxtail stew and baked short ribs
Wednesday: osso bucco and meat loaf
Thursday: corned beef and cabbage and roast turkey with all the trimmings
Friday: barbecued ribs and pan-fried calamari
Saturday: oxtail stew
Sunday: baked ham and roast chicken

“That will probably be our lineup of specials, but we change them around a bit. We’re also looking at bringing back tongue and tripe,” Duggan said.

Again, real food for real folks.
“Over the years what have been some of the most popular items?”

“Our cheeseburger is probably the most popular. It’s on an Italian-French roll hollowed out to fit the burger, which is grilled with plenty of onions. We grind our own beef chuck. Then it’s topped with Swiss cheese. Right from the start our bread came from the Italian French Baking Co. right here in North Beach. It still will,” Duggan said.

“OK, assume I have eaten one of your cheeseburgers every day for the last week. Give me some other favorites,” I ask.

“How about Joe’s Special – ground chuck, onions, eggs and spinach –that’s really a part of our history,” he said.

Another good one. “How’s it part of your history?”

“Well, my grandfather, a Croatian from what was then Yugoslavia, was in the merchant marines, and he learned how to cook aboard ship. Later he cooked on land on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia. He went back to sea, and in 1932 he jumped ship in San Francisco. Then in 1934, he worked at New Joe’s here in North Beach. That’s where he got the concept for Original Joe’s and that’s where he learned to prepare Joe’s Special,” Duggan said.

“So Joe’s begat Joe’s, and the rest is history. Tell us a little about the family.”

“My grandfather, Tony Rodin, founded Original Joe’s. He met my grandmother, Florence Martino, here in North Beach. She was born in Bari, Italy. My mother, Marie Duggan, is with us, and I have a sister, Elena. We’re both married and have offspring. She has a couple of girls, and my wife and I have a baby girl, Gabrielle.

“I’m all for this historic detail. Keep up the good work, and I mean both at home and at the restaurant. What else are you doing to assure the authenticity of the Original Joe’s experience?”
“Steak and chops, roasts, pastas, and fine fresh fish. We’re also bringing more than fifty percent of our waiters and our line cooks from the Taylor Street place,” he said.

“We’re assuming that many of our old customers will follow us to North Beach. Over the years we’ve had a very interesting clientele. For example, every San Francisco mayor since we opened has dined with us, including our present mayor, Ed Lee. And we’ve had patrons like John Garfield, John Belushi, Sean Penn, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Garcia, Kid Rock, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Joe Montana, Warren Hinkle, [and] the columnists Matier and Ross.”

And just plain folks.

“Yes, and just plain folks. They’re our best customers. “But I’d like to leave you with this thought – Original Joe’s has been part of San Francisco for more than seventy years. Now we’re looking forward to our next seventy in North Beach,” Duggan concluded.
“I’ll drink – I mean eat – to that.”

Ernest Beyl is a member in good standing of the Original Joe’s original but unofficial and unduplicated fan club. E-mail:

Bookmark and Share Print Page PDF
Appetites and Afterthoughts Column Archive