January 18, 2002

Popular Local Eatery Closes Its Doors

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“Eat at Joe’s,” a common saying among Ithaca residents, may soon become an anachronism, now that both Joe’s and Little Joe’s (more recently Frank’s) Restaurants have closed.

The property that contains the Italian eatery on 602 W. Buffalo St. is up for grabs, and “several parties” have expressed “serious interest” in the two-acre lot, which also includes Enterprise auto leasing on 328 N. Meadow and a private residence on Court St., according to Realtor Robert Lama.

The asking price is $2.3 million, but owner Larry Church will consider offers to buy the buildings separately, Lama said.

He added that it will probably be months before a settlement is reached, but a few parties have called about the idea of a restaurant. Lama predicted that it will be difficult to find a buyer with the skills to continue managing the restaurant at its past standard.

The Yengo family founded Joe’s in 1932. John Yengo sold the business to Church and Mark Campagnolo in 1988.

“Joe’s used to be one of the best recognized restaurants in the county,” said Campagnolo, who left the business in 1999 to co-found the Boatyard Grill.

For nearly a decade it was voted the Best Restaurant by The Ithaca Times (1989-1999). Restaurant and Hospitality Magazine also dubbed Joe’s one of “the country’s top 500 restaurants” in 1993 and 1994.

“Joe’s filled a niche in the community and was a place people enjoyed going,” Barbara Lang, lecturer, food and beverage department, said. “It had quantity, atmosphere, and service.”

Jonathan Seibald ’03 agreed that the restaurant is a local legend.

“When I visited Cornell with my parents, we always ate at Joe’s,” he said. “I thought it was good enough to compete with restaurants downstate.”

But Seibald said he noticed that the portions had gotten smaller within the last year, although he didn’t remember any change in the food quality.

Prof. Dennis Reynolds Ph.D. ’00, food and beverage operations management, said the food quality at Joe’s varied over time.

“Joe’s has had its ups and downs. The restaurant industry is hard to manage, and approaching seventy years is a long time,” Reynolds said. “It’s very disappointing because Joe’s is a local institution. But those of us familiar with the volatile restaurant industry aren’t terribly surprised.”

A sign on the building, dated Jan. 7, said the restaurant is closed for renovations and will return in the spring.

City of Ithaca tax records show two tax liens against the property, totaling $24,037.73, from 2000.

Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 said no enforcement action has been taken against the property to collect unpaid taxes, The Ithaca Journal reported Wednesday.

Church, who lives in Florida, was unavailable for comment.

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts