Florida Keys Business
Sunday, April 20, 2014
A new old-fashioned eatery
Johnny Rockets shakes and swizzles on Duval Street

A Johnny Rockets franchise is now serving up its signature slice of Americana in the 200 block of Duval Street.

The restaurant known for singing, straw-swirling servers, antique Coca-Cola logos and happy faces drawn in ketchup also offers a full bar, happy hour specials and late-night hours in the Key West location, which opened March 27 at 217 Duval St.

The building housed Cheeseburger restaurant until about a year ago, and is now right next door to a Burger Fi franchise.

"If you've just opened a restaurant, and are spending time watching what's happening next door, then you're doing something wrong," said Eddie Theosevis, part-owner of the Key West location and director of operations for a Miami-based franchise group of Johnny Rockets. "We're going to do what we do best, and that is take care of the people who walk into our restaurant with great food, friendly service and a memorable experience."

That service generally includes live entertainment in the form of singing and dancing servers with classic American food.

"Johnny Rockets was founded on the belief that you can go home -- that in the hustle and bustle of today's world, there's a place that brings you back to simpler days. A place where you can slide into a red-padded booth, play your favorite song for a nickel and take a slow stroll down memory lane."

A recent Thursday found the new restaurant bustling, and the owners hustling.

"I've been with the company for 20 years," Theosevis said. "I started as a server."

And old habits die hard, because the afternoon found Theosevis back in waiter mode, stepping up to the plate to ensure prompt service for everyone.

"I've always loved Key West, and I've told the owners of our franchise group that I wanted to be down here," he said. "It took me two to three years to find the right spot, so when the owner of this property called and said it was available, it was the perfect fit."

The building had been empty for about a year, said General Manager Mick Reed.

The layout offers an ideal place for kids' birthday parties.

"We're hosting a huge group of second- and third-graders next week," Theosevis said. "I think we can really fill a vacancy in town when it comes to locations for kids' parties."

And for the adults, the Key West Johnny Rockets offers a full liquor bar and is open until 2 a.m. on the weekends.

"So far, we've been seeing a mix of about a third tourists, a third cruise ship passengers and a third locals," Theosevis said, adding that the restaurant offers a 20 percent locals' discount and free downtown delivery.

"There's nothing fancy on our menu, just basic all-American fare: hamburgers, classic sandwiches, fries, shakes and malts," states the brand's website. "At Johnny Rockets, there are no surprises, no rotating menu items, and no 'specials.' You get a juicy, hand-pattied hamburger cooked just the way they used to taste."

The brand name is a combination of the timeless Johnny Appleseed tale and the classic Oldsmobile Rocket 88 that epitomized the concept of classic Americana, according to founder Ronn Teitelbaum, who opened the first location on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles in 1986.

Today, there are more than 300 Johnny Rockets locations around the world, including Kuwait, Dubai, Pakistan and Costa Rica.

The restaurant is also inside several Six Flags amusement parks and on board cruise ships.

But for right now, Theosevis and his entirely local staff of servers are only worried about one of those 300 restaurants -- the one at 217 Duval St., where the shakes are hand-dipped, the ketchup smiles back and breakfast lasts until noon.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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