When Ken Applegate purchased Jack’s Gourmet in 1973, there were red booths, cocktail tables and a dance floor in the disco. Now, 40 years later, the original red booths’ modern replacements are a symbol of Applegate’s commitment to serving American fare in Jack’s signature style.
“People love our booths,” says Ken’s wife, Melissa.
“Matter of fact, we had a fire in 2001 and about a day or two afterward, we had a phone call: ‘Whatever you do, don’t change the color of the booths,’ ” Ken says. “And I said, ‘No, we’re not changing the color of the booths.’ ”
Jack’s Gourmet, located at 1903 Business Loop 70 E., opened its doors in 1928. The restaurant was known as Red & Mel’s then, and it has gone through a few name changes over the years: Jack’s Coronado Inn, Jack’s, and finally, Jack’s Gourmet. Applegate kept the restaurant’s current name when he purchased it. It had a good track record, as did its high-end American menu, he says.
“Some of the menu items haven’t changed over the years,” Melissa says. “Our chicken livers, our escargot, our prime rib, our filet mignon and our chicken cordon bleu are our mainstays. ‘Gourmet’ has always scared people because they think it’s really, really pricy, but when you look at our entrées, they include a soup, a salad, a vegetable and a starch. That is something that has stayed with Jack’s the whole time.”
Alongside Jack’s signature gourmet offerings are newer items that were added as the restaurant’s customers changed. In recent years, more casual American fare has become a part of Jack’s bar menu. Quarter-pound hot dogs, mini salmon sliders and fish tacos make gourmet food accessible for families with small children and customers on a budget.
“We do a lot of picnics and serve quarter-pound hot dogs; people love those,” Melissa says. “People kept telling us, ‘Why don’t you put them on the menu?’ And we kept saying, ‘Jack’s, with hotdogs on the menu?’ We put them at the bar and kids liked them. We make those changes to modernize.”
“It used to be that gentlemen had to wear a jacket to eat here,” Ken says. “But we got away from that because people just got away from that.”
The Applegates have established a full-service catering business featuring the restaurant’s American fare. From boxed lunches for four to banquets for more than 2,000 hungry fair-goers, the couple is dedicated to meeting every customer’s particular needs.
“We’re at every catering event,” Ken says. “You’ll see us manage the event to make sure it’s all the way they want it. That’s just our mode of operation, so that’s what we do — we’re always there. No event is too small, no event is too large.”
The Applegates’ commitment to their customers is evident in their constant presence at the restaurant. For the past four decades, Ken has spent his nights at Jack’s, hosting and running the front of the house. The 73-year-old greets every customer and has established longtime friendships with regulars over the years. One couple recently celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary at the restaurant, as they have every anniversary. Ken was there to celebrate with them every year.
“It’s very gratifying, those relationships with our customers,” Melissa says. “I guess you could say your customers are your kids, because you watch them grow up. We watch kids come in, and then they have their high school graduation party here, and then they’re turning 21 and have their 21st birthday party here.”
People return because they know the Applegates will be there with their fresh American fare made from scratch, Ken says. For Columbia’s celebrations, Jack’s remains dedicated to serving their target customers: the next generation of loyal regulars.
“We create memories here at Jack’s, that’s what we do,” Melissa says. “If our customers have fun and have a great meal, they remember, and then they come back.”
At Jack’s, customers can treat themselves to a cool, ice cream dessert drink — a sweet combination of Central Dairy French Vanilla ice cream and your choice of alcohol. Jack’s has been serving the comforting cocktails for 40 years. For a more traditional sweet ending, order a dessert martini.
For more than four decades, Kent Applegate has been serving up timeless fare at Jack’s Gourmet. See how the restaurant has changed over the years by visiting its website, Jacksgourmetrestaurant.com. The website includes a detailed account of the restaurant’s timeless history.