The James H. McManus Ice Cream Shoppe opened on Putnam Pike in Johnston in April of 1968. The name has changed and so has its look, but 45 years later, the family behind J&D Family Restaurant says the mission has remained the same.
“It’s a family-style restaurant with all homemade food,” says owner Gigi Pacheco. “All of our desserts are made on-site, and I don’t think people realize it.”
The McManus Ice Cream Shoppe became J&D Ice Cream Shoppe in 1969, paying homage to the original owners – James Cardente and Dennis Allaire. A fire destroyed the business in 1980, but it didn’t take long to rebuild. J&D re-opened just three months later. When Cardente retired in the 1980s, Allaire stayed on, building a reputation for more than just ice cream.
“We went from an ice cream shop to more of a restaurant,” said owner Nicole Delos. “It’s basically been the same kind of foods – always serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
And service has been uninterrupted ever since, with Allaire serving as a constant presence in the restaurant.
“He loved it,” Delos said. “He didn’t retire because he was doing what he wanted to do.”
Allaire passed away in June of last year, but his daughters, Pacheco and Delos, seamlessly took the reins. What they learned from their father stays with them, and Allaire’s presence is felt by all of the employees. Notes about how to prepare specific recipes, or handle certain equipment, can be found throughout the kitchen. Pacheco and Delos have no intention to take the notes down.
“He’s still everywhere,” Delos said.
“He taught us everything,” Pacheco added, wiping back tears. “It’s nice to come in on a Friday or Saturday night and have people come over and say they miss him. You don’t realize how much he meant to them.”
Paying attention to the customers, and getting to know the regulars, is just one thing the sisters learned from Allaire.
“He would know everything about [the customers],” Pacheco said. “It wasn’t until after he passed away that you realize how much he actually talked to people.”
J&D is a recognizable name in Johnston, and the restaurant has built an army of regulars.
“In the morning, the customers all know each other. When someone’s not here, they know where they are,” Delos said.
The customers know each other, and they also know the wait staff. Turnover is low at the restaurant. Debbie Johnson, the head pastry chef and a shift supervisor, for example, has worked at J&D for 27 years. One manager, now 22, started working at J&D’s when she was just 15 years old.
“I think it says a lot; they enjoy what they do and they enjoy working for us,” Delos said.
Pacheco and Delos are not new additions to the staff, either. Pacheco started waiting tables at her dad’s restaurant when she was 13.
“It was fun to work with your father every day,” she said.
Delos recalls weekends spent baking cakes and making homemade whipped cream. Today, Pacheco continues to run the front of the house, while Delos handles the bookkeeping for the business.
Their brother has long been a guinea pig for the menu. On Friday nights, he would come in and try out Allaire’s newest recipes.
That tradition lives on. Pacheco and Delos met their husbands, Allan and Lionel, through the restaurant. They now have two children each, and all of Allaire’s grandchildren work in the restaurant, especially on holidays when extra hands are needed. Every year, J&D’s offers pictures with Santa Claus and with the Easter Bunny, holiday traditions that the family plans to carry on.
“Some of our former employees’ children are even working here now,” Delos said.
All of the employees, new and old, are trained to follow Allaire’s recipes. He spent much of his time in the kitchen, and loved to try new recipes. When his staff would eat at other restaurants, he encouraged them to share dishes they liked so he could put his own twist on them. He would also empower employees to come up with their own ideas, and he would name those specials after them.
Some things, like Allaire’s chowder or homemade carved turkey, became staples on the menu.
“He was very strong on people following his recipes; that’s what kept us strong over the years,” Delos said.
She recalls her dad saying that running a kitchen was like “leading an orchestra.”
For Pacheco, the chicken Parmesan is her favorite entrée, but it’s the desserts that stand out in her opinion. She is a fan of the Reese’s peanut butter cake, while Delos is partial to the apple crisp.
As they come into their own as restaurant owners, Pacheco and Delos are hopeful that new customers will give the restaurant a try. They often try new specials and are expanding their selection of craft beers.
“We have a Johnston, North Providence base, so we’d like to branch out,” Pacheco said.
To attract new customers, they are hiring employees from Chepachet, Smithfield and beyond, and supporting churches around the area. Every month, they put advertisements in different church bulletins, and offer fundraising opportunities for churches, schools and non-profits.
“I like to go around the area so everyone gets a little bit,” Delos said.
They are also building up their presence on social media, creating a Facebook page where they promote specials and upcoming events like the Blackstone Culinaria Secret Ingredient Dining Tour.
J&D Family Restaurant will be the featured stop on the tour on March 13. Tickets are $19.50 per person, and the menu for the evening includes lobster mac ’n cheese, fried ravioli, calamari, salad and a dessert of grapenut pudding and coffee. In the near future, they hope to also host wine and dessert tastings.
Pacheco and Delos are excited to bring their own style to the restaurant, but they say J&D will stay the same at heart – the way their father taught them.
“There’s a sense of community here,” Delos said.
J&D Family Restaurant is located at 46 Putnam Pike. For more information, visit Facebook.com/JDFamilyRest or call 231-3660. To purchase tickets to the Secret Ingredient Tour, call 724-2200 or book online at blackstoneculinaria.com.