Harrisonburg has known for 96 years where to go for a juicy hot dog or a savory burger: Jess’ Quick Lunch. Since 1922, people have flocked to Jess’ for a quick, freshly made meal at an affordable price. Recent upgrades and additions to the beloved Harrisonburg fixture reflect its new name: Jess’ Downtown Restaurant. It’s not just for a quick lunch anymore.
Don’t worry -- all the items you’ve loved for decades are still on the menu: burgers, hot dogs, and the BLT. But now they offer more options to appease everyone in your household.
If you’ve never heard the story, it’s a good one.
Originally opened in 1922 under the ownership of George Galanis across the street from its current location, Jess’ Quick Lunch served what we’d call southern or country food. George named the restaurant after his friend, Jess, who helped finance and build it. At lunchtime, hungry Harrisonburg residents would wait in line for George’s simple, affordable dishes -- after all, the tiny restaurant only had eight stools. In the 1930s, the restaurant moved across the street to its present-day location, but it consisted only of what we call today the “counter side” of the restaurant.
In 1955, Gus Floros immigrated to Harrisonburg from Greece and worked with his uncle George at Jess’. By 1962, George had retired and Gus had taken ownership of the establishment, which he expanded into the space next door in 1977. He also changed the menu to just four staples Jess’ would quickly be famous for: hot dogs, burgers, hot ham and cheese sandwiches, and BLTs. Things remained the same for quite some time. People knew they could get fresh, affordable food at Jess’, and customers continued to fill the seats, generation after generation.
Gus’ son George Floros took over the business until his death in 2014. Yet, this 96-year-old story continues to unfold. Today, George Floros’ wife Angeliki runs the restaurant, along with her general manager, Thomas Marchese. Together these two are working to update the menu and the space, while preserving affordability and tradition. The kitchen has gotten an overhaul to improve efficiency for the new menu. The dining room boasts new lighting, new ceiling fans, and 7 flat screen TVs just in time for March Madness. Soon you’ll see a bar near the back of the restaurant serving up mixed drinks, in addition to the wine and local craft beer they already serve.
But the place won’t be unrecognizable -- its original charm is fully intact. It still looks just like the Jess’ we know and love. It’s a wonderful blend of old and new, really. Customers can still get those famous original menu items, plus a host of new ones, at a fair price. For example, the chili on your chili dog? Same recipe since 1955. And Jess’ still has the BEST milkshakes in town. But the restaurant is now growing its own vegetables and using some leaner cuts of meat, ground right on site every day, to align with the healthy lifestyle so many Valley residents enjoy. New menu items include several appetizers, salads, and kebobs; ten different burgers, including a black bean burger, and four specialty sausages (Greek loukanika, German bratwurst, smoked andouille, and chargrilled chorizo). And for dessert -- chocolate meringue pie, coconut meringue pie, apply cherry pie, and chocolate peanut butter pie. Hungry yet?
Grab your family (even the picky ones), get down to Jess’ Downtown Restaurant, and try something new -- or get the usual. They’re open 10 - 8pm Monday through Thursday and 10 - 9pm Friday and Saturday. And they’re (still) located at 22 South Main Street, right downtown across from the courthouse.
Written by Katie Mitchell. Katie is a full-time teacher, mom of two, and founder of the popular blog, I Love My Burg.