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Original Johnny’s Lunch Sign Returns

A refurbished version of the original Johnny’s Lunch sign now hangs outside the restaurant. P-J photo by Cameron Hurst

Standing on the corner of Fairmount and Wicks avenues, Dianne Calamunci looked up and smiled.

“Mom and dad are looking down and smiling,” she said with a smile. “I know they are.”

To anyone else, the installation of a new sign at one’s business would be just another day at the restaurant. But this was different — this new signage, proudly displaying the name of her father and the service he provided, had a deeper meaning.

So much meaning that, for a moment, the owner of Johnny’s Lunch was transported in time to its original location on South Main Street in the heart of Brooklyn Square during an era when the junction served as the hub of a hardworking community of Italian Americans.

“My parents had that sign put up between 1939 and 1940,” Calamunci, the daughter of namesake John Colera and co-owner with her husband Gust, told The Post-Journal. “My dad and mom started the business itself in 1936, so this was really was from that era.”

The sign — and the Coleras’ building — came down in early 1973 like much of the surrounding area, aimed to be the site of an urban renewal effort. By April of 1974, they reopened at their current location on the outskirts of Lakewood.

Meanwhile, the original sign, according to Calamunci, was put into a garage.

“It just decayed over the years,” she said.

That was, until, this past spring.

“To my surprise on my birthday in June, my son John told me to come out to the garage and that he had a surprise for me,” Calamunci said. “Him and a friend had refurbshed the sign and there it sat in my garage until just last week.”

And with it, came eight decades of memories and pride in the hard work of her parents.

“It’s really exciting and it’s so meaningful to me,” she said, noting that the sign, especially, was a symbol of her father’s years of perspiration.

“Signs were something that my dad took pride in,” she said. “I remember a man came into the restaurant one day and told me that he sold signs after the war and said, ‘I came in and I don’t think your dad needed the sign, but your dad knew I needed the work.’ So this is in tribute to my parents — They’d work all hours of the day and open at 7 a.m. and not close until 3 a.m. They taught me what it meant to work hard.”

The sign its original form had neon. Now, plugs were added during restoration so that lights can be added in the coming weeks. And, it’s not the only element that has been brought over from the original location.”

“The booths that are in the restaurant now are the same ones from the dining room that I can remember sitting in with my grandmother when I was an infant,” said Calamunci, who purchased the restaurant from her father in June of 1975. “There are just so many fond memories of Brooklyn Square that we have here. My memories are so many.”

And now, thanks to a kind gesture from her son, another memory will be in clear view for all to see.

She added, “I was looking in the last couple weeks and I found an old picture of my sister and I outside looking up at that sign. How touching that all these things are coming back to us? This is just so special.”

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