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Meet Karen Masterson of Johnny’s Luncheonette in Newton Center

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Masterson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Karen. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
We bought the iconic Johnny’s Luncheonette almost 4 years ago. This beloved diner has been in Newton Center for 25 years and is known throughout the region. Whether it’s the place for a power breakfast first thing in the morning, a great spot to meet a friend for lunch or the perfect way to end the day with a reasonably priced meal at a locally owned restaurant we’ve got it covered!

Previously, we owned nourish restaurant in Lexington from 2009-2014 – a respectfully priced farm to table full-service restaurant that also featured local music. Big Fresh was one of the first fast-casual concepts in the region focused on local, organic food. We opened it the week before Thanksgiving in 2003 and sold it in 2009 just after opening nourish. My husband Kevin developed the Tennessee’s BBQ concept over 20 years ago – currently, there are locations in Peabody, Framingham, and Leominster.

My passion for the restaurant business through Big Fresh, nourish and now Johnny’s has been to combine the idea of feeding people well with respectful pricing, allowing for great diversity in who walks through your door.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I don’t think the restaurant business is ever smooth…..maybe a few weeks, months at a time with some concepts easier than others. The toughest was probably nourish – opening a new farm to table concept in the suburbs during the recession. My mother had just been diagnosed with colon cancer and we had kids in college. She was able to make a visit (lived in Canada, where I’m originally from) and see the restaurant for a special martini dinner with the founder of V1 Vodka but died 1 1/2 years after her diagnosis. It was a horrible time, having to be the ‘face’ of the restaurant while managing the sharp edges of my grief, day in day out. I’m proud that during that difficult time we continued to offer the community what we had committed to – well-sourced food at respectful prices.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We are deeply committed to our business from the inside out. The employees are like a family and the customers an extension of that. I like to think we go the extra mile in a lot of ways. I still pick up local, organic vegetables once a week from Tangerini’s Farm in Millis. We have improved the sourcing in a number of ways – offering sweet maple syrup from Bill Coli at Blue Heron Farm in Charlemont, ground beef from Pineland Farm in Maine and local white fish through Red’s Best.

We are currently working with a couple of foster group homes that are close to the restaurant to give job opportunities to youth in state care. Additionally, we hire from The Price Center to offer their clients there an opportunity to develop job skills.

When I look around the restaurant and see the tremendous diversity that exists every day I think that is what I’m most proud of – literally everyone is welcome and they know it. Our tagline is The Anytime Place for Everybody and it’s true! In this time of polarization, it’s so important to have community spaces we can share as citizens that show the best of what being a diverse nation can mean.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up I loved pretending to be a grown up so getting older is a joy! I was intense…. most would say I still am and cared deeply about the environment from the age of 10 onward. Developed early loves and passions – dogs, knitting, reading and growing food. They are still the same things that keep me grounded during turbulent times and provide endless joy in my day to day life.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Margaret Belanger Photography

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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