Owner Jim Shumsky said his restaurant is the fifth oldest continuously operated, privately owned restaurant in the metro area.
Junior Simon opened his eponymously named restaurant on Sept. 10, 1973. He established a reputation as an outstanding restaurateur and lover of people. He knew his customers by name, and most of them dined there as often as they could afford.
Located in the Oil Center Building on Northwest Expressway, it was a perfect place for men and women in the energy business to gather with clients or after work for drinks. Oklahoma was dry in those days, so Junior’s was a private club — any restaurant that wanted to serve alcohol had to be private in the dark days before liquor-by-the-drink.
As word of Junior’s quality spread, celebrities, sports figures and politicians started visiting when they were in town. Then and now, Junior’s attracts clientele because of its unique and long-standing ambience, tradition and sense of place.
Shumsky, a 39-year executive with Pfizer, bought the restaurant from Junior’s widow and her three business partners in January 2004. He was a customer from the day Junior’s opened, and he loved it.
“I didn’t know anything about running a restaurant,” Shumsky said. “So I guess you could say my knowledge of the business was ass-backward. I approached it from the perspective of the customer. Because of what I had experienced with Junior’s, I had a good idea of what customers demand, and I knew how to give it to them.”Shumsky attributes much of Junior’s ongoing success to the devotion of the staff. Executive chef Steve Farrokhin has been there for 34 years. His senior server has been there for 29 years, and the office manager, Junior’s baby sister Kathy Eckstein (age 77), has been there since the restaurant opened.
“There are a lot of fine-dining restaurants in Oklahoma City,” Shumsky said, “but only a few serve a consistent product. None have our experience in terms of staff. We employ 38 people, and many of them have been here over 10 years.”
That continuity has created a consistently excellent product, and when people in the food and wine business speak well of your establishment, you know the reputation is deserved.
Chris Kana is an owner of Cafe 7, 14101 N. May Ave., and is a regular customer at Junior’s.
“You can’t replicate that ambience,” he said. “The service is some of the best in OKC, and the steaks are even better. I should mention they also have the best Brandy Ice in OKC.”
Clayton Bahr, a local wine representative, is also a regular customer, not just for the ambience, excellent wine list and exceptional service, all of which he cited, but because he loves cigars. Junior’s still has a smoking bar (the restaurant is non-smoking).
“We have a 26-ton unit that pulls all the smoke out of the bar,” Shumsky said. “No one spent more money than we did to give our customers the option.”
It is rare to hear people praise something that has remained the same for 40 years. The décor, although occasionally updated, is nearly the same as it was on opening day. A piano bar is still a fixture, with Mike Price playing Monday- Wednesday evenings and the Anita White Trio performing on weekends. Also, the kitchen equipment is virtually unchanged.
“We still grill our steaks over charcoal,” Shumsky said. “I don’t know who does that anymore. And we make fried chicken in cast-iron skillets like our grandmothers and mothers did.”
As Shumsky pointed out, Junior’s still feels like 1973, and for some people, that is a good thing. Shumsky has added a few items to the menu over the years, including grilled salmon to go with the famous tableside Caesar salad, but what Junior’s mostly does is what it has always done: great steak and seafood.
“When you factor in the consistent product, the décor, the atmosphere and the ambience, there is only one Junior’s.”