John Imo grew up in the food industry. When he was 8, he started working in the family business bagging groceries and serving customers at Imo’s Food Market.
At 21, he owned the Grafton Inn Restaurant and Grafton Hall Banquet Center. Later, John and his father became business partners, and together they operated the businesses until early 2011.
Today, John and his wife, Jane, own and operate Northside Bar & Grill, 3475 N. Monroe St. The business recently won several awards in the 2021 Best of Monroe County Community Choice Awards including Best Sports Bar and Bar for Craft Beer.
Formerly known as Willy’s Lounge when the Imos purchased the business in 2011, they changed the name to reflects its location – the northside of Monroe.
Open seven days a week, the independent restaurant and bar’s specialties include sandwiches, burgers, Friday fish fries, drink specials and a selection of 34 beers on tap. Prices range from $10 to $15. Weather permitting, guests can dine on the patio.
Menu favorites among customers include prime rib and Reuben sandwiches and burgers. Signatures sandwiches include John’s Steakburger and Jane’s Buffalo Chicken Bleu Cheeseburger. Daily specials are offered along with a children’s menu and ice cream cake is available for dessert.
“When we first opened at this location we had a simpler menu for food,” John said. “Our menu has evolved to have more items and more homemade items.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has changed the way he does business, John estimates 90 percent of his business comes from repeat customers and that his carry-out business has increased by 10 percent.
“We have not done any sort of entertainment since COVID started and car shows have been put on pause. These were big changes for us, but we think these are the right moves for us at the present time,” John said. “We have employees do a pre-shift wellness check before work and deep cleanings are done every day. We added staff to control the flow of guests and to make sure all sanitation procedures are complete before seating customers. Definitely, we are still dealing with this on a daily basis. COVID has made our industry very difficult to operate.”
However, despite pandemic protocols, the appeal to owing a business remains the same for the Monroe resident.
“I love the interaction with the public and seeing the satisfaction from our great customers,” John said. “Contributing to the community and meeting great people every day, the conversations and relationships you build over the years are wonderful. I love serving the community I live in.”
After 40 years of working in the food industry, John is quick to add that any successful business needs a dedicated staff.
“We have rock stars at Northside. In our kitchen staff alone, I have over 150 years of experienced staff in the food industry,” he added. “We are proud that we have maintained many of our staff members from our start 11 years ago and many staff members worked for me at my previous location Grafton Inn and Hall. I am lucky to have a great team.”
The sage advice he offers to new business owners is similar to the advice his father, John Sr., and mother, Georgia, shared with him when he was first starting out.
“You must put in the time and be willing to work hard,” he said. “Get to know your customers.”
Lisa Vidaurri-Bowling is a contributor to The Monroe News.
NORTHSIDE BAR & GRILL
Location: 3475 N. Monroe St.
Owners: Monroe residents John and Jane Imo
Years in business: 11
Services: Restaurant (dine in, curbside pickup and delivery) and bar
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, noon to midnight Sundays; kitchen closes at 9 p.m. every night