Stew joint with deep roots in Indy closes after 109 years

John's Famous Stew at 1146 Kentucky Ave. (Image courtesy of Google)

John’s Famous Stew, a meat-and-potatoes eatery with a history in Indianapolis going back to 1911, announced over the weekend that it would not return from a coronavirus hiatus.

“It is with a heavy heart I share that we will not be reopening,” read a message posted Saturday on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “It has been our pleasure to serve you over the past 40-plus years. Thank you for all of the memories.”

Owner Tom Caito passed away in November 2018, but the restaurant continued under the ownership of his daughter, Mary Caito. She told IBJ via email that closing the restaurant earlier this year was meant at first to be temporary.

“However, weeks turned into months of being closed, and I was left with making a really difficult decision to not reopen,” Caito said. “The business and real estate are for sale, and my hope is a passionate buyer reopens and the legacy continues.”

The restaurant was founded in 1911 at 535 W. Washington St. by brothers Steve and Mike Strangeff, who immigrated from Macedonia, according to “Reid Duffy’s Guide to Indiana’s Favorite Restaurants.” They featured their mother’s recipes for stews and goulashes.

After World War II, a nephew named John Ziats moved the business to 411 E South St. He ran it with his father, Steve, as John’s Hot Stew. Caito, in partnership with Betty Kassing, took over in the mid-1970s and relocated to 1146 Kentucky Ave., where the eatery operated as a bar and restaurant.

The restaurant earned some unexpected renown in 1995 when David Letterman mentioned it in a “Cool List” that he compiled for Entertainment Weekly.

Staples on the menu included the eponymous stew, made primarily from beef, potatoes and carrots and offered in mild, medium and spicy-hot versions. The offerings also included a giant breaded tenderloin and “John’s Famous Tenderloin Supreme,” smothered in stew.

The restaurant announced on March 17 that it would close temporarily due to the coronavirus crisis.

“Although my dad owned many businesses throughout his life, this was his favorite,” Mary Caito said. “I am thankful for all the love and support from the Indianapolis community.”

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19 thoughts on “Stew joint with deep roots in Indy closes after 109 years

  1. So So Sad….Another long time business gone as a result of the local, state and federal Government over reach and ridiculous un lawful mandates….Protect the most Vulnerable and re-open all businesses able to reopen …NOW…

    1. Sorry to see them go. I for one am with Jim. I love diseased businesses. Sick staff, hundreds of thousands dead. When we hit a million dead, that’s when we know we’ve succeeded! Can’t wait, might move to Florida or Texas so I can be around more diseased people.

    2. Always fun watching people like Aaron P. attempt to rationalize the economic stranglehold of small businesses for public health purposes that have no proven benefit, given that the states that had NO LOCKDOWN all have below-average COVID death rates. And, yesterday, heavy-lockdown New York state still had more deaths than light-lockdown Florida, according to Worldometers…yet the media conveniently doesn’t report this.

      As for here in Indy, guess what Aaron–now, instead of a “diseased business”, there’s NO business! A dozen or so newly unemployed people, disinvestment in a part of town that certainly could use more of it, and a long-standing institution dead.

      As someone else noted, do we we wait until we get zero deaths from COVID, Aaron? Why not wait until we have a death-free society overall? What makes the COVID suffers more special than those with Legionnaires Disease or beriberi?

      Aaron, nothing is keeping you from staying in a hermetically sealed biolab until the year 2029. The rest of us want to be able to engage in commerce while taking reasonable precautions, all while remaining fully aware of the risks and responsible for the consequences.

  2. Well, they were an historic part of our city and we’ve all seen recently what any relevance “being historic” has with the current group of nitwits running Indianapolis and many other large cities.
    Very sad. Another nail in the Hogsett legacy of incompetence.

  3. My dad and uncle owned a printing company downtown. Summers I would work there as – maybe I was 12-14 (I’m 67 now.) Today’s heat reminded me of how hot the print shop got. Large fans only moved the hot air around. The printing presses were massive and the machinery was hypnotic – I’m sure that’s why I went to Purdue and got an engineering degree. But I digress . . .

    Dad would take me to lunch at local places. Sometimes Acapulco Joe’s (when the waitresses wore hot pants.) Sometimes The Fireside on Pleasant Run and sometimes John’s Hot Stew. I’ve been there many times since – sometimes with my son. The staff must have worked there since back then. They recognized me every time even though we only ate there a few times a year.

    I took a customer there recently. It was like introducing him to a secret society. The Society of Hot Stew 🙂 I always got the hot – he got the mild and thought it was pretty spicy. Extra bread and butter. It was a contest between my shirt and the stew every time. My wife could see who won when I got home.

    I’ll miss this place and the simple pleasures and memories it served.

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