By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
NAUGATUCK — John’s Restaurant has been serving up pizza, burgers, beer and wine since the borough’s industrial heyday.
Times have changed.
After over three decades of running and owning the family restaurant, brothers Benny and Max Lumani are selling the business and retiring. They closed John’s Restaurant Oct. 30.
Two gold “3” balloons floated in the restaurant Oct. 27 to signify the 33 years Benny Lumani, 65, of Trumbull, and Max Lumani, 69, of Naugatuck, have been cooking pizza in a brick oven at 111 Rubber Ave. They’ve watched as the borough transitioned from an industrial center to more of a bedroom community.
The loss of industrial giants like Uniroyal and Peter Paul isn’t the reason the brothers hung up their aprons. They are selling the business to a franchise restaurant. They declined to say which one.
The COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in their decision. It cost them more to stay open during the pandemic than they brought in in revenue, Max Lumani said.
“We’re closing because of the sale, and if they hadn’t bought it, we would’ve closed anyway on account of the pandemic and everything else,” Max Lumani said. “The only reason we stayed open is because of our regular customers.”
The brothers bought the 1,777-square-foot restaurant in the late 1980s. Over the years, Max Lumani said nearly all of their customers became like family.
“That’s what kept us in business,” he said.
“We knew people (customers) that were teenagers and now they’ve got their own children, teenagers,” Benny Lumani added. “That’s how long we knew the people.”
Max Lumani said regular customers would tell them their life stories and vice versa at the eatery.
“This is just a place where people came for our companionship,” Max Lumnai said.
The restaurant was also literally a family business. The brothers’ seven children — Diana, Donika, Diona, Bajram “Bobby,” Emirson, Elisabeta “Liz,” and Rushan “Richie” — worked at the restaurant growing up. Their father, Abdulla Lumani, worked there too.
Max Lumani said it was a blessing to have three generations of the family work together.
“We made it work with God’s help and our sweat of the brow,” Max Lumani said.
Benny Lumani’s daughter, Diona Lumani, 31, who lives in Long Island, N.Y., said working at the restaurant was an invaluable experience. She said her father, uncle and grandfather taught her many life lessons, like how to communicate with people and hospitality.
“It was fun. We had a really nice time working together,” Diona Lumani said. “It was like home.”
Along with a sense of family, the brothers attributed their three-decade run to consistency when it came to service and food. They said the most popular choice on the menu, which didn’t change, was the chicken orzo soup.
“The whole menu stayed the same because it was good and we stayed in business for 33 years because the menu was good,” Max Lumani said.
The brothers said they don’t exactly know what their next step will be in life, other than to simply relax. Looking back, they said they appreciate and will miss the patronage and loyalty of their customers.
“We made a lot of friends and we’re going to miss them,” Benny Lumani said.