Bistro, Newport, R.I. /VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - Local Small Business Stories
Feeling Right at Home at Jo's American Bistro in Newport, R.I.
scratch cuisine and wonderful camaraderie amongst owner, staff
and customers yields an instantly lovable, local restaurant experience
From the second floor dining room at Jo's American Bistro.
Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo.
created on 3/25/2020.
Jo's American Bistro in
Newport, R.I. checks off all the boxes when it comes to an
overwhelmingly positive restaurant experience. But as we will find out
shortly, Jo's American Bistro -- much like the meaning of life itself
goes far beyond just fulfilling a list of superlatives.
The laid back, "classy but casual" atmosphere offers an ideal setting
to leisurely eat and drink.
Scratch cuisine often crafted from local sourcing yields fresh-tasting creative
and traditional American cuisine, seafood, and numerous gluten-free
options. The wait staff
is about as
pleasant and efficient as you'll ever find in a restaurant. There's
good value for the money here, also, with ample portions served at
reasonable prices. As an added bonus, Jo's American Bistro offers an
ideal location near Easton's Beach/the beginning of the Cliff
Walk, the Newport mansions and a lively downtown that includes a
waterfront and charming cobblestone streets. It's also just a few miles
to Fort Adams State Park (home of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals)
What's more, Jo's American Bistro has received rave reviews from locals
and vacationers, as evidenced by Google, TripAdvisor and Yelp -- all averaging 4.5 stars out of five.
media giants like CNN and, locally, the Providence Journal have sung
the praises of Jo's American Bistro.
For all the accolades, Jo's American Bistro remains, first and
foremost, a place that the locals love -- sort of like a 21st century
version of Cheers but with a
bow tie. Owner Joann Carlson, 60, is
a lifelong Rhode Island resident who clearly has her life and business
priorities in place:
Treat staff and employees like "you would treat your
grandmother," she says. Or, as Jo's American Bistro's motto
family serve your
Right at home: Joann Carlson, owner of Jo's American Bistro.
Joann is a kind and thoughtful person and has the culinary pedigree to
have created such a special restaurant. She grew up in nearby Bristol,
R.I., graduated high school there and bypassed college to go right to
work in the restaurant industry. Joann worked many years at her aunt and uncle's
restaurant, Mack's Clam Shack in Newport, and at her
parents' Dry Dock Seafood on Thames St. When her folks closed Dry Dock
after 23 years in business, Joann co-owned Percy's Bistro in Newport
worked at the Newport Harbor Corporation as a manager for its 22
Wine Bar and Grille.
Joann loved working for family and others in the culinary field but had
a craving, however,
to start her own business. In 2012, she found the ideal location on
Blvd. and had the place gutted and then crafted by Kirby Perkins
Construction, an award-winning company that has worked on many of the
Jo's American Bistro on Memorial Blvd.
On June 13, 2013,
Joann followed in the footsteps of her family by
opening her own business, Jo's American Bistro. Joann created the restaurant to look
like a older but thoroughly updated neighborhood
home. The center hall entrance with staircase and quaint, cozy dining
rooms upstairs and down, archways, mahogany accents and paintings on
the wall by local artists add to that homey feeling.
Dining rooms downtstairs at Jo's American Bistro.
There's even a beautiful patio for outdoor dining in the warmer
Outdoor patio. Photo source: Jo's American Bistro Facebook page.
"We are classy but casual." said Joann. "You can come in here all
dressed up or in shorts. "
The communal sitting area reveals a prime spot for conversations,
either amongst groups that arrive together or as a mix of people that
have just met. Locals, vacationers, those from the Naval Station
Newport and Salve Regina University students frequent this long
high-top table and the
rest of the eatery. Here is an unobstructed view of that seating area...
Communal dining table.
and a more lively one as crowds frequent Jo's...
Gathering at the long table at Jo's in Newport. Photo source:
Jo's American Bistro Facebook page.
"Salve kids come here, date night people, those out for a burger," said
Joann. "It's a place where you could see a 70-year-old talking with a
16-year old kid. Everyone gets along."
Sitting at the bar can be enjoyed downstairs...
or tucked away upstairs...
A look around the main dining room on a busy Wednesday
evening at Jo's reveals a diversity of conversation and a noticeable
absence of smartphone and other technologies being used. On this
particular evening, guests talk amongst each other about Wall Street
moguls, family, community events, the financial world, travel, the
mansions and shopping. The age range seemingly spans from kids around
five-years old to a gentleman who had to be pushing 90.
"The nights are so special here," said Joann. "To stand back and see
everything in action is something to behold. Our staff makes new
friends every night."
In a way, Jo's American Bistro is
Joann's home as she spends much of
her time there -- up to 60 hours a week. She greets people the way
her Italian mom and grandmother did through the timeless elements of
cooking and entertaining through "love and passion."
One thing is for certain: The staff at Jo's American Bistro is all
in this together. Joann and General Manager Jimmy Herren can often be
seen busing tables and serving customers, clearly a sign of leading by
Jimmy Herren serves customers. Photo source: Jo's American
Bistro Facebook page.
"It's a lot of work but I love being here," said Joann. "I am not
exactly an absentee
owner. I bus tables. I could do this whole menu if need be. I also like
Executive Chef, Brian Ruffner,
a Culinary Institute of America graduate who
was once invited to participate in two
James Beard Foundation dinners while working at the White Hart
often takes a break from the kitchen to converse with customers. The
staff works hard -- certainly an industry requirement -- but also gets
well as "whole people," not just employees.
"We're a family restaurant" said Joann. "We take Christmas, New Years
Eve, Thanksgiving and Easter off. Family is where they should be. It's
place where staff could say to me, 'It's my son's baseball
championship game, can I have the day off?' Yes, of course, it's
important to have a life outside the restaurant. Those special times,
events -- we can never get those things back. We make
things work here for the staff because we have become like family."
added, "Mom said always hire people who are nice. You can always teach
them the rest."
Jo's staff includes many employees who have been there for several
years. Additionally, Joann's daughter, Stacey, works in the office and
Stacey's daughter, Taylor, 16, buses tables.
Joann's significant other, Jamie Lehane, however, was actually fired
"I hired him as a pianist (for live entertainment)," said Joann, with a
laugh. "He plays very well but he can't sing! That singing, we couldn't
have him continue!"
Jo's American Bistro's house entertainment features the team of Joanne
Rodino (she was part of the Broadway production of West Side Story
touring throughout Europe) and John Monllos (who played with the Navy
Band for many years before retiring). They perform a diversity of
musical genres on Fridays from 7-10 p.m. Sunday night jazz features
musicians Mark Gorman and Jack Casey.
The Magnificent Cuisine
Lobster Carbonara from Jo's American Bistro in Newport, R.I.
Photo, courtesy of J. Scott Marketing & PR.
Chef Ruffner applies classic French and Italian techniques to his
American ideas and ingredients that, when served in its completed form,
are fully accessible
to the customers' taste buds. On the other hand, Ruffner is equally
comfortable making a good old-fashioned burger!
Jo's American Bistro offerings include dinner,
the weekends, a bar menu (offered every night but half price on Friday
and Sunday -- bar and inhouse only), or a Prix
Fixe menu offered on Sunday through Wednesday, 5 p.m. to closing time. Additionally, Jo's
features an ambitious wine list.
Wine from Jo's. Photo source: Jo's American Bistro Facebook page.
Joann also reports that her
restaurant is "heavily committed to making gluten-free items," for
those sensitive to this group of proteins, by having "a strong allergy
policy in place." Even the children's'
menu has something beyond the basics. As an example, Jo's does not
serve chicken tenders but instead a grilled chicken breast.
"We have an eclectic mix of food -- something for every taste," said
Additionally, Jo's sources locally whenever possible including
calamari from nearby Point Judith, R.I., meats from Kinnealey Meats in
Milton, Mass., vegetables from Belmont Market in Wakefield, R.I. and
much of its seafood from Foley Fish, out of Boston and New Bedford,
As validation to Joann's lack of pretentiousness, she first cites
without hesitation the burgers as a highly recommended dish when asked
what to order. It's easy to understand why: The Bistro Burger, as an
example, is a mouthwatering half-pound slab of all-natural beef
accompanied with sauteed
mushrooms, onions and Swiss cheese, served with a mountain of
hand-cut fries and house-made pickles.
The Bistro Burger.
The Bacon Onion Jam Burger also features a half-pound patty but
with dijon bacon onion jam, cheddar cheese
and housemade special sauce. It is also served with hand-cut fries and
Bacon Onion Jam Burger with fries. Photo, courtesy of J. Scott
Marketing & PR.
Jo's can even make burgers that are completely gluten-free (bun
and fries included)...
Gluten-free burger. Photo source: Jo's American Bistro Facebook page.
"We sell more burgers than anything else," said Joann. "The locals
love the burgers. We get more locals than anyone."
Jo's American Bistro is not just about burgers, however. They
an eclectic mix of foods. The Lobster Carbonara (pictured at the top of
this section) combines lobster, bacon, peas and Parmesan lobster cream
sauce served with spaghetti.
The Dry Dock
Fish and Chips is inspired by a family recipe...
Dry Dock Fish and Chips. Photo, courtesy of J. Scott
Marketing & PR.
Jo's traditional New England Lobster Roll offers the freshest local
lobster possible and is served with cole slaw, hand-cut fries and a
Lobster roll. Photo source: Jo's American Bistro Facebook page.
The seared scallops come with sweet
potato puree, white ale, honey-poached vegetables, pink peppercorn
Scallops dish. Photo source: Jo's American Bistro Facebook page.
Another popular dish for those who like to splurge a little: the
Filet Mignon, served over cheddar chive mashed potato, green
and boderlaise sauce.
Filet Mignon. Photo, courtesy of J. Scott
Marketing & PR.
A must-try: the Lobster Bisque that first comes out
lobster chunks in a bowl. A server then pours the bisque over the
lobster at your table. It's nice to see this personal touch and
transparency -- that is, seeing the amount of lobster before the whole
bisque is put together. It's absolutely delicious!
For dessert, the Peach Bread pudding is a signature treat at
Peach Bread pudding. Photo, courtesy of J. Scott
Marketing & PR.
"Our desserts are made in-house," said Joann. "Brian makes them so
Jimmy Herren, Joann and Brian Ruffner. Photo source: Joann's
American Bistro web page.
Bistro is not only located in the heart
of Newport, but also possesses a big heart. You can tell that from the
moment walking into Joann's home in the form of a restaurant. The
homemade food, conversations flowing, cozy surroundings and
owner and staff that seem like family ultimately create this wonderful
Unlike some other Newport restaurants that teeter on the side of
overpriced tourist traps with high opinions of themselves, Jo's
American Bistro comes across more as that humble, genuine friend that
is always by your side.
And that genuine friend is the pulse of what makes a restaurant with
great food even that much greater. And, so much more than a list of
"The best part of coming into Jo's is the way people get along,"
Joann. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
24 Memorial Blvd. W., Newport, RI 02840
Web Site: https://josamericanbistro.com/
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