Shuttered for nearly a year, the longtime Downtown diner is ready for a comeback.

Shuttered for nearly a year, the longtime Downtown diner is ready for a comeback.

Last year, when Jack's Dinerclosed its doors, longtime patrons were saddened but sympathetic. Owner and chef Chris Kowalski-who has run the establishment at 52 E. Lynn St. since 2004-was in mourning following his wife Kathy's January 2015 death from cancer.

The 49-year-old Clintonville resident kept the diner going through the spring, but by May of last year, he felt it was time to step away. Those who frequented the diner-famous for such comfort-food staples as meatloaf sandwiches and cube steak dinners-understood.

"Some people were like, 'You know, you need to do what you got to do … You never really took time to mourn,'" Kowalski says.

But Kowalski never intended to walk away for good. "People offered to buy it," he says. "But I wasn't ready to sell it; I still wanted to do it."

Now, Kowalski is embarking on the latest chapter in the seven-decade story of the diner, which was founded in 1942 by Jack Holt and subsequently owned by his wife, Ida, and son, John.

The diner reopened on May 12 and Kowalski says it's his diners who brought him back.

"I felt obligated, especially for a lot of the clientele who would come in every day-rain, snow, sleet," Kowalski says. "They still came in to get their breakfast sandwich or they still came in to get lunch."

The intimate setup at Jack's has contributed to its family atmosphere.

"I'm cooking every day, and I'm five feet away from the guy sitting at the counter," Kowalski says. "We talk about everything-politics, city, religion, what's going on."

Longtime waitress Vickie Tucker-an employee, on and off, since 1986-describes the homey environment that has encouraged regular guests.

"I think they just like to go somewhere where they're comfortable, everybody knows everybody," says Tucker, who-like the majority of the staff of five-intends to return to the diner when it reopens. "There are so few employees that we know people by first names."

Jack's fans will, however, have to refamiliarize themselves with the menu. As part of the relaunch, Kowalski is featuring items he has been experimenting with since 2014, including omelets, a black bean veggie burger and an array of salads.

"I've added five salads to the menu, where the only salad we had in the past was just the chef salad," says Kowalski, adding that a grilled chicken Caesar salad and a spinach salad will also be among the offerings.

Of course, Jack's wouldn't be Jack's without old standbys. "They can still get the cheeseburger; they can still get the double cheeseburger; they can still get the milkshakes," Kowalski says.

Such consistency is partially responsible for Jack's success. When Kowalski acquired the diner, he kept everything exactly the same. "There's people who come in here and they're like, 'God, I used to work Downtown in '85, and you guys are still serving the same type of burgers the same way,'" Kowalski says. "And they love that."

For her part, Tucker is excited by the prospect of being back on the job. "I didn't think it was going to happen, honestly," she says. "But here we are."