Diner Culture: Jack's Diner's Chris Kowalski

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

To say that Chris Kowalski is passionate about food is an understatement. Ask him, and he can name every special he's ever served-or thought about serving-at the Downtown diner he purchased in 2004.

After working in eateries ranging from Bob Evans to Molly Woo's (where he was a "Polish, classically trained chef cooking on a wok") he welcomed the opportunity to run his own place. His motivation to purchase Jack's Diner? Its simple schedule of weekday breakfast and lunches. No more nights. No more weekends.

Now he holds court flipping burgers at the grill with a front row seat to Columbus. (This is how he knows that Steve Stivers orders his cheeseburger with tartar sauce.)

"I remember having the crazy guys from the tattoo show sitting at the counter next to the CFO for the State of Ohio. Their lives would never come in contact and now they're sitting there talking about what they're doing," he says. "It's fun, listening to that and seeing the different walks of life."

Before he took over, Kowalski spent a week learning the recipes from (the original) Jack's son, John.

"It's an excellent cheeseburger. It's great to go. It's the same way they've done it since 1942. If you're having our chicken noodle soup, you're having honest-to-God chickens that were boiled with mirepoix," he says. "This is real home-cooked food. Mashed potatoes, with butter. Pancake batter, with butter. We don't really shortchange on the good flavor. People know that quality."

His energy goes beyond food. Kowalski and his wife decorate the diner for every holiday. Putting up the Christmas decorations takes 15 hours.

When he's not working, he trains for the marathon. Even his post-work relaxation is rigorous.

"There's nothing better than having a cold beer or five shots of tequila at the Char Bar," Kowalski says. "I don't do that anymore, but I used to."

Now, he comes down from a shift by making dinner. Or mowing the grass.

House Favorites

Q: What do you like to eat at the restaurant?

A: Our chicken sausage jambalaya. And you can never go wrong with a grilled cheeseburger. I like mine with grilled onions and Swiss cheese. It's always good wrapped up, to go, because it steams the bun a little bit, makes it soft.

Q: Where do you eat when you're not at work?

A: I enjoy J. Gilbert's Wood-Fired Steaks.

Jack's Diner

52 E. Lynn St., Downtown