Broker Bert Belanger is among the few longtime customers who know about the restaurant's murky future, and is hoping it won't close for good. He recently contacted property owners throughout downtown hoping to find the Lunch Box a new home.
“It's an iconic place for those of us who have spent any time downtown in the '70s, '80s, '90s or even earlier,” Belanger said. “Joe has been able to preserve the feel and the quality of the food — and the secret recipes.”
The restaurant is a throwback to the old buffeterias — restaurants that had limited cafeteria style service, but also made-to-order sandwiches and grill items.
Booths dating back decades line the restaurant's entryway, and photos of downtown of old adorn the walls.
Johnston, a veteran in the restaurant industry who started Chi-Chi's, said business has been good despite surrounding streets being under construction as part of Project 180. He believes the customers will follow the restaurant if it reopens in a new location.
“We historically have done well,” Johnston said. “If you concentrate on the quality of the food, everything else takes care of itself. And that's what we've done.”
Johnston ruefully recalls how customers lined the block when it appeared the restaurant was about to close a decade ago when Papahronis was unable to run the restaurant full time.
“It was a big deal,” Johnston said. “And regardless of what happens this time, we plan to celebrate the life of the restaurant. Whatever it takes to show, we will want to show how much we appreciate this business.”
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