John Ellner JOANNA's Obituary John Ellner, who has died aged 63, changed the look, as well as the taste and social attitudes, of Crystal Palace restaurants. When, with his wife, Chris, he opened Joanna’s (named after Cockney rhyming slang for piano, a number of which decorated the original room) in April, 1978, he not only introduced a wonderfully relaxed brand of American cuisine – burgers and steaks, a la Hard Rock café – but also broke the monopoly (one Indian, one Chinese and a busy Wimpy Bar) of places to eat at the Palace at that time. People told him he was mad to even think about opening a restaurant in such a culinary desert as SE19 Moreover – a former print worker and, briefly, an upmarket publican – he had never run a restaurant in his life. I first met John the day before he opened. He was handing out leaflets in the high street offering free glasses of wine to potential customers. I told him the area sorely needed a good restaurant and wished him all the luck in the world. ‘If you’re any good, we’ll be back,’ I said. ‘Oh you’ll be back,’ he said in his cheery and confident manner. ‘We’re going to be the best dining experience in the neighbourhood. You see, I know the jargon already!’ But he knew more than that. The food, the atmosphere, the music – he was a Frank Sinatra nut and played his tapes constantly – and the service were superb. While John’s warmth and ebullience made him the star of the business, Chris watched over the business affairs. It was a perfect combination. Within a year, Joanna’s was a flourishing success. It had a comfortable chic that drew customers from miles around. At
weekends, people queued to buy the best burgers in town. In 1986, he bought the baker’s shop next door and doubled their capacity. Today, Crystal Palace has thirty restaurants catering for world-wide tastes. Indeed, he came to a barren land and made it flower. But John Ellner was always his own man. He took up flying and yachting, acquiring a professional skill at both. Above all, he had the gift of friendship. He loved nothing
better than to entertain his friends at a Sinatra concert at the Albert Hall. When he spotted friends on the High Street he would invite them in for a coffee, or a glass of wine. It was impossible to say no to him. I miss him dearly. One son, Edward, is working in marketing, whilst the other, Will, now runs Joanna's with the same pride and care his father did for more than thirty-three years.
Peter Evans 7
A South East London Lifestyle Magazine