Jamie Daskalis is the chef and an owner of Johnny D’s Waffles, helping her family navigate three Grand Strand locations – Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, and Surfside Beach — and carry on her father's legacy in the process.
About Jamie Daskalis
The hustle and bustle of Johnny D’s imitate a nightclub without a DJ and strobe lights. There are blurs of constant movement from customers mingling among themselves and wait staff flitting about with food and drinks. Soft music flows from unseen speakers and mixes with dialogue from flat screen TVs.
This jolly, jumping restaurant movie is Jamie Daskalis’s life. Here, the party stays popping for palates.
A trip here is often an experience most want to put on repeat, like a scratched record. Yet, the song that plays when Daskalis and employees are in the rotation is usually a good one.
Charles Hertzog, a Google reviewer, gave the breakfast, lunch, and brunch spot a 5-star rating and said, “Great spot for breakfast. Bloody Mary’s were amazing, and the breakfast was top notch.”
Cool compliments give her a dopamine high. The hard work, long hours, and morning leg pains fade, and the appreciation and kindness of customers elevate and rejuvenate her.
“Some days, I get a few extra compliments from customers,’’ she said. “Some days, I see a few extra happy faces. I get a high from that.”
Her other high is James, her 10-year-old son who has autism. She is soothed by being in his presence. He enjoys helping her prep their meals at home. Staying active in autism causes and spreads awareness through education and fundraisers also lifts her.
Johnny D’s is her professional and personal dugout with three locations – the one she helms in North Myrtle Beach, a Surfside Beach spot, and the premiere spot that is in Myrtle Beach.
The grub hub is home to huge tastes and elephantine menus. The family’s fire for restaurants when its patriarch and namesake, Johnny Daskalis, opened The Hills Diner in New Jersey. He did so at 18 after arriving from Greece with his parents. Her dad also started an eatery called Coney Island in Middletown, N.Y. Eventually, he manifested the Johnny D’s brand in the Big Apple too. The Times-Herald Record, based in Middletown, called him the “Hudson Valley Diner King.”
She was 14 or 15 when he opened the original Johnny D’s in Newburgh, N.Y.
“It was beautiful,’’ she said. “It was a 50’s style diner with big, flashing neon lights. It had a giant vestibule made of glass. You couldn’t see through the glass, but it let all the light in. Inside was all mahogany. It opened to much fanfare at that time because there wasn’t much of anything else in Newburgh.”
The original Johnny D’s was opened 24 hours and served breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
“When it opened, nobody had seen anything like it,’’ she said.
Johnny D’s debuted in Myrtle Beach on January 21, 2014, after the Daskalis family relocated to the Grand Strand.
“My dad loved the energy here,’’ she said. “He was always about his energy and how situations and people made him feel. I am like that too.”
On April 25, he lost his fight against pancreatic cancer. The patrimony, however, persists. Her sister, Maria Saunders, does the office administration for each location. Her brother, Nick, works at the Surfside Beach spot; the other, John, does deep cleaning.
“When I first started in the business, I was very nervous,’’ said Daskalis, 37. “It was hard for me socially and stuff because I was awkward as it was, and to go up to waiting on tables was hard for me.”
Jamie Daskalis grew up in the fast-paced world and wonder of the restaurant industry.
The restaurant bug bit early one, and she liked it. Her introduction to the dining domain was as a server at Coney Island in Middletown, N.Y. She was only 13.
Like butter kisses hot biscuits, she knew her place in the industry was a natural, amorous pairing.
“I had my dad, and I knew he was going to help and get me going,” she said. “I knew he would help me love along, and we were going to move along together.”
She was right. She bloomed. She became Super Server – a shero in the restaurant universe.
“It was a very exciting time for me when I was younger,’’ she said. “I thought I was the hottest thing since sliced bread. I knew everything at 17, 18, and 19 years old.”
The traditional college campus never saw her, but The Culinary Institute of America met her and meshed with her soul. She earned a degree in baking and pastry.
After graduating, she took over Coney Island as its boss. She thought the road would be smooth, but she encountered a few potholes.
Enter Pothole Problem No. 1.
For a slither of time, she preferred socializing with pals more than being the proprietor. She didn’t, however, stay in that foolishness long.
“I got myself together, and I started addressing some of the issues – changing the menu, revamping a little bit,’’ she said. “I just realized that I couldn’t hang out with my friends when I was supposed to be at the restaurant. At restaurants, you have to be there. It is a commitment.”
Enter Pothole Problem No. 2.
She didn’t know how to cook. Yep, you read that right. Unlike numerous chefs, she didn’t get cooking lessons from her mom.
Anastasia Daskalis liked being alone while preparing meals for her husband and children.
“She was like, ‘Don’t come in my kitchen when I’m cooking,’’’ Jamie Daskalis said of her mother. “We were not the best-behaved children. We were busy wreaking havoc or whatever. I don’t even know how mom did it.”
Therefore, she taught herself by watching cooking videos and studying recipes. Her steadfastness designed the chef she is today.
People talk country miles about her sweet and savory foods, including her red velvet waffles and pork belly Benedict. Pork belly is one of the proteins of which she is most proud. When prepared at Johnny D’s, that piece of pig gets massaged in her barbecue rub and later soaked in her Coca-Cola barbecue sauce for a bit. Then, it is baked and thinly sliced. In the end, it is deep fried and served to flaunt crispy, caramelized edges.
“Her flavor combinations are unmatched,” said Stephanie Bohardt, her bestie. “Her raw talent paired with the example and lessons learned from working side by side with her father has made her one of the top people in her field.”
Yes, people know Jamie Daskalis will continue to take tongues on flavor explorations fresh and familiar. Her book of good food is still being written. People will eat. Mouths will remain happy.
By Johanna Wilson Jones, Local Food Writer and Judge on Chef Swap at The Beach
"I have never known anything else."
Breakfast Chef Swap | Jamie vs. Jess
Chef Amanda kicks things off with a bang as she swaps Chef Jamie Daskalis of high-volume breakfast spot, Johnny D's, with Chef Jess Sagun of eclectic downtown bistro, Winna's Kitchen for a head-to-head Breakfast Chef Swap Challenge. Find out who will take home the inaugural Chef Swap Knife!