Homemade food has made Jack & George’s a growing presence in Altoona

The Altoona restaurant Jack & George’s is still serving up good eats after several decades in the business thanks partly to the client base two Altoona brothers established years ago, and the homemade approach to the food locals can’t seem to get their fill of.

The walls inside the comfortable and casual restaurant and bar on Fourth Avenue are covered in Pittsburgh Steelers signs and photos, and round tables can accommodate a crowd of 75.

Theresa White, 52, who has owned Jack & George’s approximately 21 years, said the restaurant got its name from Altoona brothers Jack and George Iuzzolino and was under their management for more than 30 years. Before that, the restaurant was a corner store and bar called AJ’s.

“Jack and George had a wonderful business built,” White said. She credits them with creating a customer base. “Their reputation was phenomenal.”

George Iuzzolino, 80, said he and his brother, Jack, who died in 1982, bought the business in 1965. A former Altoona meter reader, George didn’t work full time in the business until the 1970s.

He said they sold a lot of sandwiches in their day, and their meatballs, ham and baked Italian hoagies were popular. The meatball recipe was his mom’s, he said.

He said he made a lot of good memories and friends, and what he enjoyed about running the restaurant was the people they met.

Over the years, the business started concentrating more on food, and today, they do more food sales than bar sales, White said. When the state enforced a no-smoking policy, bar business went down

“drastically,” she said.

The restaurant’s chicken salads with greens, hand-cut fries and mozzarella cheese are popular, White and head chef Kurt Maidl said.

Ham pot pie, a special on Tuesdays, is also popular, Maidl said. How popular was evident recently.

This past holiday season, Christmas and the start of the new year fell on Tuesdays, making it two consecutive weeks in a row people went without their ham pot pie.

The first Tuesday back, they sold out by 4:30 p.m., Maidl said.

“People were going crazy, they had to get their pot pie fix,” he said.

White had to re-build the business after it went downhill during a time after the Iuzzolino brothers owned it and before she became its owner.

White ran the restaurant while raising her three kids – Brent, 30; Jaylee, 26; and Shamus, 22. She said she could not have done it without her mom, Angela Stetter, helping with the kids.

“Our servings are large. We concentrate on the quality of the food. The majority of the food is handmade,” White said. “We don’t like pre-made stuff. We cut our own meat. We do it because of the quality of the product. It takes more time, but it’s worth it.”

White said the only item they don’t make homemade is their poppers.

“Everything we can do here for freshness, we do – and you certainly don’t find that most places,” Maidl said. “I feel it is a direct reason for the business that we have. When you take time to make it from scratch, it makes all the difference in the world. I’m a firm believer in that.”

Maidl has been head chef at Jack & George’s for three years. In 2000, he graduated from the International Culinary Academy of Pittsburgh with a degree in specialized technology in culinary arts. Before coming to Jack & George’s, Maidl was the executive chef at the Phoenicia Mediterranean Restaurant, Altoona, he said.

In 1970, a back dining room was added to the business, Iuzzolino said. The tiny kitchen Maidl cooks in today used to be a back porch, White said.

Another expansion is in the restaurant’s future. They’re constructing an addition which will house a new kitchen and bathrooms and an outdoor eating area, White said.

The current kitchen is too small and difficult for someone to work out of, White said. Prep work for the food takes place in a downstairs room.

For the size of the kitchen, which can only fit two people at a time, Maidl said he is amazed at the volume of food they put out. Besides more elbow room, Maidl said the new kitchen will allow for a healthier cooking method with a char-grill to cook on.

Regular customers Mike Fleck and Clark Emerick, both of Altoona, come in for lunch Mondays through Fridays.

“I like their mini-steak sandwiches,” Fleck said, noting that the barmaids and the fellow customers are nice.

“I like their roast beef sandwiches on Wednesday nights, and their pizza is really good and their fish sandwiches,” Emerick said. “It’s a family-type bar.”

Paul Cassidy, 80, who years ago worked at Jack & George’s for 15 to 20 years, said he was one of several local guys who had other jobs, but worked there part time.

Today, at the place he said was built on meatball and steak sandwiches and beer, he still enjoys what they are serving up.

“I’d recommend their food to anybody,” he said. “Their food is excellent. They give you a good portion. People from all walks of life come in. It’s always been a decent place.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.