Oswego’s ‘Famous’ diner delays opening, optimistic about future

Jocko’s Famous Ritz Diner, seen above, has been forced to push back its re-opening but its owner says they’re aiming to return soon as one of the Port City’s enduring hometown institutions.

OSWEGO — The owner of one of Oswego’s iconic restaurants says they’ve been forced to push back opening to the public, but are confident they’ll be back in service soon.

Jocko’s Famous Ritz Diner, located at 359 W. 1st St. announced last month on social media an “unfortunate incident” had occurred, spurring speculation as to the nature and severity of the event.

Don’t fear, fans of the Ritz’s famous breakfast original sandwich, Jocko’s stuffed French toast or Irish bennies: it’s a clean-up and maintenance issue that should be fixed soon.

Owner Phillip Reitz Jr. told The Palladium-Times in an interview this week the “unfortunate incident” resulted from water damage from a broken line connected to their coffee machine.

“I'm disappointed that it's going to be longer until people can eat our food and enjoy our service,” Reitz said.

Upon inspecting a newly installed ATM in preparation for a November opening, Reitz found the water damage significantly affected the restaurant’s ability to operate.

“(The water got) into the sub wall, into the walls, and destroyed a bunch of stuff in the basement... we wanted to open before the holiday season,” Reitz said. “Water is so profoundly damaging, they said this could have happened in one or two days. We really don’t know.”

According to Reitz, the restaurant wasn’t a total loss — many essential kitchen appliances were left untouched. The grill and walk-in fridge were some of the crucial instruments left un-damaged.

“The grills are up off the floor enough… the walk-in cooler; our main storage area, is in perfect condition,” Reitz said. “A lot of the things we need to open up will be good to go.”

The unforeseen remodel comes right at a time where Jocko’s was planning on re-opening their doors after months of delays and state pandemic restrictions.

“It’s extremely disappointing. I’ve been trying to be cautious, waiting for the right time. I felt like I picked the right time to open up,” Reitz said. “If you’re out of business for too long, you escape people's minds.”

Reitz was among the thousand of business owners across the Empire State whose livelihoods came to an abrupt halt in March due to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders related to curbing the spread of the coronavirus. Once the government allowed restaurants to re-open, Jocko’s remained closed because of his concerns over danger and rising cases of COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, COVID cases are still rising, and I don't like that. That makes me almost want to stay closed. At the same time, I think that we can do it in a way that we can be safe and service our customers at the same time,” Reitz said.

When it does eventually welcome back patrons, the diner will mandate social distancing and put capacity limits in its dining room, Reitz said. He described his timeframe for re-opening as “spring, or sooner, if possible.”

“We will be fixing up the vestibule as well and putting up the new sign finally,” he said.

Jocko Reitz bought the building in the late 1970s from Robert Shapiro, and the business went through several name changes until Dec. 2014 when “Jocko’s Famous Ritz Diner” became the consensus. A new custom-built sign, which Phil Reitz said “encompasses my dad’s likeness” was a casualty of recent wind damage but will be erected  again soon.

“I can guarantee that will be up; I will not open without a proper sign,” Reitz said, in reference to the 450-pound, LED and plexiglass marquee.

For more information on Jocko’s Famous Ritz Diner, contact them on Facebook.

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