Greek American restaurateur Gus Konstin, who revitalized landmark San Francisco restaurant John’s Grill, has died. He was 87. Konstin is survived by his children and grandchildren including son John Konstin, who has operated the downtown bar and restaurant at 63 Ellis Street since 1990.
Konstin was born in a poor Greek village in 1931, according to his obituary, and fought the German occupation in his home country before fleeing to the US during civil war. In San Francisco, he began working as a busboy at the restaurant Jack’s, where he later became a popular waiter and eventually maitre d’, serving a rich and powerful clientele including lawyers, financiers, and celebrities like Alfred Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergman, and Ronald Reagan.
Konstin met his wife, a Mexican American woman named Sydna, while taking English classes at Galileo High School. She died in 2009 after 54 years of marriage.
Saving carefully, the couple was able to purchase the 3-story John’s Grill in 1969, enshrining it as a local classic. As John’s is mentioned in Dashiell Hammett’s beloved San Francisco detective novel The Maltese Falcon, Konstin added elements like the book’s namesake statue to the restaurant. “Sam Spade’s Lamb Chops” are still on John’s menu of classics like shrimp Louis and oysters.
After Jack’s, “a lot of the customers became his friends, and they followed him to John’s Grill,” Gus’s son, John Konstin, explains to Eater SF. “That made John’s Grill a hangout for a lot of the city’s elite, and they were great customers.” Regulars with their own designated tables included businessman Cyril Magnin, rock promoter Bill Graham, mayors, senators, and sports figures.
“He worked hard... and as an immigrant, it was really big for him to give back to society,” Konstin remembers of his father. “He was very generous: There wasn’t one charity or one democratic candidate he said no to.”
A service for Gus Konstin will take place next week followed by a private celebration of his life at the restaurant.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the year of Konstin’s birth. He was born in 1931, and fled Greece in 1949.