The couple behind Rockford’s popular family-style breakfast restaurant has made the leap and opened a second location. But don’t worry — they have plenty of quality dishes and friendly service to go around.
When John and Pam Lack opened Johnny Pamcakes, 3700 E. State St., Rockford, in 2008, they weren’t sure what to expect.
“This was the biggest step of our lives,” said Pam at the time. “We took a big chance. But we said, ‘Let’s try it.’”
So far, so good. Known for its breakfast food served all day, Johnny Pamcakes has become one of the most popular restaurants in town.
The recipe for success, John says, is simple. “It’s about good-quality food served hot. It’s about efficient order-taking by a smiling, friendly face. It’s about having a clean restaurant. It’s nothing fancy. It’s about giving the customers what they want.”
Johnny Pamcakes is a family-style restaurant, sandwiched between a car wash and a strip mall on Rockford’s busy East State Street, near Fairview Boulevard. The 4,000-square-foot building seats up to 130 guests in a dining room with neutral decor. Many regular customers during the week are retirees, while weekends are usually time for families.
“Our customers become like family,” John says. “We look forward to seeing them here once or twice a day.”
The Lacks are no strangers to the local restaurant scene. They both worked at The Mayflower Restaurant in Loves Park, Ill., and Stockholm Inn, in Rockford, where they became a fixture for years. But the couple longed to operate their own place, so seven years ago they took the plunge. It worked. In their first two years, the Lacks more than doubled their sales projections.
Regardless of the time of day, breakfast is the meal of choice at Johnny Pamcakes, which is a play on the owners’ names. Dishes like Swedish pancakes, 3-inch-tall fluffy omelets and eggs Benedict are a big hit with customers.
The menu has stayed mostly the same over the years. All meals are made from scratch. Popular choices include a variety of burgers, pasta with Pam’s special sauce and fried chicken.
“We do things the old-fashioned way,” John says. “It takes more labor to do it that way, but the end result is you’re getting a better product. People can tell when you scrimp on quality.”
Due to the restaurant’s success, the Lacks recently opened a second location inside Kegel Harley-Davidson, 7125 Harrison Ave., in Rockford. But not without some consternation.
“I was trying to figure out how Johnny Pamcakes worked with Harley-Davidson,” John says. “But the more I got to thinking about it, it wasn’t a bad mix. Harley-Davidson is American-made – an iconic status. We’re a very good breakfast restaurant here in Rockford. If nothing else, it would be a good exercise to see if we could duplicate what we’re doing here, with a limited risk.”
The new location is half the size of the East State restaurant and is open for breakfast and lunch only. The space is cozy, with a lower-than-usual dinner counter surrounded by comfortable booths. Pictures of the Johnny Pamcakes staff hang from the walls. “It’s nothing fancy,” says John.
Opening a second location has reinvigorated the Lacks. In fact, the couple is considering adding a third restaurant sometime down the road.
“When an opportunity like this comes along, it gets you thinking about the potential,” John says. “Like we said when we first opened for business in 2008, ‘Let’s try it. It can’t hurt to try something new.’ The more successful you are, the higher the expectations become.”
The East State restaurant is open Mon.-Sat. 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sun. 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Harley-Davidson location is open Tues.-Sun. 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is closed on Monday.