John’s Diner celebrates half a century in business

John and others pose for a photograph with mayor Mark Sutcliffe. He’s holding a plaque.
January 5, 2023 will always be known as John Hatoum Day in the city of Ottawa. The local diner owner was honored with the recognition on his 85th birthday. Photo provided by Wellington West BIA.

By Bradley Turcotte

The founder of a mainstay restaurant on Wellington Street was honoured with a day proclaimed in his honor to recognize nearly 50 years serving the community. 

Newly-elected mayor Mark Sutcliffe proclaimed Jan. 5, 2023 “John Hatoum Day” in Ottawa, to recognize the man who opened John’s Family Diner in 1974. Sutcliffe, who is a Kitchissippi resident, said his family has dined at the popular eatery for almost 25 years.

Hatoum was recognized on his 85th birthday, nearly 50 years after he first opened the popular breakfast joint. Friends, family, and long time customers packed the diner’s booths and seats to celebrate a man who’s fed generations. 

 “(I was at) first shocked, then shy, and lastly, humbled, that an average neighbourhood guy could be recognized this way,” John told the Kitchissippi Times in an email. 

That “neighbourhood guy” first tuned on the griddle at Wellington Street and Granville Avenue in 1974. It has since moved to 1365 Wellington. The restaurant’s website says Hatoum opened it “with the goal of creating a comfortable environment where people could enjoy good home-cooked meals at reasonable prices.”

To make customers feel at home and give them what they want, John has been known to adjust menus and create a “pleasant” atmosphere for customers to spend their day. 

It’s a legacy now in the hands of Hatoum’s sons Peter and Tony. While their father officially retired in 2011, he remains a fixture in the building and is known by many regular customers. 

Tony Hatoum has been plating up orders at the diner for 31 years, and fondly remembers tagging along with his dad as a child.

John and mayor mark Sutcliffe raise a glass of orange juice. Others are watching.
John Hatoum says they key to a successful business is passion. Photo provided by Wellington West BIA.

He said the key to success is passion. 

“It starts out with you having to enjoy what you are doing,” Tony said. “Being ethical is trying to provide a good product, good service, and a good price. It’s a wholesome feeling if you want to run a community-based place. I don’t think it’s one thing specifically, I think you have to get a number of things right to have a neighbourhood business.”

Kitchissippi has grown and evolved since the first egg hit the grill at John’s Family Diner. Tony said he has watched the community “get better and better” over the years.

“There is always good and bad, but I think we are in a good period of growth and development,” Tony said. “I’m happy to be a part of it. As long as you evolve with the times I think it’s great.”

While the next generation says they have a long way to go to live up to their father’s legacy, their father said it all comes down to trying your hardest. 

“When it comes to young people starting out, I always say remember to do a good job,” he said. “Be honest and have a steady commitment to your work. Nothing comes easy. It takes time to raise up your business.”

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