Family History of the D’s in Johnny D’s

John and Tina Delellis

Johnny Ds was named after Johnny DeLellis, born in Somerville Mass on Oct 10,1926. Son of Italian Immigrants, he grew up with his family in Magoun Square on Hinckley Street.

Tina Chiarolanza was born in Naples Italy and first came to America at the age of 13, where her family also settled in Somerville. John, being a smart man, courted the gorgeous Italian and eventually convinced her to marry him in 1960.

John became a Somerville Police Officer after returning from the Navy after WWII. (There was a story of John riding an escaped Wild Boar through an old slaughterhouse in Somerville that I remember reading when I was a kid.) He and Tina then decided to operate a bar in Cambridge, MA and did so for five years (where the old Nick’s Beef and Beer house use to be). John briefly returned to the Force, where he worked the Davis Square beat. He got to be friends with the then owners of the Uptown Cafe, who took a liking to him, and offered him and Tina the opportunity to buy the business from them. Next thing you know, John and Tina were the city’s most likable bar owners around and the new name became Johnny D’s Uptown. They ran a friendly local neighborhood place, expanding in the mid 70’s into the storefront next door and adding local country and western and lip sync on the stage.

After John’s unexpected death in November of 1984 of a heart attack, we realized what a great man we had lost. He was quick with a smile, a bear hug, or a few dollars if you needed it. Our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners always had unexpected guests, as my dad would invite anyone who had no place to go. He was a man who knew the streets, and learned how to be tough to survive, but loving and protective of those he loved. I relish the stories I would hear about him from any of his friends or acquaintances and hope my children will get to know their grandfather through these stories.

My brother David and I came full time into the business after his death to help our mom. We had always worked here as kids, whether we wanted to or not, and would spend many a Sunday washing glasses and cleaning bathrooms. John also had a son, John Jr., who to this day has a striking resemblance to our dad and lives with his family down the Cape. Like our dad, John Jr. is quick with a smile and funny story and looking into his eyes is like looking into our dad’s eyes.

n 1988 we opened a full kitchen and the music expanded to include all types of music, featuring local, national, and international talent. I didn’t know much about the music or restaurant business but feel I was inspired by my dad to create the next generation’s Johnny D’s and was gifted with so many great people to help make it happen. David passed away in 1998, way too young, and his loss is felt to this day. If you ever came prior to 1998 and saw any holiday decorations, an outside urban garden, or just flare of good taste, it was from David. Like my dad, he took care of the foundation of this business in many ways and took a no nonsense approach to dealing with things that needed to be done.

My mom, Tina, was one of the strongest women I will ever know, and so much of what I have learned has come from her wise ways. She was such a fixture here that I still respond to any business decisions with WWTD. She was quintessential old school post WWII Italian, working hard and never taking anything or anyone for granted. In April 2008 Johnny D’s had the stage dark, while the door remained open, welcoming all those mourning her sudden loss. Sarah Rodman composed a great story about my mom’s legacy for the front page of the Boston Globe. I thank you for the respect and affection so many of you conveyed. Seeing the impact she and her life’s work had on so many others encouraged us to keep Johnny D’s alive and well. If you looked on the brunch menu, you would see pictures of our four kids. The two oldest are worked here part time and it was great to see them rolling up their sleeves and pitching in. That is what family businesses are all about.

Thank you for the opportunity. – Carla D

Side notes:

A customer came in to our brunch once and told me her grandmother and father both worked on these premises back in the 1940′s where it was a bar as well. Leads me to think 17 Holland Street has housed a continuously running bar since the end of prohibition.

What is now Johnny D’s Kitchen at 27 Holland Street was the Davis Square Fish Market for over 27 years. Bill and Alice were the operators and if you notice the statue of the couple in the bricked park in the middle of the square, look at their jackets and see fish. Those are statues of Bill and Alice.

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