Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen is an American story.
By Brian Sharp
Sometimes you find a great restaurant, but sometimes you find a great restaurant with a fantastic backstory. Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen, and its new ownership, gives you exactly that.
Mira Jusufi was born in Bosnia and managed to escape a war-torn region and make it to Holland. Her husband Mo Jusufi was born in Kosovo and he too managed to escape a war zone and make it to Holland. Wanting to start a new life in the land of the free, Mira started working with Catholic Social Services to find a home in the United States.
I asked Mira how she picked Dayton and she said Dayton picked her. She managed to make it to Dayton, with two pieces of luggage and her baby, and settled with a host family in Centerville. Mo made it to Dayton nine months later with two pairs of pants, a jacket, a stuffed toy for the baby he hadn’t seen in months and $30 in his pocket.
Not speaking any English and hoping to make her way into the food/restaurant business, Mira took any job available including dishwasher. Mo took a job washing cars for a local luxury car dealer. Mira says “I wanted to learn English and do the best job possible.” After three weeks as a dishwasher, she was moved into a prep capacity. Mira says that they put pictures of things in the cooler to help her learn English. At the same time Mo was moving from washing cars to being a lot porter.
Fast forward a few years, Mo’s brother-in-law Tony was working in the kitchen at Jimmy’s after having worked for an Italian chef while living in Germany. Jimmy had gotten to know Mira and Mo and their passion not only for hard work but also for a good life for their children here in Dayton. Jimmy approached them about buying Jimmy’s. Mo says at that moment they only had $7,000 to their name. After some thinking and the help of an “angel” in Dayton, they were able to buy Jimmy’s.
Tony is still in the kitchen, Mira is running the business and after a full day at the dealership Mo comes to the restaurant to work every evening. These are hard-working folks with a great product.
My friend Mark and I sat down for a late dinner. The list of specials was so long I couldn’t imagine remembering them all, but Maria had no trouble. Appetizers range in price from $3.99 to $9.99 and include things like mussels, calamari, meatballs and even pierogies. We chose the meatballs (two in a serving for $4.99). The meatballs are large—big enough to share—sitting on a bed of marinara and topped with Parmesan.
We ordered our entrees. The menu is filled with many options from pizzas, calzones, strombolis and New York rolls to typical Italian fare—such as ziti, fettuccine, gnocchi, linguine, and cacciatore—and specials like portobello lasagna or mushroom ravioli. Entrees range in price from $8.99 to $21.99. All of the entrees come with salad and the soup of the day. The house dressing is a delicious garlic Italian and the salad is served with a garlic Parmesan roll. Mark ordered the chicken carbonara (chicken with ham, bacon and black olives), and I had the chicken salerno (chicken with garlic, roasted red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes in a red sauce). The serving size was enough to share or to take some home for lunch the next day. The flavors were superb, with the kind of sauce that makes you want to take your roll and dip it right in. While black olives might not be your thing, they only added to this dish, and the combination of sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers in a red sauce was delicious.
As we learned the story of this amazing couple, we couldn’t help but shed a tear and think that this is truly what America is all about. Even more than that, the food is delicious and will make you want to come back again and again.