Crazy Johnnie has a change of heart _lowres

Photo by Ian McNulty -- Crazy Johnnie's filet mignon po-boy.

Yes Virginia, there still is a place to get bargain steaks in Fat City, and to some ears the tale of why that’s so may sound like a Christmas wish come true.

Last fall, management at Crazy Johnnie’s Steak House (3520 18th St., Metairie, 504-887-6641; crazyjohnnies.net) began telling their regulars that they would soon close after 28 years in business. They didn’t specify a date, but anticipated the last day would be sometime in November.

The decision sounded reasonable enough. At age 72, founder Johnnie Schram was ready to retire. Business had been declining for years and with prices for beef rising sharply it seemed the restaurant’s business model of luring customers with filet mignon and prime rib barely above cost had run its course. The customer response, however, was less than sanguine.

“After the announcement, we did more business in three days than we were doing in three weeks,” said restaurant manager Barry Sevin Jr.

They sold through the kitchen inventory quickly, and then frantically restocked as more people kept calling. The restaurant’s meat purveyor even sent staff over to cut steaks on site to meet the surge. The traffic hasn’t slackened through December, and Schram and her husband Barry Sevin Sr. decided to suspend those closing plans. For how long? Six months? A year? Sevin said they don’t know, though for now it’s still business as usual at Crazy Johnnie’s.

“Some people were saying we pulled off a good advertising ploy, like we said we’re closing just to get people in,” Sevin said. “But we were absolutely, positively shutting down. We were done, but then that changed.”

In a way, customers have dictated the course of Crazy Johnnie’s from the start. Though Schram started the business as a neighborhood bar, a simple “steak night’ promo soon evolved into a restaurant. Customers embraced it as a down-home antidote to the high-dollar steakhouse, a place to eat like a king in a setting more about video poker and longnecks than power lunches and wine lists. The filet mignon po-boy is on my own short list of great lunch finds.

“We might have lost sight of what our restaurant means to people, so this was really pretty moving,” Sevin said. “Our customers convinced us to keep this going, so we’ll see how long it goes.”

Crazy Johnnie’s (still) serves lunch and dinner daily.