Photography by Kathy Tran.
Morris Bagheri is 83 years old, but you wouldn’t guess that while watching him bus tables or work the grill at JG’s Old Fashioned, the burger joint on Upper Greenville that he and his wife Susanne Bagheri have owned for 36 years.
“I think it’s good for us,” says Susanne, 74. “It keeps us active.”
The Bagheris bought JG’s from a college student named John Green in 1986, when the restaurant had been open only a year. Morris, who previously managed French Continental restaurants, was planning to bring an Italian or French spot to a new office building across the street.
After a meeting with the building manager, Morris stopped in for lunch at JG’s, which was packed. His order taker happened to be his kids’ old babysitter, and, knowing Morris was a restaurateur, she mentioned JG’s was for sale.
Morris dismissed the suggestion. “I said, ‘What would I do with a hamburger joint?’”
But as his meetings about the new restaurant continued, Morris kept dropping in for lunch, and each time, it was busy. So he called off the deal in progress and bought the hamburger joint. However, Morris soon discovered the restaurant had only been packed because Green had given out an abundance of coupons, so many that the restaurant wasn’t very profitable.
So Susanne and Morris transformed the place. They created a new menu, changed business practices and eventually expanded their space into the suite next door. The restaurant still bears the name of its founder, but Morris likes to say it stands for “Just Great.”
Why is the place so popular, even after almost four decades?
“Honestly, the quality of the ingredients,” Morris says. The burger patties are made from Certified Angus Beef, the vegetables at the condiment bar are always fresh, and every dressing and marinade is made in-house.
The Bagheris say they were the first restaurant in America to serve a mushroom and Swiss burger, and the original Chili’s (also on Greenville, south of JG’s, until it was demolished in 2012) copied and popularized the idea. Along with the mushroom and Swiss burger, the marinated chicken sandwich, Kobe beef burger and salad supreme are some of JG’s most popular items.
The homemade ranch and honey mustard are particularly popular. The honey mustard recipe is inspired by Persian pomegranate sauce, which Morris grew up eating on chicken in Iran.
Morris immigrated to America to receive an education in petroleum sciences so he could work for oil companies back in Iran. He worked in restaurants while in school, and — even having earned his master’s degree in geology — the industry reeled him in.
Asked if he ever regrets staying in America, Morris says he’s thought about it.
“I could have been somebody back home,” Morris says. “I could have helped a lot of people; I could have helped the country. But on the other hand, how would I be married to this one?” he says, smiling at Susanne.
The couple met at Morris’ French restaurant, La Louvre. As business partners, they have survived several economic downturns, and they literally survived the COVID-19 pandemic. Morris was confined to the couple’s bedroom for a month after contracting the virus in summer 2020.
“I was just praying,” Susanne says. “The hospitals were just jampacked, and people were dying every day.”
But Morris recovered without hospitalization, and Susanne avoided contracting the virus. And the restaurant stayed open, at 25% capacity. One of their top priorities was ensuring their 11 employees, all of whom have worked at JG’s for at least 15 years, still received full wages.
Now, the restaurant is at full capacity again, and the money flows a little more easily. Even with high rates of inflation across the country, prices at JG’s have stayed relatively low.
“We’ve got to not only maintain the quality, but affordability for the average guy,” Susanne says. “You have a lot of families coming in with lots of kids. They need to be able to eat without breaking the bank.”
JG’s, 12101 Greenville Ave.