D&J’s Café is under new ownership and management as of Dec. 16. The restaurant at 915 W. Laurel St. has been a popular breakfast and lunch destination for decades, but some longtime customers began boycotting the business last year after then-owner John Price posted a racist rant on his personal Facebook page about the circumstances surrounding the death of George Floyd. Price was not involved with the day-to-day operations of the business, but his daughter, Amy Price, stepped down as the manager following her father’s Facebook post, telling the State Journal-Register at the time that she didn’t believe his subsequent apology was sincere.
Now Springfield resident and longtime restaurant owner Lee Rupnik has taken over operations of D&J’s Café. “I had a business relationship with the former owner, and I became aware of an opportunity,” he said. “They were struggling, and the bank asked me to operate the restaurant.”
Asked about the fallout from the previous owner’s Facebook post, Rupnik said, “That was a very unfortunate set of circumstances. The restaurant full of regular staff took the brunt of that fallout, since John didn’t work regularly in the business.” Rupnik said that COVID took a toll on the business but acknowledged, “The bad publicity certainly didn’t help anything.”
Rupnik has extensive experience in the restaurant industry, having managed restaurants for his father, Joe Rupnik, for many years. In 2006, he began a career in commercial insurance, but just a few years later he returned to his roots. “I purchased Luca Pizza in 2009 under similar circumstances and dove back into the restaurant business,” he said.
He now hopes to make similar improvements to D&J’s Café, including more efficient operations and better management. Rupnik is also counting on previous customers returning.
“We want to reach out to younger families and some of our regulars that were lost, invite them back,” he said. Noting that he and his family have eaten at D&J’s Café for years, Rupnik said, “I’m excited to preserve a Springfield tradition for so many families, including my own.”