Krystal Jo's in Flint: A deep sense of community with a side of sausage gravy

FLINT, Michigan—For first-timers looking to experience Krystal Jo’s, keep looking. You’ll probably miss it as you drive by, once or twice.

When you spot it tucked into a strip of small storefronts on Fenton Road, just park in front or around back of the hallway diner nestled into Flint’s southside. Here laughter and jokes ping-pong back and forth as regulars and newcomers fill the small swivel seats along the main counter. 

“The neighborhood was rough in the beginning, there was a lot of vandalism and we got broken into a bunch of times,” says chef/owner Tony Tucker, talking over the sizzle of beef patties hitting the grill.

About six years ago, he nearly walked away from the business.

“My wife and I were getting ready to quit, we just kept saying to ourselves (that) we couldn’t do it anymore,” he says.

As often happens during one of Tucker’s stories, he stops, adjusts his hat, looks you straight in the eye, and gives a quick grin before continuing.

“What happened was, I went out of town and the place got vandalized, just tore apart,” he says. “I was up in the U.P. near Tahquamenon Falls, so no one could reach me to let me know what happened.” 

Tucker leans in, direct: “The building, meanwhile, is busted wide open and there’s water pouring out the front of it. … By the time my brother got a hold of me, he didn’t tell me about what they had done, he just said someone broke into the diner, it’s bad, you’ve got to get down here.”

After driving 8 hours and dropping his wife off at home he got to his business. “I came strolling in the back and I kept looking around.” At this point Tucker clears his throat and looks out through the glass windows. “I walk in the door and I’m expecting this disaster, and I look around and think this isn’t that bad.”

And, then he found a note, left by some of his customers. 

“These folks, went and rented vacuums to suck up all the water and replaced all my copper plumbing, repaired holes in the ceiling and repainted,” Tucker says.

Two days later, a regular pulls up and delivers a new, roll-down door.

“The community came together and helped me,” Tucker says. “A guy I barely knew came and delivers this thing, and it was that day Flint bought and paid for me to stay.”

Tucker attributes his reputation in the neighborhood to something beyond the food. 

“I’m honest, I’m honest but I also know everybody—because everyone can afford to come here and the food is good,” he says.

Coming in a little late on a Monday afternoon you can see, firefighters, nurses, day laborers and suits. The menu is classic American food, mostly breakfast and lunch fare with everything made-to-order. Tucker’s favorites to dish out is breakfast. 

Beyond the food, Tucker also works with other businesses on neighborhood watch and hosts an annual bicycle giveaway in the summer. This year, it’s on June 10. 

“We have about 400 bikes we’re going to give away for kids in the community,” he says. “The Army, firefighters and Flint police will be coming out and talking with these kids with their belts off, and man are we going to play together.” 

Tucker leans in a little further, clearing his throat again: “That’s what this is all about. It’s simple for me. It’s about bringing people together.”

OUR TIP: If you’re going for a signature dish, order the Classic Country Omelette. For lunch, go with the Olive Burger (add pepper jack). And, stay for the stories.

Krystal Jo’s is located at 3616 Fenton Road in Flint. It is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sundays. 
 

Read more articles by Jake Carah.

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