News-Sun photo by SAMANTHA GHOLAR Chef and owner Darlin ÒJohnnyÓ Jean has recently opened Classic Buffet and Lounge at the Highlands Inn Hotel in Sebring.
published: Sunday, December 02, 2012
Restaurant aims to bring culture to the Heartland
By SAMANTHA GHOLAR
SEBRING -- Flavor and culture are what chef and owner Darlin "Johnny" Jean hopes to bring to mouths of Sebring residents when they experience the food at Classic Buffet and Lounge inside the Highlands Inn Hotel.
The chef, whose roots begin in a small town near Port Au Prince, Haiti, has lived in Sebring for five years. Jean got his start as a retail salesperson in Sebring before he found what he feels is his real calling in the kitchen.
Jean started out as a busy boy at Homer's in Sebring before being promoted to store manager, a position he held until his exit from the establishment. Jean said that his time at his previous position gave him the platform he needed to start his own business and follow a dream he wasn't aware that he had.
Aside from following a dream, Jean knew that pursuing the new career avenue would provide more opportunity for his family.
"I really wanted to help my family," Jean said. The father of one not only supports his son, but visits Haiti frequently to assist in his siblings' educational funding.
Through his hard work and perseverance, Jean has managed to gain support from former customers as well as members of the business community.
Highlands Inn Hotel general manager Bill O'Neill is thrilled to have Classic Buffet and Lounge become a part of the establishment and has known Jean for quite a while.
"I first met him when he was working over at Homer's. I didn't know him that well at the time, but I always kind of keep my eye on him," O'Neill said with a smile. "I think he's doing great. It will be great to have this be a part of what we already have here."
Though business isn't booming right now, a number of Jean's former customers have developed a "cult-like" following for the modest chef.
Several couples entered Classic Buffet, making sure to stop and hug before taking their seats as the chef as he placed piping hot dishes onto the buffet line.
The goal behind Classic Buffet is simple: to bring a cultural blend to the area. Currently, the restaurant is only serving American dishes and cuisine, but that when soon change once Jean perfects the taste for each and everyone of his Caribbean and Spanish style dishes.
"I want to bring the taste of the islands to Sebring because it's not here," Jean said. "(Cooking is) a gift and want to share that with everyone."
With a full work crew of 15, Jean is currently working with his cooks to ensure that every dish that is brought to customers' tables is perfected and to his liking.
"I taste everything they prepare; every dish before it comes out and before it gets to the customers," Jean said.
Classic Buffet and Lounge is at 6525 U.S. 27 North inside the Highlands Inn Hotel just past the Sun 'N Lake intersection. Business hours are daily 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. The buffet style restaurant offers a variety of foods, from fried chicken to soup and soon will be adding Caribbean dishes.
Buffet prices are $7.99 for adults and $3.99 for children Monday through Saturday and $8.99 for adults and $4.99 for children on Sunday.
The Classic Buffet and Lounge will hold a grand opening event Friday, Dec. 7, and Saturday, Dec. 8, beginning at 11 a.m. each day. Musical guest True Blue will play in concert each night beginning at 9 p.m.
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