Get Famous: Jimmy’s Famous Seafood Owner John Minadakis On Giving Back To Wrestling, His Local Community
Photo Credit: ShowYourSoftSide.com
Jimmy’s Famous Seafood has become almost like a “wrestling pilgrimage” for fans and talent when they visit Baltimore. “The Famous” has been in business for nearly five decades; the restaurant was founded by Demetrios “Jimmy” Minadakis and his sons Tony and John took over operations after his passing. They’ve kept the same traditions and standards as their father but now attract the wrestling world with their food, hospitality and charitable efforts. You can regularly find WWE and All Elite Wrestling talent posting on social media about their visits to the restaurant, and fans can enjoy monthly pay-per-view parties on-site too.
Jimmy’s is involved with a number of fundraisers and charities that benefit their local community, and raise awareness for leukemia and pediatric cancer too. They hosted a ‘Celebration Of Hope’ event in January in honor of Roman Reigns after he announced his leukemia diagnosis in 2018, and 100% of the proceeds went to “The Believe In Tomorrow Children’s Foundation”, which provides hospital and respite housing services to critically ill children and their families. The restaurant also recently introduced the Roman Reigns sushi roll, with the profits from that menu item going to Connor’s Cure. John Minadakis told Sports Illustrated that he and Reigns had become friends over the years, and he wanted to do something good and show the WWE Superstar the “power of the community” and do something positive for someone that had already done so much for others.
Some of their other efforts include an annual golf tournament, bowling tournament, Toys For Tots event and other charitable activities each year, many of them featuring participation from local celebrities, pro athletes and some of wrestling’s biggest stars. John Minadakis grew up as a wrestling fan himself and he thinks the wrestlers enjoy the atmosphere because they get a good meal after an event but also have somewhere welcoming to visit too.
“They have to work sometimes until 11 at night, 12 and 1 in the morning and their food options are pretty limited. You’re looking at a Denny’s, Waffle House, so you’re not getting the best food. Our kitchen stays open until 1 am and we’re in close proximity to the [Royal Farms Arena] downtown, we’re about 15 minutes away so it’s a no-brainer for the guys that stop in,” Minadakis said. “Wrestling fans have this stigma about them but we’ve always gone out of our way to make them feel extremely welcome here. It’s cool for the fans because they get to see their favorite wrestlers here hanging out, and it’s cool for the wrestlers because we treat them really well here, even better than we would treat an NFL guy, an MLB guy, because those guys get treated like that wherever they go whereas the wrestlers, their lifestyle is rough. You’re on the road so much and sometimes you don’t even know what city you’re in, so you want to go to a place where you know you’re going to get treated well like a member of the family. It’s like a win-win for everybody.”
The restaurant is not only a fun place for talent but for fans as well. He said wrestling fans can sometimes have a stigma about them but they’ve always gone out of our way to make them feel extremely welcome here, hosting a number of pay-per-view watch parties and on-site events. Minadakis pointed out that Starrcast in Baltimore drew a huge crowd of wrestling fans to the restaurant, even joking that his employees said his people in the were descending on the Charm City and referred to them as the ‘Black T-Shirt Mafia’.
Jimmy’s made some waves in the wrestling community when they raised money in honor of Roman Reigns after the WWE star was diagnosed with leukemia in 2018, but Minadakis has had a close relationship with him that goes back farther than that. He says they’ve been able to get to know each other over the years and they have “always had a lot in common as far as clarity and our legacy and what we wanted to do with our lives” and said it made complete sense to try and give back to someone that had already given so much to others.
“When he got diagnosed it was a no-brainer to [help out] because it would go a long way to make sure someone young doesn’t have to go through that, someone that doesn’t have the financial capabilities as he does. That’s just something we always do [through Jimmy’s]. When you get closer to some guys more than others and you see what’s important to them…that’s what we’re about here and being able to tie them in with their busy lives, it’s cool, it’s beautiful. The great thing is they help raise awareness for the charity itself.”
Roman had a role in helping the restaurant grant a child’s wish, making a surprise appearance to present a boy and his family with tickets and a trip to WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans. The restaurant has regular events like Connor’s Cure trivia nights, sells Roman Reigns sushi rolls ($1 from each roll goes to Connor’s Cure), but Minadakis points back to the Make-A-Wish surprise as his favorite day of work ever.
“I’m 36, my dad opened it before I was born and I took over full-time in 2003 when my dad died. I tell everybody this; my favorite day of work ever in my whole life that I’ve been here, and I grew up literally on top of the restaurant—was that Make-A-Wish with Roman, where we surprised that kid with tickets to WrestleMania. It’s crazy because it all started over a tweet,” Minadakis said, “we said we’ll donate $1 to Make-A-Wish for every retweet this gets and I purposely didn’t tag him since I know what kind of reach he has. He saw it and retweeted it, and the next thing I know is we’re donating over $12,000 to Make-A-Wish. That helped a kid and his family go to WrestleMania and Roman happened to be in the area and he surprised them, presented the ticket to him. It was one of those days where it makes everything worth it and that’s what life is really all about.”
#TBT to our @WishMidAtlantic wish-granting with WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns! It all started with a tweet, and ended with young Trip enjoying his Wrestlemania dreams! pic.twitter.com/DKLdr8ntCR
— Jimmy's Famous Seafood (@JimmysSeafood) September 6, 2018
Jimmy’s works on a local level as well, helping put together an event in honor of Maryland-area wrestler RJ Meyer, aka “The Bruiser”, who was also diagnosed with leukemia. MCW presented Jimmy’s Slamboree in June, helping raise money for his medical bills. Minadakis ended up paying the booking expenses to bring in the Guerrillas Of Destiny for the event, and Reigns recorded a video for Meyer that he saw as a surprise at a crab feat in town.
Being ingrained in his community is important to “Johnny Crabcakes”, helping various charities in the Baltimore area like Best Buddies, a group that helps mentally challenged children find jobs in the workplace and the Show Your Soft Side Foundation, a charity that helps link athletes with kids to teach them that it’s not OK to abuse animals. Minadakis said they found out about the group because the Baltimore area had a real problem with kids torturing dogs and cats in the past and while some of their tailgates will raise funds for the charity, he even adopted a dog himself at one of the events. The restaurant also helped feed 500 families for Thanksgiving through the Ed Reed Foundation, and they have scholarships in his father’s name for kids that can’t afford to go to one of the local schools here.
Some of their bigger events are held annually, including a Toys For Tots drive that breaks that state records for money raised, a flag football tournament and a golf tournament. Last year’s event raised $5,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and Jey Uso flew up to present the check to the group. Minadakis said they always have events going on to help others that “it’s almost every week for us, it’s in our DNA.”
— Jimmy's Famous Seafood (@JimmysSeafood) September 3, 2018
In addition to great food and service, the restaurant and its team are known for their sense of humor and advertising. Jimmy’s Famous Seafood and Minadakis himself have been the target of PETA protests and even received a personal letter from the animal rights group President, but he says they don’t fight fire with fire and instead use a tongue-in-cheek attitude and have some fun with it. After PETA placed a billboard in Baltimore encouraging people to stop eating crabs and go vegan, the restaurant posted their own billboard that took aim at the group that was trying to essentially put them out of business. The crab (and crab cake) is an important staple in Maryland, so the restaurant fought back with some clever social media posts, a billboard of their own and a new draft beer called “PETA Tears.” One dollar from the sale of every beer was designated for the Show Your Soft Side Foundation, another sign that Jimmy’s was about helping their community and doing some good in a negative situation. “We’re not going to stop eating crabs, eating meat, so stop wasting your time and have a beer while you’re at it,” Minadakis said.
Whether it’s humorous or heartfelt, the desire to help people was influenced by Minadakis’ parents, noting his father was “an immigrant and came over here with nothing.” He says his father really emphasized helping the community and giving back as much as they could because everything he had was given to him in the United States. When asked how he feels about the restaurant becoming a well-known brand as a place to visit, Minadakis said it was a good feeling to give people good food and a good experience.
“It makes me feel good because if the food stunk, they wouldn’t come here. My favorite part about it is these guys, no matter how tired they are, seeing the looks on the children’s faces when they come in here when Braun Strowman or Roman Reigns is sitting five feet away from them, seeing their faces light up and then those kids are going to think about that for the rest of their lives.” Minadakis said. “We’re all about the experience here—a great experience for the [wrestlers] because they’re enjoying the food and getting treated really well, a great experience for the customers because we’re helping them create last memories and it’s a great experience for me too because I like having people talk about this place in a positive light. It’s my life and my livelihood. I have pictures of myself as a kid with ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Paul Orndorff and Bam Bam Bigelow, and to watch this place evolve to where the wrestlers are treated so well, better than the NFL guys, is humbling.”
“When people eat here or have a drink here, their money is going right back into the community and it should make them feel a little bit better about spending their hard-earned money somewhere. We all have to eat, so why not put it back into your community?”
👨🏽🍳 Industry friends, this one’s for you. @TitosVodka, @SoftSide1, and The Famous have teamed up to provide free meals to all personnel from our line of work. We will overcome…together. #IndustryAid 💗 pic.twitter.com/Tov7cfEwHI
— Jimmy's Famous Seafood (@JimmysSeafood) March 24, 2020