Panini Beach: Countdown to closing

It’s 10 years and out for Janet Kleiner and Joe Guarise.  They’ll be closing their Cruz Bay beach-side trattoria at Wharfside on August 17th. Their moderately-priced restaurant’s menu included inventive Bellinis to start, excellent pasta and hot Italian sausages (my favorite),  linguine and clams for an entree, and a Cioccolato Panino for Dolci.

They are not leaving happily.  They arrived in late 1997 from Chicago, full of energy and optimism.  But developments like Sirenusa, Grande Bay, multi-million dollar villas, rising rents, a demanding
landlord and other changes have been troubling. "It’s still beautiful, but I’d rather leave and remember it as it was," Kleiner explained.

She talked about her experience in a forthright, even controversial, interview.  To listen, click the "Play" button below.

You can also download or hear the conversation by clicking here.

When Kleiner opened the business, after years of cooking in restaurants in
Chicago, the island was recovering from Hurricane Marilyn in
1995. "We were right at the perfect time (for the rebirth).
Sometimes I wish we’d gotten here in ’77 or ’87 when St. John really
was much more innocent … was a beautiful place and everything was

Kleiner and Guarise have been live in an apartment on the second floor
of Wharfside, "so it’s only been a 20-second commute." But it also
means she’s never away from business, and always on call. "I work every
day on the beach, but that’s the only beach I see."

Kleiner and her husband will go back to Illinois, where they have a
house north of the city. "You know, they say that when one door closes
another opens. I know that, but I’m still working my way through the
emotional part of closing. "It breaks my heart to leave," she said.

19 thoughts on “Panini Beach: Countdown to closing”

  1. I’m heading back with my family in March for two weeks from New Hampshire, and we will sorely miss the ambiance and great food. Thanks for wonderful memories. Good luck

  2. How sad! My husband and I always loved the food, the view and the ambiance at your wonderful restaurant. Best wishes!

  3. So sorry to see you go. We will be back in September and am disappointed you won’t be there. I hope you can come back to visit, relax and enjoy the beautiful island. Your hard work was truly appreciated. We enjoyed many good meals and bottles of wine. We come every year. Best of luck. The Pearson’s & Grover’s

  4. We agree. Ahh, for the good old early 1990’s. After 15 years of visiting St. John, we most likely won’t come back. We hold on to those great memories of a time gone by. We want to remember the wooden dock, no high rise condos, no crime, friendly locals and a friendly National Park. Best of luck to you in Chicago.

  5. We are very sorry to hear of your leaving. Panini Beach has always been in our plans when on island. Our children, who are no longer children, rank you as their favorite. We understand, but our St. John experience won’t be the same. Best of luck from the Elliott’s.

  6. we came to st john for the first time in 1991 and fell in love. immediately we bought a month at virgin grand, 3 bedrm pool villa. we came every year for a month until 2001. we want to remember st john by the wooden rickety toy store which is now meadas plaza, the super market deli, which was the only food store on the island, coral bay being a dirt road, hanging at the ferry dock having fun watching the boats come in, crab races at wharfside, and most important…knowing everyone. we have relocated to the bvi’s and we miss st john dearly and wish it was what it was , but we remember it as it was and our memories will last forever. we understand why you are leaving and wish you the best.

  7. I am sorry to see you go But completely understand the difficult landlord part!!! Enough said about that but it’s ashame a good thing has to come to an end because of …. ……. ….!!! You will be missed. But your memories will remain priceless!
    Best of Luck to you for your future plans.

  8. We only first visited the island 4 years ago, and of course were smitten. But everyone here keeps talking about “the way it was”, which makes me very sad indeed! Feel like we’ve missed out on something very special by not visiting sooner…

  9. My fondest memories of my time on St John are those of time spent hanging in Panini Beach. Thanks for making me feel so much at home. I have been looking forward to an upcoming return to St John and stopping in for a meal with my wife. You will be missed.
    Best of luck in the Windy City. If you do food, give Mary Jo your email to send to me. We will catch up there.

  10. I am so saddened to hear this. This was our family’s favorite restaurant in St.John. We live near Chicago in the burbs. I think you should bring your expertise and wonderful cuisine to this area when you come. Best of luck and hope to see a Panini around here!! My favorite dish in St.John was at your place. I looked forward to it everytime we arrive!

  11. We also will miss Panini’s. After 9 consecutive vacations in St. John, we always spent our first night at Panini’s where we knew it would be quiet with a beautiful view and great food and wine. Joe always remembered us.
    Good luck to you and thank-you.

  12. We’ll always remember our meals at Panini. Love your pizzas, desserts and Belinis!!! you will be missed. Thank you for always remembering us 🙂

  13. Our memories of Panini go to Caribbean martini’s, and my wife (true music aficionado) hearing Eric Clapton’s live album – (particularly “Old Love”) for the first time while we ate outside. We were truly amazed at the view, and hospitality that was shown to us – not to mention the wonderful food.
    We will be returning in a few months and will truly miss the experience that you created. Perhaps saddest – we are bringing our family this time around and we won’t be able to share a memory that will always be special.
    OK, with that said – “Life Goes on, and it is a wonderful journey.” We wish you nothing but the best.

  14. I just ate at this resturant last week when my family and I were on vacation. This was the first time I’ve been to St. John. We had a wonderful time. Panini Beach was my favorite out of all the other ones that we went to.

  15. I have been vacationing with my two college roomies in St for the past 20 years or so and we have been going to Panini’s every year since it opened, usually trying to visit at least twice during our two-week stay. The duck special was always my favorite although everything was delish. You’ll be missed!

  16. we have always loved your relaxed atmoshpere and your beautiful, Island location and made a Panini Beach stop several times during our nearly two month stay each year. You will be missed by us and our friends.
    However, what is all this talk about what the island used to be? I have been coming every year since 1987 and intend to continue. Sure there have been changes but hasn’t the world changed,too? Where is anyone completely safe? St.John is still better than most and we intend to keep coming back.
    Best to you, MLA

  17. We too, like the others have greatly enjoyed your piece of heaven!! You will be missed!!! Best of luck to you both!!! Thanks for everything! Rachelle & Joe cleve,.Ohio

  18. As a food server at Panini Beach for almost 8 years (Aussie lady), I will miss so many people who came back year, after year. Despite some peoples’ concerns about St John and its recent development, is still a good place to live, and I have relocated to another restaurant, of which I feel proud and also, work for some very nice people. If you do remember me, I would be so happy to answer any e-mails you may have…………Diane ex-Panini for 8 years!!!!!

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