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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

In Memoriam: John Ghoukassian

Two of Orange County’s most popular restaurants are Bayside in Newport Beach and Bistango in Irvine. Personally, Bayside has become one of my favorite haunts. I enjoy popping in for a drink and savoring the live music, and it’s my favorite summertime dining spot prior to attending the Hyatt Summer Concert Series. I even had an over-the-top birthday dinner there last October. Both Bistango and Bayside successfully navigated the pandemic challenges and continue to prosper.

That’s why I was saddened to hear that John Ghoukassian, the owner of Bayside and Bistango, died in March at the age of 84.

His family sent me background info on John, as well as their personal remembrances.

John Ghoukassian was an art collector, restaurateur, father and husband. He spent his life dedicated to the art of dining and pleasing all the senses.

With more than 50 years of experience as a restaurateur in the U.S. and abroad, he was a man of strength, endurance, adaptation and innovation. He was not only an inspiration to his children, Marc and Karyn, and his wife, Diana, but to his extended family of Bistango and Bayside, as well as the community.

John opened Bistango in 1987 in Irvine, where he created a thriving art gallery space where both food, visual art and live music continue to shine more than 30 years later.

Bistango quickly became a hub for business lunches, and dinners. Fortunes were transacted over pasta courses, and deals were done over salads.

Business Journal Publisher Richard Reisman shared a story from the Atlantic Magazine in the late 1990s, when Editor at Large (then Editor) Rick Reiff took an Atlantic writer to Bistango for lunch to show him what really goes on in Orange County.

“Inside, amid sculptures, tinted glass, metal alloys, spotlights, canopies, and a black see-through pyramid stacked with expensive bottles of wine that reached almost to the ceiling, I heard the hum of conversation,” wrote the Atlantic writer. “The men and women who crowded the tables wore flashy ties and dazzling jewelry” and the beverages of choice included “more cups of coffee and iced tea than alcoholic drinks.”

“That’s because real business is occurring here,” noted Reiff. “Millions of dollars are being transacted all around you.”

When asked what kind of business, Reiff replied “biomedical, pharmaceutical, a little genetic engineering, international investment, precision manufacturing, apparel, computer chips, and all kinds of software multimedia. Global trade and work forces are everything for us.”

Real business occurs at Bistango to this day, as it does at Bayside Restaurant, which John opened in 1999 alongside his son, Marc. They built the restaurant from the ground up with an iconic Italian architect featuring a terraced patio and authentic Venetian gondola oar ceiling.

At his restaurants, John created a strong and resilient team where his employees were more than workers. They became an extended family, with many a part of Bistango and Bayside for decades—something longtime clients appreciated.

He is survived by his wife, Diana, his son Marc and daughter Karyn. They shared their thoughts about John in a special letter in which they noted that they were extremely close to each other as they worked and lived together.

“There was a softness about John that maybe was not always visible at work,” they wrote. “He had so much wisdom. He knew how to handle every situation wisely and with a sense of calm. He was just always so cool and collected. You could always count on him and turn to him for advice. We adored him, respected him and looked up to him.”

John was an avid supporter of the arts and live entertainment, as evidenced by the nightly live music at his restaurants. In addition, his family said John was a lover of fine cuisine and fine wines, and had a quest for being the best of the best in the world of cuisine.

“He truly loved what he was doing, and he sacrificed everything for his restaurants as we traversed several economic recessions throughout the decades, as well as two shutdowns during this global pandemic,” they wrote. “He was a selfless man. There wasn’t anything he was not willing to do for the businesses’ survival and when things got tough, instead of throwing in the towel and giving up, he fought even harder. He had so much strength and never let any obstacle stop him.”

They concluded their thoughts by saying “we hope you will join us in ensuring John’s legacy continues. It is our mission to follow in his footsteps and continue to have the restaurants be something we all can continue to be extremely proud of.”

Bistango: 19100 Von Karman Ave., Irvine, 

(949) 752-5222, bistango.com

Bayside: 900 Bayside Drive, Newport Beach, 

(949) 721-1222, baysiderestaurant.com 

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