THE CITY OF Savannah lost a community staple October 12 when the part-owner of both the Coffee Deli and Bar Food eating establishments, Johnny Baker, passed away due to complications related to Covid-19. He was 62.
Baker was not only the “larger than life” part-owner the city grew to love, but he also was a philanthropist and a fundraiser for many local nonprofits, along with his co-owner of the two Habersham Village eateries, Paula Letcher.
“He loved doing fundraisers and would always enjoy packing Paula’s truck for some charities,” Lechter said. “We packed Paula’s truck a few times for Second Harvest, and raised money for the Rape Crisis Center. Hospice was a huge fundraiser that we had done every June. He was one of the most caring people you could ever meet. He didn’t really show that side to many people but it was definitely there.”
Baker’s friend and colleague, Joey Rosen, was hired by Baker as a social media specialist, which he is still currently doing for both establishments, as well as any side jobs Letcher needs help with. Rosen was a neighbor of Baker’s and a regular at Bar Food before being hired.
“I started out as his neighbor at his condo on Habersham in 2006, so I’ve known him since then,” said Rosen. “Then I started going to the bar, just as a regular customer, and became very close with Johnny and Paula. A few years later, I became part of our Bar Food/Coffee Deli family and just started doing social media for them. At first, it was pro bono and then it became a paid position.”
Rosen admired his boss’s approach to both his business ventures and the way he tackled life in general.
“Johnny had advice for everything and everyone, whether he knew them or not. He would tell you exactly how he felt,” Rosen said. “He always asked the hard questions; he loved everyone and didn’t have one enemy. His approach to business was, keep it simple. Keep everything simple and do it right the first time. Simplicity was key to the way that he lived.”
As far as the timeline as to when Baker contracted the virus, Letcher and Rosen said that some reports were incorrect as to when Baker was diagnosed with Covid-19.
“It was a little bit of an issue with a few of the local news outlets getting it completely wrong, saying that it was a few days [of Johnny being out of work], but it wasn’t, it was at least three weeks that he was out of the business,” Rosen said. “He was home for approximately two weeks feeling ill and then at the end of that two-week period, he checked himself into the hospital where he remained. The last week of his life was in the hospital.”
Both Bar Food and Coffee Deli closed down for two days as soon as they knew Baker contracted the coronavirus. They then did a deep and thorough cleaning, sanitizing everything in the restaurants. Employees also got tested for the virus as a precaution.
“There were a few positive cases, they stayed out of work, and most everyone else was negative,” Rosen said. “They did every CDC guideline that they could to keep everyone safe and thankfully it wasn’t spread to anyone else, so they did exactly what they needed to do.”
The unfortunate circumstances surrounding Baker’s death serves as a harsh reminder to both his friends and the community of how prominent the presence of the coronavirus is and continues to be for not just Savannah, but our country as a whole.
“I am immunocompromised, I have a heart condition, so I’ve taken it seriously from the very beginning,” Rosen said. “But yeah it just hits home when you realize that someone contracts it and finally succumbs to it.”
Bar Food will host a memorial service open to the public, with speeches, cocktails, and food on Friday at 6 p.m.