What’s Your Story? John Montelepre

Owner John Montelepre “touches the tables” at 2Johns Steak and Seafood Restaurant

Everyone has a story to tell.

Each week, the Shreveport-Bossier Journal’s Tony Taglavore takes to lunch a local person—someone well-known, influential, or successful—and asks, “What’s Your Story?”

There’s no denying John Montelepre’s success in the Shreveport-Bossier City restaurant business.

In 1979, he bought Leon’s on Kings Highway. For almost 30 years, Leon’s became an iconic, local favorite, known for its to-die-for BBQ sandwiches (Oh, that sauce!) and holiday turkeys and hams.

In 2009—after a six- year “retirement”, Montelepre—who very much wanted to work with his son—opened 2Johns Steak & Seafood, which remains Bossier’s only fine-dining restaurant.

In the 14 years since, 2Johns has won numerous awards. It’s been named one of the Top 100 Best Steakhouses in America. Most recently, Yelp named 2Johns Best Steakhouse in Louisiana.

And then there’s Wine Spectator’s prestigious Two-Glass award, which 2Johns has won two straight years.

Not bad for someone who never aspired to be in the restaurant business.

“I was going to be a professional golfer until I met my (future) wife,” John told me recently over lunch at—where else?—2Johns. I had chicken salad. John had a small bottle of Diet Coke.

“(Elizabeth) was a couple of years ahead of me in school. You can be married and be a golfer, but you travel 40 weeks out of the year. To me, that’s not a marriage, even if you can afford to take your wife with you.”

Making the PGA Tour wasn’t a pipe dream for Montelepre. He earned a full golf scholarship to Centenary College.

“I really think I could have made it as a professional golfer. I wasn’t going to be a great player, but I think I could have made a living out there.”

One of three children, John and his family moved from Metairie to Shreveport, just as John was entering his teen years. His father ran Continental Insurance in New Orleans and oversaw 500 people. To move north, he was offered twice his salary. In the 1960’s (and probably in 2023), that was an offer you didn’t turn down.

“(People) wanted my dad to run for Insurance Commissioner. My Dad was very, very smart. He didn’t want to get involved in politics.”

What Mr. Montelepre did want was for his son to join him in the insurance business.

“The summer prior to me graduating, I tried to sell insurance. I sold some policies, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea…When I told my Dad I wasn’t going to go with him, it kind of broke his heart.”

But Dad put the pieces back together, and invited his son to attend a meeting that would set young John on a career path he never imagined.

“Dad used to eat at Leon’s every day. One day out of the blue, he said, ‘What do you think about going into the restaurant business? I’ve got a meeting with Mr. Leon next week and I want you to sit in on it. He’s thinking about selling his store and opening a franchise.’”

Never mind John—who was playing golf and working as an assistant pro at East Ridge Country Club—knew nothing about running a restaurant.

But he did know dollar and cents. Leon’s was selling a lot of BBQ sandwiches. But it’s what they weren’t selling which John saw as the way to grow the business.

“At one point in November and December, I sold over 20,000 turkeys and hams. I had one account that bought 4,000.”

But nothing lasts forever. The surrounding neighborhood changed, as people and businesses moved to south Shreveport. To keep a good thing going, John needed to move as well.

“By the time I bought the property and built my restaurant, it was going to cost me $2 million. The problem was, I had a five-dollar sandwich. I couldn’t make the numbers work.”

But there were other numbers John could make work.

“I got into playing poker in ’94 at the Isle of Capri (a now-closed Bossier casino)…A friend of mine was up there one day, and said, ‘They’re playing a game of Hold’em up here. You need to come look at this game.’”

John did, liked what he saw, and began a mentorship with a man from Dallas whom John calls “The best player in the room.”

“I wanted to learn. I’ve always been one of these people who I’m either going to do something 110 percent, or I’m not going to do it.”

John’s “110 percent” provided him with a new career.

“I was a professional player. I was playing against the best players in the world. The thing that drove me—it wasn’t the money, initially. It was the competition. For some reason, I have always been super-competitive. If you beat me at something, I’m going to figure out how to beat you.”

John figured out how to beat enough people to make it profitable flying to Los Angeles two weeks a month for five years to play poker.

But while he eventually lost his enthusiasm for the game, the father of two children never lost his desire to work with his son.

“John and I are close, and I wanted to do something with him. He had an interest in the food business. I had an interest in the food business. I had always wanted to do this (fine dining) venue. We had an opportunity to do it, so we went for it.”

Montelepre is equally proud of his daughter, Morgan. She is an Episcopal priest in south Louisiana, who oversees 46 churches.

After three years in the kitchen, “Little John” is in his 11th year as 2Johns’ General Manager. Dad—known by most as “The Big Guy” or “Big John”—is with his son every night. He strolls through the restaurant “touching the tables”—saying hello and making sure everything is just right.

“Everybody likes to be recognized. I like to be recognized. It’s human nature. That’s what I try to do here. I try to make everybody real comfortable coming to my restaurant.”

Not quite four years ago, however, it was John who wasn’t feeling comfortable. He weighed 335 pounds and was diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic. One pill a day turned into two.

“When I went to see my doctor, he said, ‘If you can lose 20 pounds the first year, we can work together. Well, I lost 20 pounds in a month and got off that medicine. He said, ‘John, I’ve never had anybody do that.’”

John began working with a nutritionist, and a local fitness trainer. He slimmed down to 265 pounds.

“I haven’t taken medicine in three years.”

Now in his 60’s, John loves what he does—“I still got gas”—and doesn’t see a reason to do something different. After all, why fix what ain’t broke.

“(2Johns) has surpassed my vision. I never dreamed I could do this in Bossier City. I never even fathomed it.”

John credits his work ethic—something he is proud to have taught his children—for his past and current success. But looking relaxed in a brown plaid sports coat and white open-collar dress shirt, John freely acknowledges it has taken more than work.

“I’ve got a great relationship with God.” John’s eyes tear up and his bottom lip begins to quiver.

“I’ve always just gone to work and did the best I could. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I let God worry about the small stuff and the big stuff. I pray every day. I just work. He’s been very good to me.”

As we wrapped up our lunch, I asked John my final question. As always, what is it about your story that can be an inspiration to others?”

“Hard work never hurt anybody. Do the best you can and give 110%. Try and find something you love doing and see if you can make any money doing it!”

Do you know someone who has a story to tell? Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com.