Johnny Garneau, Restaurateur and Inventor, Dies at 90


LIGHTHOUSE POINT, Florida – John Philip Garneau, 90, of Lighthouse Point, Florida, and formerly of Clarion, Pennsylvania, died peacefully at home on May 14, 2013.

Born June 15, 1922, in Stratford, Connecticut, during the Great Depression, he was the son of Pierre and Veronica Dargan Garneau. At 16, to help out with the family finances, he worked after school as a “soda jerk” at the Stratford Candy Kitchen. After graduating from Stratford High School in 1941 he continued working at the Candy Kitchen.

In September 1942 he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps where he served in World War II until February 1946. His introduction to Clarion, Pennsylvania, was in 1943 when he was transferred by the Army Air Corps from Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama, to assist in the cadet training program at Clarion State Teachers College. After 15 months in Clarion, he was transferred to Napier Field, Dothan, Alabama, where he served as a chaplain’s assistant until his honorable discharge as a staff sergeant in February 1946.

In 1946, while still in the service, he married Lois Space from Clarion and they were happily married for 55 years. She preceded him in death in March 2000. Upon his discharge from the service, Johnny’s love for Clarion prompted his decision to make Clarion the launch pad for his lifetime career.

The experienced gained from his early days at the Stratford Candy Kitchen served him well as he started planning to build a hot dog stand with curb service. In 1949, his dream came true when he opened a humble five-seat “Beanery” on Route 322, two miles east of Clarion. In the 1950s he expanded into the Pittsburgh and Ohio areas with the famous Johnny Garneau’s Smorgasbord Restaurants. In 1964, he began the 1800s railroad-themed Golden Spike Restaurant chain in Pittsburgh, Clarion, and Fort Lauderdale, which he ran until he retired.

Johnny was an ingenious inventor and one of his best-known inventions is the “sneezeguard” that pioneered the current law in the United States for buffet-style food-service. He obtained a patent for his invention from the U.S. Patent Office in 1959 as the Covered Food Serving Table. He went on to invent and patent other food-industry products such as the “Pretz” sandwich roll, and detachable Sani-Serve food service handles.
Johnny Garneau was a lover of airplanes, trains and music. He flew his first solo flight at age 22 at Sikorsky Field in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He was a talented percussionist and produced his own musical shows with World War II and other popular themes.

During the founding years, Johnny was responsible for influencing KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh to sponsor Clarion’s Annual Autumn Leaf Festival by lending their TV celebrities. Johnny served on many Autumn Leaf Festival Committees over the years, thereby fulfilling his desire to help create Clarion’s Autumn Leaf Festival as it is known today. This fall, Clarion will hold its 60th Autumn Leaf Festival.

Survivors include five children — John P. Garneau, Jr. (Ginger) of Montoursville, PA, Jane McLaughlin (Charles) of Lighthouse Point, FL, Barbara Kelley (William) of Reston, VA, Susan McKinney (James) of Pittsburgh, and Robert Garneau of Raleigh, NC. In addition, he has 11 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and is survived by one sister, Jeanne Richards of Connecticut. He is preceded in death by four brothers, Pierre, William, Lawrence and James.

Johnny is a member of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Lighthouse Point where a Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Friday, May 17, at 12:30 p.m. The wake will be held the night before, May 16, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Kraeer Funeral Home in Pompano Beach. A memorial Mass will be held in June at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Clarion with burial in the Clarion Cemetery along with his wife. (Time and date are to be determined.)

Memorial contributions can be made to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Johnny’s favorite charity.

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