The dining room at Janko’s Little Zagreb is a mosaic of red-and-white gingham tablecloths, one of which tops “B.K.,” the table at which Bob Knight would always sit.
A large, faded banner reads, “Welcome Indiana Football Recruits.” It is impossible to ignore the bond between Janko’s and sports.
“We love having those guys in here,” general manager Andrew Earnest said. “Having that reputation of being the spot where they like to bring athletes and recruits definitely doesn’t hurt.”
A photograph of former IU football head coach Bill Mallory’s mustachioed coaching staff inscribed with the phrase, “To Janko, first IU football staff pig roast” hangs by the entryway.
However, for Earnest, it does not matter whether the person sitting in the booth is Bob Knight or Joe Schmoe.
“We don’t try to treat them any differently,” Earnest said. “If we’ve got two parties of twenty — one of them being recruits — they’re both paying, so we have to take care of them equally.”
This pursuit to serve each customer without bias is part of why Earnest said Janko’s is invariably packed on weekend nights. He said another reason is the reliability with which the restaurant produces renowned steaks, meatballs and wine.
“What separates us — what makes us, really — is the food,” Earnest said. “When you come here, what we’re trying to provide is consistency and good food.”
Nevertheless, when a coach or high-profile recruit comes to Janko’s, the environment shifts.
“The atmosphere definitely changes,” Earnest said. “You get that buzz in the room.”
He said these visits happen every month and are most common when the Hoosiers have a home football game.
Earnest said potentially stressful nights like these are made much easier by great employees.
“I’m just lucky to have the staff that we do because they take pride in their work, and it makes everybody’s job easier when we’re all working together,” Earnest said.
Among that staff are Marcus Etnier and Jeremy Little, who have worked a combined 20 years in Little Zagreb’s kitchen.
“I’ve been working here for eight years, seven years, something like that,” Etnier said, his hands shaping what would become one of Janko’s famed spicy meatballs.
Earnest said this level of experience has made the staff a well-oiled machine, no matter the clientele.
Little said that in his 13 years working at Janko’s, he never once thought to do his job differently when a local celebrity was in attendance.
“It was just kind of an afterthought,” Little said. “Never dawned on me.”
So goes the business model at Little Zagreb. The restaurant’s website declares a decades-old commitment to food and family, whether that family spends its Saturdays in helmets on the gridiron or in sweatpants on the sofa.
“We are what we are,” Earnest said. “We’re IU, and we’re not gonna change anything about it.”