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Tennessee football sparked the beginning of today’s Peerless Restaurant

Jeff Birchfield • Sep 22, 2019 at 12:30 PM

Thanks in part to Tennessee football, Peerless Restaurant founder John Kalogeros went from selling hot dogs to what many consider the finest steaks in the Tri-Cities.

After moving to Johnson City to originally work at the Mountain Home VA Hospital, Kalogeros opened a hot dog stand on Main and Buffalo Street in 1936. It featured nickel hot dogs. It was a successful business, and by the account of John’s son, Jim, is that $100 worth of hot dogs were sold one day when the carnival was in town.

From that venture, John Kalogeros opened the Peerless Restaurant in 1938. Located across the street from the old Tennessee Motors Ford dealership on the corner of Unaka and Market Streets, barbecue was the main item on the menu.

The focus of the restaurant changed in part to a football game on New Year’s Day 1940.

Tennessee was scheduled to play Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl and the Peerless was a place where many of the locals met to place bets either for or against the Vols.

Kalogeros cooked steaks and made the “famous” Grecian salads with feta cheese for the diners. While it didn’t go well for the Vols, a 14-0 loss to the national champion Trojans, it was good for the future of the restaurant.

With everyone commenting on how they were the best steaks they had tasted, the business changed from barbeque to steaks. While the marquee out front correctly shows the birth of the Peerless as 1938, the Peerless Steak House was truly formed in 1940.

Kalogeros learned to properly age the steaks for maximum flavor and the Peerless quickly gained the reputation as the best steak house in the Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina region.

Jim Kalogeros, who served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, bought the family business when his father died in 1947. He worked closely with his sister, Helen, who worked as a greeter.

The popularity of the restaurant meant it outgrew the Market Street location and it moved to North Johnson City in 1950.

Besides the butcher-cut aged premium steaks and Grecian salads, the menu includes seafood, burgers and other casual fare like chicken and pasta.

According to the website, it is the oldest independent Tennessee restaurant with the modern steakhouse menu hand-crafted from the best local and freshest ingredients.

Many entertainment and sports celebrities have dined at the Peerless when visiting Johnson City . Photos of them adorn the walls as you enter the restaurant. There is a lavish bar area featuring signature hand-crafted cocktails and a variety of wines, which are served by the bottle or glass.

For local patrons, the Peerless remains one of the area’s most popular spots for special occasions.

It features private rooms for banquets, meetings, special family dining and other events such as reunions and Christmas parties. Seating is available for parties ranging up to 200 people.

While featuring the finest in dining with steaks, prime rib and pork chops, the Peerless also has special offers like Early Bird Dining and daily specials.

More than a restaurant, it is truly a part of the region’s history and still considered by many the finest steakhouse in the Tri-Cities.

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