Two of Orange County’s most popular restaurants are Bayside in Newport Beach and Bistango in Irvine. Personally, Bayside has become one of my favorite haunts. I enjoy popping in for a drink and enjoying the live music, and it’s a favorite summer dining spot prior to attending the Hyatt Summer Concert Series. I even had an over-the-top birthday experience there last year. Both Bistango and Bayside successfully navigated the pandemic challenges and continued to prosper.
I was saddened to hear that John Ghoukassian, the owner of Bayside and Bistango, has passed away.
His family sent me background info on John, as well as their personal remembrances.
John Ghoukassian was an art collector, restaurateur, father and husband. He spent his life dedicated to the art of dining and pleasing all the senses – from the culinary team and cuisine, the interior décor, architectural foundation, to the museum-quality art installations at his restaurants and thriving live music scene.
With more than 50 years of experience as a restaurateur in the US and abroad, he was a man of strength, endurance, adaptation and innovation. He was not only an inspiration to his children, Marc and Karyn, and his wife, Diana, but to his extended family of Bistango and Bayside, as well as the community.
Having created two iconic dining and art destinations, his goal was to offer beautiful places where friends and family could share something beyond a meal – places where they could create lifelong memories and experiences.
John opened Bistango in 1987 in Irvine, after three years with the restaurant in Los Angeles. Within Bistango, he created a thriving art gallery space where both food, visual art and live music shine more than 30 years later.
He opened Bayside in 1999 alongside his son, Marc, building the restaurant from the ground up with an iconic Italian architect featuring a terraced patio and authentic Venetian gondola oar ceiling.
Bistango and Bayside were not John’s first forays into the restaurant business. Before moving to the United States, he ran several successful restaurants in Tehran, Iran.
In Orange County, John set his sights on creating a strong and resilient team, with his family always by his side. His employees were more than workers. They became an extended family, with many a part of Bistango and Bayside for decades.
He is survived by his wife, Diana, his son Marc and daughter Karyn. They shared their thoughts about John in a special letter.
In the letter, his family noted that they were extremely close to each other as they worked and lived together.
“There was a softness about John that maybe was not always visible at work,” they wrote. “He had so much wisdom. He knew how to handle every situation wisely and with a sense of calm that was at times perplexing amidst the heaviness of any given situation. He was just always so cool and collected. He was the Rock in our family and at work. You could always count on him and turn to him for advice. John always made us feel safe. We adored him, respected him and looked up to him.”
John was an avid lover and supporter of the arts and live entertainment, as evidenced by the nightly live music at his restaurants. In addition, his family said John was a lover of fine cuisine and fine wines, and had a quest for being the best of the best in the world of cuisine.
“He truly loved what he was doing and he sacrificed everything for his restaurants as we traversed several economic recessions throughout the decades, as well as two shutdowns during this global pandemic,” they wrote. “He was a selfless man. There wasn’t anything he was not willing to do for the businesses’ survival and when things got tough, instead of throwing in the towel and giving up, he fought even harder. He had so much strength and never let any obstacle stop him. Not at work, not at home.”
They concluded their thoughts by saying “we hope you will join us in ensuring John’s legacy continues. It is our mission to follow in his footsteps and continue to have the restaurants be something we all can continue to be extremely proud of.”