SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Friends and customers of popular Savannah restauranteur John Baker are reacting with shock and sadness following his death on Monday from COVID-19.
“Johnny Baker was larger than life, he was the life of the party and my rock for sure,” said his friend and business partner Paula Letcher. “Today, I’m not sure how I’m going to go on. It feels like my heart is just broken.”
Baker and Letcher co-owned two eating spots in Habersham Village, Coffee Deli and Bar Food. Letcher says everyone who came through the doors quickly went from Baker’s customer to Baker’s friend.
“He was called the Mayor of Habersham Village,” she said.
She also says Baker was an avid fundraiser for many local nonprofits and loved collecting food and donations from Second Harvest.
Letcher says Baker spent three weeks in the hospital after becoming sick about a week prior. After he was ill, Letcher says the restaurants were closed for two days and professionally sanitized and then reopened.
Sadly, Baker never returned to the restaurants.
Now she says she is trying to honor Baker’s memory by keeping the doors open. “He wouldn’t want us to close,” Letcher added.
Joe Driggers was a friend of Baker for 20 years. “Johnny would love the fact that people are still patronizing his business,” he told News 3.
Driggers says the last time he saw Baker was Sept. 10, and that Baker became sick after that.
“It’s a shock both that he’s gone and that COVID took him from us,” said Driggers. “This one hits too close to home. He was like family, he was like a brother to me.”
Letcher says people have been coming in and buying Baker’s cook book. She joked that he loved making “anything with mayonnaise.”
She says a service may be planned for a later date.
“Johnny hated wreaths and flowers and balloons and all that,” said Letcher, adding that he would just want them to carry on at the restaurants.
She and others laughed as they told News 3 about some of the sayings Baker had, including “Shut up Bourbon!” and “Hey Girl, Hey!” which became a common greeting to customers and friends alike.
Driggers says his friend will be sorely missed — and he worries about comments sometimes made on the national level.
“You know, it’s sad that the people we look up to as leaders have this sense that everything’s OK and it’s not, and losing Johnny to COVID-19 is a prime example,” said Driggers. “This more serious than a lot of our political leaders think.”