While you’re craving all things German, Island Joe’s also serves two German beers on tap: the crisp and hoppy Spaten Pilsner, and Kostritzer, a dark, smooth beer fermented with creamy chocolate and caramel. Polish off your meal with Simon’s handcrafted German chocolate cake or hot apple strudel.
Island Joe’s menu also brims with appealing American appetizers, entrees, soups, salads and desserts, including value-priced specials Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Once a month, however, the restaurant celebrates its German ancestry.
“A lot of the community comes out,” said Kropelnicki. “It’s like a modern ‘Cheers.’ We receive a lot of repeat business. Our customers come from Bethel Island, Brentwood, Antioch, Discovery Bay, Walnut Creek and even Sacramento. We’re like a destination spot. We like to share with them as much as they share with us.”
Born and raised in Germany, Simon, who is half Polish, half German, immigrated to the United States in 1961. Her late husband, Joe, was Hungarian, and her mother-in-law worked in the restaurant industry for more than three decades.
Simon has followed suit. “I like everything about the restaurant industry, from the kitchen to the front to all the customers that come in. They make me so happy,” said Simon. “If you’re a people person, it’s good to be in the restaurant business.”
Simon’s first establishment was a European deli in Salinas. It didn’t fare as well as she’d hoped, so she went with a crowd pleaser: Big Joe’s BBQ. After relocating to East County, Simon and Joe operated Discovery Joe’s Bar and Grill in Discovery Bay from 1994 to 2004. Joe passed away shortly before Simon established Island Joe’s, which opened its doors on Bethel Island in 2009.
Kropelnicki’s entire life has been spent in the business. In fact, she gladly began working in Discovery Joe’s while still in middle school. She, her mother and two younger sisters lived with her grandparents when she was younger, and she considers herself fortunate to have been raised in such a close-knit family, all of whom were involved in running the restaurant at one time or another. Today, Kropelnicki runs the front of the house and the bar, plus the restaurant’s Facebook page and website.
Simon, who can often be found cooking nearly every meal served in her restaurant from scratch in the kitchen, has whipped up Mexican, Italian and Hungarian dishes. She bakes her own breads, including Alaskan sourdough, Jewish rye, European-style dark rye, whole wheat and Portuguese sweet bread. And her repertoire for the restaurant’s in-house bakery includes a daily array of desserts such as cookies, cakes, pies and pastries.
Island Joe’s main dining room displays a welcoming rustic hominess enhanced by the natural light that streams through the windows, framed prints and photographs of landscapes and seascapes, plus some feminine touches: fresh flowers, a small candle and lavender placemats on each table. The restaurant also provides a separate sports bar and dining area.
“I want to tell you something about this community,” said Simon. “I’ve had restaurants everywhere, and I never expected that the Bethel Island community would support me the most out of anywhere.”
“We support the community in turn,” said Kropelnicki. “Whenever there’s a food or toy drive, we always do incentives here, such as discounted meals or thank-you gifts, in order to promote the event. We also regularly allow community meetings to be held here – and don’t charge for the space.”
Speaking of space that’s free of charge, Island Joe’s offers a remarkably roomy backyard setting perfect for outdoor dining, festive gatherings and even weddings. Catering services are also available. Recently renovated, Simon still plans to install an herb garden and spruce up her flower and plant beds for springtime. A newly constructed latticework pergola, a few mature trees will provide shade once spring and summer arrive, and charming light fixtures will brighten up the night.
Island Joe’s is located at 6210 Bethel Island Road in Bethel Island. Call 925-626-7237 or visit www.islandjoescafe.com.