Legend of Jack Sussy's epilogue written as Nomad II closes doors
Another iconic domino has fallen in Oklahoma City dining history, following a recent melancholy trend of lost restaurants.
First was Boulevard Cafeteria last December, then it was The Coach House in February, most recently it was Charcoal Oven and today the legend of Jack Sussy is frozen.
Nomad II Italian-American Grill , 7301 N May Ave, has closed according to an announcement on its Facebook page.
Nomad II was opened in 1975 by Jack Sussman, whose Sussy’s Italian Restaurant was among the first, if not the first, restaurants in Oklahoma City to serve pizza.
Sussman was a Chicago gambler who blew into town looking to roll the dice and ended up in the restaurant business with local nightclub owner Jake Samara.
Jack and Jake
Samara was unafraid to work the fringes of propriety in pre-World War II Oklahoma City. The Central High School graduated attended business college, became a bookkeeper for Armour Meat Company and boxed for 50 cents a fight at the Stockyards Coliseum to save money to open his own business.
“I sold the bar for $800 and bought the old Quality Barbecue place on NE 23 Street,” he once told former Oklahoman and Journal Record columnist Max Nichols. “I changed it to Jake's Barbecue.”
The place went from Jake’s Barbecue to Jake's Night Club and started bringing in touring acts. A program aired live from Jake’s Night Club on KTOK radio in 1940. Brushes with the law were more common than not for Samara. In 1939, he was cited for operating a slot machine in the club.
After changing the club into Jake’s Cowshed, his license was revoked in 1947 for allowing dancing in an establishment where beer was sold. So, he reopened under the name Jamboree Supper Club, which required members to pay a $32.12 initiation fee and $7.31 per month in dues. Privileges included dining, dancing and a bartender to mix drinks. Samara also owned the swanky Derby Club at 3133 NE 23 St., which also fought raids over selling booze in a dance hall.
The Birth of Sussy
The Jamboree featured strip-tease acts, which was sugar to a fly for Jack Sussman. According to a 1999 interview with Jake’s brother Mike Samara, Jack Sussman's wife was an exotic dancer at the Jamboree Club. Jack and Jake struck up a friendship and agreed to partner on an Italian restaurant, at Sussman’s wife’s request, at 629 Northeast 23rd, across the parking lot from the club.
“Jack, since you're Jewish and I'm Lebanese, we need an Italian name,” Jake said. “We'll name the place Sussy's, and I'll start calling you Sussy.”
Mike Samara said most of the recipes came from Jack's wife, who was Italian, and that they frequently imported cheeses from Italy to ensure quality. Dot Curry said in the same report she went to work at Sussy’s when it opened and worked in the kitchen for the following 20 years. She said Sussy brought a chef in from New York City, a native of Naples, Italy, to train the staff how to make pizza, antipasto plates, Italian salad bowls, lasagna, Italian meatballs, ravioli, Veal Scallopini and Chicken Cacciatori – all made with Sussy’s original sauce. Pizza was not only exotic and delicious, it was easily packed for take-out, which increased its popularity exponentially.
Beginning of the End
Jake and Jack had a hit on their hands, but they didn’t have it easy. On top of frequent brushes with the law, Sussman was shot in the leg during a 1953 robbery of the original Sussy’s by escaped convict Robert Fout.
That didn’t stop Sussy’s Italian Restaurant No. 2 from opening July 6, 1956, at 9014 N Western Avenue where Baker’s Printing stands. That same year, they began selling frozen versions of Sussy’s pizza and boil-in-the-bag spaghetti and meatballs.
Later that year, Sussman announced plans to open a grand, new restaurant and club called the Sirloin Strip Steakhouse. Sussman told The Daily Oklahoman it would have capacity for 300 divided among three dining rooms in the 7,700-square-feet space that included a large lobby, lounge and stainless-steel kitchen. He also said the exterior would be made of pink brick. By the time the building was completed, Sussy decided to call the restaurant Jack Sussy’s Italian-American Restaurant and Steakhouse. He opened another Sussy’s in Norman, on Highway 9 in the old Redwood Inn, in 1959. Sussman expanded his investments in the early 1960s with Jack Sussy’s Nomad Apartments at 3100 NW 36 St. and a pre-Civil Rights complex for blacks at 832 NE 8 St.
Sussy grand property was eventually carved into pieces, including a liquor store and The Nomad Club during the 1960s. In 1966, arsonists did heavy damage to the building, but even worse damage to Sussman.
The arsonists implicated Sussman, leading to first-degree arson charges that went to trial. However, the judge ended the proceedings in a mistrial in September of 1967. In the end, Sussman avoided conviction but found himself financially crippled. He rallied to open Sussy’s Tally-Ho Restaurant at NE 36 and Lincoln in 1968, featuring pizza, spaghetti, chili, tacos, hot dogs, burgers and pies. A few months later, the building that burned was sold at auction for $100,000.
Sussman opened a Sussy’s at SW 24 and Robinson, with Club Stage Door, which featured go-go dancers, in the back in 1967. He opened Captain’s Table in 1969. He also had a stake in Casa Mia Italian Restaurant in 1969, which featured strip bar Club Barbarella, in a location next-door to the present-day Red Dog Saloon. He hosted dinner at SPQR Italian Restaurant in Quail Plaza in the early 70s. Mario’s in Casady Square sold Jack Sussy’s Famous Pizza plus lasagna, manicotti and steaks in 1973.
All that hustling helped him open a new place in 1975, leading to the following ad in The Oklahoman: “The Original Jack Sussy Now at 73rd and N May would appreciate a visit from my old and new friends.”
Visits obviously were mostly from old friends because Sussman was arrested in September of that year, accused of conducting illicit gambling at his apartment on NW 56.
Sussy died in 1980, leaving behind three Sussy’s concepts. The building he built on Lincoln was razed in 1993.
The Nomad II, owned by Rick Bailey, continued on with Fried Pepperoni pizza, The Fleetwood, Veal Marsala and Fried Chicken Livers. It was born in an era when photos of famous patrons decked the walls of the lounge, menus weren't complete without steaks regardless the specialties of the house and dinners started with cocktails and didn't commence without wine or beer.
Jack Sussman and Jake Samara are godfathers of Oklahoma City's nightclub culture. The legend of Sussy's they cultivated was a subversive response to the social conventions of Bible-belt constricted Oklahoma. They dealt in boundary-busting their entire lives, which met with a lot of rhetorical and legal push-back but a steady stream of businesses that flourished.
So, if the next time you're enjoyed a slice of pizza or cocktail near the midnight hour in the proximity of dancing girls, raise a glass to Jake and Jack. If nightclubs, dancing girls and high balls aren't in your wheelhouse, say a prayer for their care-free souls.
Would love to hear from fan’s of Nomad II and any of the Sussy’s restaurants through the years. Leave a comment or email me at email@example.com.