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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Johnny Ballas

Johnny Ballas

Food has been served on this corner of Carrolton Avenue and Lamar Street for almost a century. The place began as a little diner called the Elite Cafe and evolved into the Crystal Grill under the ownership of Jim Liollio. His brother-in-law, Mike Ballas, who was raised in Greece and came to Mississippi in the 1940s, soon became a partner and eventually took over and shaped the Crystal Grill into what it is today: a two-hundred seat restaurant with the biggest menu around. Mr. Ballas and his son Johnny Ballas pride themselves on serving the best food at the best prices, and it is certain that everyone can eat happy here. One thing they are known for, though, is their “mile high pie”–chocolate or coconut with honest to gosh meringue. Over the past few decades not a lot has changed other than the restaurant’s size (notice the original tile floors in the photograph at left). Some of the waitresses have been there for forty years, and locals have brought their children and their children’s children through the same front doors for Sunday dinner for decades. Sunday dinner is an experience in itself and a great way to get some local color. You can choose a dinner prayer from their custom “Four Faiths” menu and nosh on a yeast roll, the recipe for which came from a home economics teacher at Greenwood High School.

Date of interview:

Amy C. Evans

Amy C. Evans

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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