By Sabina Mollot
After nearly four decades, the East Side Café on East 23rd Street, west of First Avenue, closed earlier this summer. However, unlike so many Manhattan businesses that have been shutting their doors for good, this was just temporary, with the place sold, renovated and then re-branded as the East Side Diner. Technically, the place had always been a diner, so the name change was simply a matter of hammering home what the places does, according to the new owner, Nick Kaloudis.
Kaloudis, 38, comes from a family long ensconced in the diner biz; his cousin Gus Kassimis is the owner of the soon-to-be-opened Tivoli at the former Lyric Diner space on Third Avenue.
Together, Kaloudis and other family members have purchased 17 diners around the city, and whenever possible the properties they’re in. However, Kaloudis flips the businesses rather than run them. The East Side Diner, however, will be different. This is the first time he’s purchased a business on his own due to the former owner, Spiros Mouzakitis, wanting to retire.
“He’s been on the same block for 38 years,” explained Kaloudis. “After a while you’re tired of 15-16 hour shifts.”
As for Kaloudis’ decision to buy this particular diner, he said what attracted him was the location.
“I’ve always loved this area, since I was a kid,” he said, referring to Gramercy all the way down to the Lower East Side. “I’ve always eyed it.” Kaloudis lives in Douglaston, on the border of Queens and Long Island, so depending on the traffic his commute to work is anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours.
Asked about Kaloudis’ previous acquisitions, those were more pragmatic decisions. “I buy places from people who want to retire or have financial problems or (the buildings) are run down and they don’t want to spend more money to fix it,” he said.
Such situations are pretty easy to find, with Kaloudis noting the pressures faced by owners of diners as well as other mom-and-pop shops, from tax law to labor issues to climbing rents. “We’ve become old dinosaurs,” he added. Not that he thinks this should be changed. Rather he plans on sticking with the diner formula of keeping prices low and the menu traditional.
Though Kaloudis would like to start offering higher end items like porterhouse steaks, he said he would only want to charge $20 a plate, which he hopes he can arrange by working with wholesalers.
“I like to make value,” said Kaloudis. “I like to see my place full. I’m for people who want a quick bite on the way to work or coming home from work. You don’t want McDonald’s but you don’t want to spend $100 either.”
He also doesn’t plan to file for a liquor license unless the customers insist on it. The reason is mostly due to his concern of young people coming in with fake IDs. “I don’t want to have to pay a big fine,” he said.
So far, however, customers haven’t seemed to mind. The East Side Diner opened on Labor Day, and since then business has been booming.
“I wouldn’t have expected such great results,” said Kaloudis. “It usually takes weeks or months to catch what I’ve gotten in the last few days. People who haven’t come in 10 years came to try it out.”
It may have helped that the diner wasn’t closed long enough to make regulars give up on it. The space was only closed for four and a half weeks, he said, from the sale to the reopening.
As for how the deal came to pass, it was “word of mouth,” said Kaloudis, who described Mouzakitis as a friend of a friend. “I inspect a place and I leave them a message,” he said. “If they want they call me back and I’ll hang around until they call me back.”
Hours at the diner, located at 352 East 23rd Street, are 6 a.m. to midnight.