Longtime patrons visit Tower Diner one last time

It was the end of an era on Sunday.
Tower Diner, a neighborhood cornerstone since 1993 that is housed in a historic Colonial bank building, was forced to shutter. The Queens Boulevard building is currently slated for demolition to make way for a new housing development.
The distinctive white clock tower has been an unofficial landmark in the neighborhood for generations.
“It’s an unofficial landmark,” said Regina Judith Faighes. “I grew up on 99th Street, and when my dad gave people directions to our home, he would tell them to look for the building with the clock tower.”
“I had a long wait for my table, and normally that would upset me,” she said of her final visit Sunday. “But this afternoon I was happy for the delay, because it gave me more time to experience the diner, with its warm and inviting classic decor.”
Longtime patrons had one last meal and took the chance to reminisce with staff, many of whom are regarded as extended family.
“The food was consistently fresh and delicious and the service was always excellent,” said Jane Firkser-Brody. “It is very disheartening to see yet another Forest Hills venue being destroyed, along with the charm and uniqueness of our awesome neighborhood.”
Tower Diner was opened by Jimmy Gatanas and his wife Anthi. Their sons Spiro and John worked in the business and later acquired it. It was the only diner of its kind in the vicinity, and became a go-to spot for dates, family outings, and birthday and graduation celebrations, as well as business meetings.
Tower Diner enticed the palates of notables such as Al Roker, Ti-Hua Chang, and Alonzo Mourning.
For the Gatanas family, who immigrated from Greece, Tower Diner exemplified the American Dream. They employed approximately 40 people, and gave back to the community with fundraisers benefiting St. Jude’s, sponsored PS 175 and Forest Hills High School sports teams, and donated Thanksgiving turkeys to local schools.
David Giwner moved from Manhattan in 2009, and called it his go-to diner in Forest Hills.
“I’ve never had a bad meal,” he said. “Losing Tower Diner is like losing a family member and a staple of our once great community. This is another piece of NYC history gone.”
Kevin Sanichara and his mother said the staff felt like a second family.
“I’ve been coming here almost every week for the past 20 years,” he said. “I will miss the ambiance and aesthetic of the old clock tower and the compass on the ceiling.”
For Matthew Semble, Tower Diner represents a big part of his life with his late wife Kathy Fogel.
“After Kathy’s passing, the employees and management reached out to me and my son Alex, and sent many meals during shiva and beyond,” he said. “There aren’t many businesses that had such a positive impact on our community.”
In addition to enjoying one last meal, patrons had the chance to sign a petition opposing the demolition, which will also include several small businesses and the Trylon Theater, which is currently home to Ohr Natan synagogue.
“I’m going to miss the diner, and especially the tower for which it was named,” said Michael Hennessy. “Hopefully the community will fight any further neighborhood destruction.”
“I strongly oppose the redevelopment plans for Tower Diner and the Trylon Theater,” added Jeffrey Witt. “We do not need nor want the type of the development being proposed. The charm and beauty that attracted people to live here is being destroyed.”

Customers pay one last visit to Tower Diner

It was the end of an era on Sunday.
Tower Diner, a neighborhood cornerstone since 1993 that is housed in a historic Colonial bank building, was forced to shutter. The Queens Boulevard building is currently slated for demolition to make way for a new housing development.
The distinctive white clock tower has been an unofficial landmark in the neighborhood for generations.
“It’s an unofficial landmark,” said Regina Judith Faighes. “I grew up on 99th Street, and when my dad gave people directions to our home, he would tell them to look for the building with the clock tower.”
“I had a long wait for my table, and normally that would upset me,” she said of her final visit Sunday. “But this afternoon I was happy for the delay, because it gave me more time to experience the diner, with its warm and inviting classic decor.”
Longtime patrons had one last meal and took the chance to reminisce with staff, many of whom are regarded as extended family.
“The food was consistently fresh and delicious and the service was always excellent,” said Jane Firkser-Brody. “It is very disheartening to see yet another Forest Hills venue being destroyed, along with the charm and uniqueness of our awesome neighborhood.”
Tower Diner was opened by Jimmy Gatanas and his wife Anthi. Their sons Spiro and John worked in the business and later acquired it. It was the only diner of its kind in the vicinity, and became a go-to spot for dates, family outings, and birthday and graduation celebrations, as well as business meetings.
Tower Diner enticed the palates of notables such as Al Roker, Ti-Hua Chang, and Alonzo Mourning.
For the Gatanas family, who immigrated from Greece, Tower Diner exemplified the American Dream. They employed approximately 40 people, and gave back to the community with fundraisers benefiting St. Jude’s, sponsored PS 175 and Forest Hills High School sports teams, and donated Thanksgiving turkeys to local schools.
David Giwner moved from Manhattan in 2009, and called it his go-to diner in Forest Hills.
“I’ve never had a bad meal,” he said. “Losing Tower Diner is like losing a family member and a staple of our once great community. This is another piece of NYC history gone.”
Kevin Sanichara and his mother said the staff felt like a second family.
“I’ve been coming here almost every week for the past 20 years,” he said. “I will miss the ambiance and aesthetic of the old clock tower and the compass on the ceiling.”
For Matthew Semble, Tower Diner represents a big part of his life with his late wife Kathy Fogel.
“After Kathy’s passing, the employees and management reached out to me and my son Alex, and sent many meals during shiva and beyond,” he said. “There aren’t many businesses that had such a positive impact on our community.”
In addition to enjoying one last meal, patrons had the chance to sign a petition opposing the demolition, which will also include several small businesses and the Trylon Theater, which is currently home to Ohr Natan synagogue.
“I’m going to miss the diner, and especially the tower for which it was named,” said Michael Hennessy. “Hopefully the community will fight any further neighborhood destruction.”
“I strongly oppose the redevelopment plans for Tower Diner and the Trylon Theater,” added Jeffrey Witt. “We do not need nor want the type of the development being proposed. The charm and beauty that attracted people to live here is being destroyed.”

CB6 considers demo of Trylon, Tower Diner

For years, preservationists have been fighting to save the 1939 World’s Fair-inspired Trylon Theater and Tower Diner and its distinctive clock tower on Queens Boulevard.
Last Wednesday, Community Board 6’s Land Use Committee held a public meeting and hearing, a first step to determine whether to rezone the triangular block for a 15-story condo proposed by developer Trylon LLC/RJ Capital Holdings.
All but one attendee expressed their opposition to rezoning and demolition of the two buildings.
On Wednesday, Community Board 6 will hold a general meeting, when the committee will provide its recommendation to the full board.
A petition opposing the development launched by Rego Park resident Michael Conigliaro has garnered 3,704 signatures.
“I have seen many changes in this neighborhood, some worse than others, but this proposed change is not just disturbing,” said Carol Hagerty, who has lived near the site on 99th Street for over 40 years, “it is devastating.
“It will block all the sunlight and will not blend in with the architecture and feel of this area,” she added. “What’s worse is that no accommodations are in place to preserve whatever is of historic, architectural, and social value on that block.”
The Tower Diner, which is housed in a former bank, has been in business for approximately 30 years.
“It is a neighborhood landmark in much the same way that Ridgewood Savings Bank is in Forest Hills,” she said. “The same can be said about the Trylon Theater.”
Phyllis Zimmerman argued there is value in preserving a neighborhood’s beauty and character.
“Without that, you could live anywhere,” she said. “Is there no value to the look, feel and character of our neighborhoods? Does anyone in this city ever say no to real estate developers?”
Zimmerman also expressed concerns about how a new residential building would affect parking and put more strain on schools and hospitals.
“These are the crucial things that need to be considered,” she said.
Jacob Chimino, who shops at nearly all of the small businesses included in the development site, testified at the hearing.
“We are opposed to these icons coming down,” he said. “This is part of our community.”
Joanne Davis lives near Tower Diner and passes it on her way home.
“I pass one high-rise and boxy store after another with no discernible landmarks,” she said. “Suddenly. a small white tower asserts itself upward into the skyline and I know that I am almost home.”
The Trylon Theater is currently home to the Ohr Natan synagogue, which has over 1,000 congregants, mostly Bukharian Jews in a close-knit community.
The synagogue offers services, English classes, food for 480 families, and activities benefiting the youth and seniors.
“We the undersigned would like to ask CB6 to deny the application to allow a developer to build a high-rise and demolish a functioning synagogue and many businesses around the property,” several families who attend the synagogue wrote in a statement to CB6.

Push to save Trylon Theater & Tower Diner

Local preservationists and congregants are calling for Trylon LLC/RJ Capital Holdings to halt proposed demolition of the Trylon Theater, Tower Diner, and adjacent small businesses.
On November 3 at 7:30 p.m., Community Board 6 will hold a public hearing via WebEX on the developer’s plan to demolish the buildings to build a 17-story condo. Those wishing to join the meeting should email Qn06@cb.nyc.gov.
A petition launched by City Council candidate Michael Conigliaro garnered over 3,300 signatures in favor of preserving the buildings.
Some small business owners decided to relocate prematurely, including the owners of Tower Diner, who plan to close on November 30. The diner opened in the building in 1993, which used to be home to a bank.
Trylon Liquors moved across the street, while a European collectibles shop decided to relocate to Brooklyn.
Trylon Theater, named after the 1939 World’s Fair’s spire-like monument, was known as “The Theater of Tomorrow” when it opened. Today, it is home to the Ohr Natan congregation.
Rabbi Nahum Kaziev has been trying to negotiate with the developer for years to keep the congregation on site.
“In Judaism, if you raze a synagogue, you will never have a blessing,” he said. “I cannot imagine any reputable business opening in a space where there was a synagogue, a holy place that served thousands.
“We are a second home to many, including concentration camp survivors,” he added.
Ohr Natan serves over 1,000 people, mostly Bukharian Jews. It hosts religious services, festivals, English classes, and provides food for 480 families.
“Since Ohr Natan opened in 2006, it has been the main center for our big local Jewish immigrant community,” said congregant Svetlana Aronoff. “We are all saddened that our lease is not being renewed and the city has not been helping us.”
“I love that the Trylon Theater’s Art Deco architecture is associated with the 1939 World’s Fair, and it’s so heartwarming that a once-beloved theater is now the spiritual home for an immigrant Jewish community,” said Chaya Weinstein.
Nearby resident Dorothy Catherine Kaldi opposes the development and the influx of new residents it will bring.
“It is already torture to navigate the area by car,” she said. “Furthermore, the subways will be even more crowded, effectively turning commuters into sardines crammed into a moving can. Our quality of life in Forest Hills will be severely compromised if this building is built.”

Sad milestone for old Avenue Diner

Last week, I saw the following message posted by a good friend on Facebook: “Feeling a bit bummed. One year ago yesterday was an end of an era for me. Missing all of my Woodhaven family and friends; wishing you all the best!”
This was written by Paul Vasiliadis, whose Avenue Diner closed one year ago after a long struggle with COVID-19 and New York City.
There were many replies from friends and family and customers and staff. Wanda Flores, longtime waitress at the Avenue Diner, said “I miss you and Mr. Jimmy [Paul’s father] every day. You always gave your best and that is why you are so missed. Love you always.”
Former customer Wilda Melendez said: “It breaks my heart when Nadira and I walk past the diner and there is nothing there. It truly was a family diner. It was a light in our community. You and your family made it that.”
And another customer, Daisy Croke posted: “We miss you too. Woodhaven is not the same without you.”
It’s not easy to watch bad things happen to good people. And Paul and his father Jimmy and the rest of the staff of the Avenue Diner were good people who had become family to many people here in Woodhaven.
I never met a more hardworking man than Paul Vasiliadis. In over 11 years operating the diner, Paul took off a total of 30 days. That’s 30 days off out of 4,150, covering weekends and holidays and snow days.
That covers all the days he woke up, his body sore and tired, and yet he still came in day after day, making Paul Vasiliadis Woodhaven’s Iron Man.
In the early days of COVID-19, when restaurant after restaurant temporarily closed, The Avenue Diner remained open. It was a struggle, but Paul kept at it and the many customers who depended on the diner, particularly seniors, were never disappointed.
But the City of New York was relentless in their harassment of small businesses over signage and other minor issues, hitting essential businesses like the Avenue Diner with onerous fines that made it impossible in many cases to survive.
Their fines and harassment may have not closed all the businesses, but it certainly set them up to perish once COVID-19 came along. And even then, the city was unstoppable when it came to penalizing and punishing small businesses like the Avenue Diner.
Young men can ride bikes and ATVs up and down our streets, terrorizing pedestrians, but they won’t catch a fine from our city. People can defecate on Forest Parkway, and there will be no one coming along to write them tickets.
Our city doesn’t like moving targets. Hardworking people who show up to their businesses day in, day out to serve our communities are easy targets for income by our greedy and heartless city.
And so, I see Paul’s words and I am sad. But I am also angry because it didn’t need to be this way. The Avenue Diner may have been foiled by COVID, but it was the city that weakened them enough to allow that to happen. Never forget that.
On his next to last day in Woodhaven, residents, customers and friends gathered outside the eatery to let Paul and his staff and his family know how sad we were and how much we were going to miss them all.
“You were the first business I engaged with when I came here and you were so supportive. I will never forget the conversations we had, they meant so much to me,” said Raquel Olivares, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District.
Paul’s wife, Alexandra, and their three children Demetra, Andreas and Eva, and his father Jimmy were touched by the gathering of residents, many of whom were there right from the beginning.
My wife and I were blessed to be there that day, in March of 2009, when the Avenue Diner opened. It was filled with hope and optimism, they had already put in so much work just to reach opening day.
I wonder if they would have stuck with it had they known how hard it was going to be, and already I know the answer is yes. People who are successful have a special work ethic, and Paul Vasiliadis embodies that and he will succeed again.
We should have a city that supports and lifts up and rewards people like Paul. I guess this was just a long way of saying that this city stinks and I miss my friend.

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