Greek-Owned Diner Closing on Canal Street Due to Rent Increase

Photo: Facebook/Heather Quinlan.

NEW YORK – Cup & Saucer has been a fixture in Manhattan’s Chinatown for over 70 years, but its Greek owners for the last 30 years John Vasilopoulos and Nick Tragaras are being forced to close the diner. The cause is a rent increase of $7,600 per month as reported in the New York Times. July 17 is the last day customers can come in for classic diner foods and the friendly service.

“We really care about every customer who comes in; we get involved with them,” Vasilopoulos, 55, told the Times.

He and Tragaras, 52, have watched the neighborhood change over their 30 years of ownership. Family jewelry and wholesale shops once dominated but have now been replaced by more expensive restaurants and bars. Rent increases are nothing new for the Cup & Saucer, but Vasilopoulos and Tragaras said, this rent increase was too steep for the diner to survive.

They have owned the restaurant since 1988, Vasilopoulos said and in March, they learned their $8,200 a month lease would increase by $7,600 per month. “Attempts to negotiate with the landlord, 99 Canal Realty, failed,” they told the Times.

“It would be nice if we stayed another five years, but it happens. We’re not the first ones,” Vasilopoulos said.

The Times attempted to contact 99 Canal Realty but their calls were disconnected.

Kenzo Minami 发布于 2017年7月16日

As the neighborhood learned of the diner’s imminent closing, customers soon poured in to wish the owners well.

Haifa Olsen moved into the area from London a year ago and enjoyed the Cup & Saucer’s blueberry pancakes every week.

“I’m from Europe, so for us pancakes are very exciting,” she told the Times, noting that the diner “is a little New York institution, and being a foreigner, it really gives you that New York flavor that you don’t have very many places.”

Located by the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge along the eastern edge of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, at the corner of Eldridge and Canal Streets, the diner opened in the early 1940s, when the area was primarily immigrant families and businesses. Vasilopoulos said since that time, there have been three sets of owners.

He and Tragaras immigrated to the United States from Greece in their youth. Vasilopoulos’ brother is married to Tragaras’s sister and they now live in Astoria, “with the other Greeks,” Vasilopoulos told the Times.

Throughout the years, the diner and its décor have remained the same.

“Do you see the cup and saucer on the floor, and the stools?” Vasilopoulos asked, “They’re original,” as reported in the Times.

Tragaras said, “We had to adjust the menu a little bit because it used to be just regular breakfast. We went into paninis; we went into wraps. But we don’t have pastrami anymore.”

The customers continued to return over and over again.

“We keep the place clean, have fast service and good, quality food with a good amount, so people love us,” Vasilopoulos said, as the Times reported. “But we didn’t know we had so many friends.”

The Times noted that Dan Teran worked on Eldridge Street for six years before his office moved to SoHo. He returned for one last breakfast, noting that “It’s the end of an era.”

“It’s the exact same cast of characters back there,” he said, as the Times reported. “The people who work here are amazing.”

In over 30 years working together, Vasilopoulos and Tragaras kept a single rule: Tragaras worked the line, and Vasilopoulos stayed at the front of the Cup & Saucer.

“I worked here, he’s worked there, and that’s why we never argued,” Tragaras said, as the Times reported. “I have my post, and he has his.”

Some consider the closing of Cup & Saucer as another sign of the end of New York diners. The diner culture with its comfort foods, including French fries and club sandwiches, is fading, said Bob Juergens, a neighborhood resident for 20 years. His favorite, the turkey club sandwich, provided “two meals in one,” he told the Times.

“It’s like an oasis here,” he continued. “You can’t find diners like this around here. I understand gentrification — I don’t think it’s this evil thing — but certain things like this you have to preserve.”

The owners will take the summer off to recover and perhaps look for another space for the diner. “We have to do something,” Vasilopoulos said, as reported in the Times.

The Cup & Saucer on Canal and Eldridge Streets in New York City. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

The National Herald visited the location and found appreciative, long-time customers Chloe Richards, a student at nearby Pace University, and David Zhu, a Pace grad taping up signs for people to write thank you messages.

Zhu told TNH that the diner had to shut down earlier than its usual 5 PM closing time because they had run out of food by 10 AM, so many people had turned up to say goodbye. Zhu first visited the diner at the age of 6, he told TNH.

David Zhu and Chloe Richards wanted to say thank you to Cup & Saucer. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
The Cup & Saucer at Canal and Eldridge Streets. Photo by Eleni Sakellis