John Philis, a third-generation owner of the Lexington Candy Shop, prepares a Coke float at the luncheonette, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
NEW YORK – The Greek-American family-owned Lexington Candy Shop, on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 83rd Street in Manhattan, was featured in the New York Times on November 21 in an article titled ‘The Luncheonette Serving New York’s Best Egg Creams.’
“The owners of Lexington Candy Shop have, for over 98 years, refined their recipe and still make their syrups from scratch,” the Times reported, as the article’s author Reggie Nadelson recalled childhood visits to the shop with his mother.
“When I was growing up in Greenwich Village, my mother would take me uptown — an adventure in itself — to my pediatrician on Park Avenue,” Nadelson writes. “Afterward, we went to the Lexington Candy Shop on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 83rd Street for lunch (candy, deceptively, was in short supply). I’d have a chocolate egg cream and grilled cheese; she’d order a toasted corn muffin and black coffee.”
Nadelson spoke with ‘the luncheonette’s co-owner John Philis, 68, whose Greek grandfather, Soterios Philis, came to New York in 1921 from Northern Epirus, an area that is now part of Albania,” the Times reported, adding that “he saved like crazy and in 1925, he opened the Lexington Candy Shop, serving breakfast and lunch all day. Nearly a century later, it’s still a neighborhood fixture, seemingly unchanged in decades.”
“We are not a Greek coffee shop,” John Philis told the Times. “We’re an American luncheonette. We’re proud of being Greek, but we just serve American and New York stuff.”
“With the exception, he adds, of a Greek omelet (feta cheese and spinach) and a Greek salad,” the Times reported, noting that “among the most prized ‘New York stuff’ on offer are the egg creams, which Philis says are the best in the city.”
“We know how to do it right, using half-and-half as opposed to milk, and we make all our own syrups from scratch,” he told the Times.
“The 98-year-old restaurant also remains faithful to other venerable companies: The bread and muffins are from Orwashers Bakery (established in 1916), Bassetts (established in 1861) supplies the ice cream, and the coffee is from Vassilaros & Sons (established in 1919),” the Times reported, adding that “according to John, the elder Philis men — his grandfather and his father, who followed Soterios from Europe — sold chocolate they made in the building’s basement, something John only discovered decades later, long after they’d given it up.”
“The chocolate thing is very labor intensive,” he told the Times. “And it’s not as profitable, especially during the summer months. So they made it what it is now, as opposed to having chocolate in July. It was a business decision.”
“Philis has degrees in history and public administration from New York University,” the Times reported, noting that “he came in to help his father during school vacations, then joined the family business full time after college and graduate school.”
“By 1980, he was in charge, and in 1990 he brought on his business partner, Bob Karcher,” the Times reported, noting that “Philis’ wife, Mary, does all the restaurant’s social media.”
Of the restaurant being called a luncheonette and not a diner, like so many other Greek-American family establishments, Philis told the Times that “a luncheonette has lighter fare in that there’s not a dinner menu, it’s more burgers, breakfast, soda fountain drinks and the like.”
“Dr. Howard Shaw, an Upper East Sider, is a devoted regular and so is his family,” the Times reported.
“My daughter Samantha asked, when she was little, ‘How does everyone here know you?’ That’s the kind of place it is,” he told the Times. “There’s a bunch of regular characters, everyone chitchats and tells jokes.”
“Several times over the past three years, Shaw and his family have made chocolate chip pancakes with Philis and his kitchen staff to deliver to the nearby Ronald McDonald House, which provides temporary housing for children receiving treatment for serious illnesses and their families,” the Times reported, adding that “for years people have been opening retro diners around town, but they rarely get it right.”
“You can’t simulate charm,” the Times reported, noting that “social media kindles some yearning for old New York.”
“Nicolas Heller, who features classic spots around New York City on his TikTok feed (@newyorknico), came in last year and posted a video of Philis making an ice cream float,” the Times reported, adding that “his followers took notice and soon every weekend, lines snaked around the block.”
“They wanted burgers or pancakes or a Coca-Cola float,” Philis told the Times.
Lexington Candy Shop, 1226 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, is open seven days a week, Monday-Friday, 7 AM-6 PM; Saturday, 8 AM-6 PM; and Sunday 8 AM-4 PM.
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