NEW YORK – Greek-owned businesses were among the many affected by the COVID-19 pandemic this year and some did not make it through the difficult situation. The National Herald highlights just a few and hopes all small business and restaurant owners and their staffs and families will see a happier and more prosperous New Year in 2021.
Among TNH’s top ten articles for 2020, Tucson Offers Plethora of Greek Restaurants, published on March 14, featured eight restaurants serving delicious Greek food in the Tucson area. Sadly one of the eight, Athens on 4th Avenue, which was operated by Greek-born chef and owner Andreas Delfakis for nearly 30 years, shut down in June due to the pandemic, Tucson Foodie reported.
Fluffy’s in Midtown Manhattan opened in 1975 but could not withstand the pandemic. The restaurant’s website featured the following statement thanking its customers for their support: “After 45 years of serving both New Yorkers and tourists from all over the world, with heavy hearts, we inform you that Fluffy's Cafe & Pizzeria 58th Street location in Manhattan is now closed permanently, due to COVID-19. Many thanks to all our friends and customers who have traveled from near and far to come and enjoy our food and company. Thank you for all the laughs and memories. Thank you for allowing us into your lives and sharing your experiences with us. You will all be deeply missed. Please stay safe and hope to see you soon.”
Old John’s Luncheonette on the Upper West Side, opened in 1950, and was one of the few Greek diners remaining in the Lincoln Center area. The diner gained a bit of fame when Spanish chef Ferran Adria ate his breakfast there before leaving New York City. A GoFundMe campaign was launched in March and raised $8,710 to date, but unfortunately, the diner remains closed.
Raising Astoria offered maternity classes in Astoria since 2012, but shut down in the summer.
Olga’s Pizza Restaurant in Harlem opened in 1975, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closing of this staple in the neighborhood.
Monika’s Cafe Bar in Astoria opened in 1996, but also succumbed to the pandemic.
Vicky’s Diner, a beloved Greek-owned establishment on West 187th Street in Washington Heights, opened in 2007. A documentary film, Vicky’s Diner – An American Story, directed by Chris LoDuca and released in 2016 highlighted the owner Vicky Limberis, her immigrant story, and how she overcame obstacles to achieve the American dream.
Rising rents had already been making it difficult to run the diner even before COVID-19, but the pandemic proved too much in the end for the owner.
She told CBS2 that her diner “could not survive the pandemic with $8,000 in rent due every month, plus taxes, government regulations and red tape.”
Limberis immigrated from Perista, Greece in 1975, noting that she had “$50 in my pocket and I was 15 years old and no language,” she told CBS2.
After working in diners for two decades, she opened her own and developed a loyal customer following in the neighborhood. A GoFundMe campaign raised over $15,000 by October 2, not to reopen the diner, but to help Limberis and her staff of five employees through this uncertain time. The original goal of $5,000 was surpassed in just two days.
Artopolis Bakery in Astoria opened in 2003 and was well-known for its delicious pastries, cakes, pies, and Greek specialties. It closed its doors this year after its lease expired and a new location is currently being sought to reopen the beloved bakery as soon as possible.
“A staple in Astoria for nearly 17 years,” is how Give Me Astoria described it, adding that “Artopolis was known around the neighborhood for its friendly service and authentic Greek treats in the heart of Astoria.”
The rumor that Artopolis would not reopen began circulating since it had not opened even for delivery or take-out during the lockdown. One of the owners of the Greek patisserie, Regina Katopodis, spoke to TNH to set the record straight and also share the plans for the future of Artopolis.
“The lease we had for the store has expired. My partners own the Agora Plaza, the building that houses Artopolis, and we have not renewed the contract. There were some issues, but I'm not going to close it. As I told them, ‘it’s a crime to close this store. It's the housewife's embassy.' For me, it's not just a shop, it's part of the neighborhood, it's part of the Greek community.”
Katopodis is looking for a new space for Artopolis in Astoria to continue, as she said, to serve the Greeks of the diaspora community. “The doors may be closed, but I'm looking for space to open them again. For my part, I cannot accept that it is closed. We are part of the Greek community. We serve Greek life from birth to death. We also support the church as much as we can with church bread. We have koufeta for christenings and weddings and so much more. I don't see it in my soul as a store, it's something more. I will bring it back to the neighborhood,” Katopodis told TNH.
The list also includes the Athenian NYC, a restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine and Greek wines that started with huge ambitions in 2018. The owners initially tried hard to keep it open, but, finally, last August, they made the difficult decision, investing their money and energy in their other business, which also operates in the East Village area.
"There wasn't enough clarity from the state/federal governments on re-opening plans to give us confidence moving forward," owner Jason Corey said via email on the evgrieve website, adding that "although we loved our space and poured our blood and sweat into it (no tears), our lease was coming due and we decided not to renew.”