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John Manolidis, the owner and chef at the Sutton Cafe Restaurant in Manhattan. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
NEW YORK – The Sutton Café Restaurant, 1026 First Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets in Manhattan, is a classic American diner, offering the warmth, quick service, and extremely long menu of tasty items most associated with Greek-owned diners in the New York Tri-State area. The owner and chef, John Manolidis, has been running the Sutton Café for over 30 years and spoke with The National Herald about the business and how the pandemic is still affecting it.
Manolidis, who is from Volos and his wife from Limnos, came to the U.S. to study and trained as a mechanical engineer, but found that the restaurant industry was much more lucrative at the time than the jobs in engineering. “Once I graduated from school, I was always working in those places so it was the next progression to own one,” he told TNH. “It’s a struggle, especially now. In the past, I never even thought about advertising, but now it’s a totally different environment, this is new to everybody.”
When asked about the impact of COVID-19 on the business, Manolidis said: “The pandemic killed us. Even now, as we’re coming out of it, we’re still operating between 40-50 percent of what it was before, we’re still not out of the woods yet.”
He continued: “It’s a diner, you have your experiences with diners, it’s localized, it’s the local neighborhood, so we would like to expand that neighborhood a little bit, a few blocks up and down.”
The Manhattan neighborhood of Sutton Place is well-known for its notable residents including many celebrities who are drawn to the exclusive residential area for its views of the East River, Roosevelt Island, and the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.
Some of those celebrities who happen to reside in the area are also regular customers at the Sutton Cafe, among them English journalist, magazine editor, columnist, broadcaster, and author Tina Brown. A certain well-known actor also enjoys dining at the Sutton Cafe when he is in New York, but Manolidis is the soul of discretion and doesn’t reveal a name. Cypriot-American Fannie Petallides Holliday, founder of the Greek newspaper Proini which shut down in 2001, is also a regular.
Sutton Café is open seven days a week, 9 AM-8 PM, but as Manolidis told TNH, “I don’t have the hours I used to have before the pandemic but still between 9 and 8, it’s a reflection of the revenue, you try inch by inch to extend the hours half an hour or an hour, the cost of labor is also up with everything else, so right now it’s prohibitive to keep the hours we used to keep.”
He also noted the competition has changed as well, since even supermarkets now sell prepared foods and there are subscription services that can send meals to people for an entire month at a time. Manolidis pointed out that the quality of the food and the service are the keys to success in the diner business. “You rely on the quality of the food and you rely on your charm and the charm of your employees,” he said.
The diner is busiest earlier in the day for breakfast and lunch with the classic American options on the menu as well as Greek and Italian variations. From eggs, omelets, and pancakes to salads, sandwiches, and burgers, the menu is extensive. Among the appetizers, the stuffed grape leaves are a delicious, traditional Greek option and the crispy onion rings and fried mozzarella sticks are served with marinara sauce for dipping. The specialties include all the diner favorites you can think of as well as gyro and chicken souvlaki on pita or as a platter. The hot pressed paninis on the menu include the delicious Greek panini with grilled chicken, feta, tomato, and spinach. Served with crispy French fries, the panini was more than enough for a flavorful lunch. There is also a great variety of entrees on the menu for dinner, including an array of chicken dishes, steak, salmon, and Mediterranean specialties such as spinach pie and an assortment of pasta options to enjoy. The desserts, including cheesecake and chocolate cake, are not to be missed.
When asked about events, Manolidis noted that they do offer catering for parties in offices and homes in the area, but the business focuses on dine in and delivery.
WASHINGTON, DC –The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) hosts its annual Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day in a virtual celebration via Zoom on Tuesday, March 28, 11 AM-12:30 PM Eastern Time.
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