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The Historic Lantern Diner on Long Island Has Closed

WEST HEMPSTEAD, NY – One of the most historic, Greek-owned diners on Long Island has permanently closed, continuing a series of similar closings in the New York area, due in part to the pandemic.

The Lantern Diner, owned by Greek-American businessman Socrates Fokas and his wife, Lori Zimmerman, closed its doors suddenly at the end of May, after six decades of continuous operation in West Hempstead. It was a decision that, as the NBC4 News also reported on May 31, surprised and upset regulars and local residents, who saw a longtime landmark in the area, which for many years was open 24 hours a day, become a thing of the past.

“Unfortunately, we could not do otherwise,” Fokas told The National Herald, noting the unfavorable conditions that became insurmountable following the restrictive measures during the pandemic, as well as the increase in interest rates.

“The five-year period for the mortgage ended and interest rates went up. So, the payment rose from $12,000 to $27,000. You realize that we are talking about a big increase,” added Fokas, pointing out that the reports in the local media, including Newsday, about imminent foreclosure, do not concern day to day operations.

The interior of the Lantern Diner in West Hempstead, NY. (Photo: Facebook)

“I can sell the building until the end of July. If this happens, then there is no question of foreclosure. Besides, the banks themselves don’t want it either, they are not interested in foreclosing on real estate. We have a real estate agent and are also holding an auction of the restaurant equipment,” said the Greek-American businessman, adding that the post-COVID-19 era brought successive challenges that proved too difficult to overcome.

“You’ve got taxes that are going up, you’ve got costs that are going up, you’ve got insurance that’s also going up, as well as labor: When, for example, I pay the person who washes the dishes in the kitchen $20 an hour, how much should I pay the cook? There were people who protested because we raised the prices too much. How could we make ends meet? There was no other way. You know very well that we are not the only ones who faced these problems,” said Fokas.

The Lantern Diner was founded in 1964 by the Diosynou family, who held the reins for about three decades. Then, after 1995, the family member who managed the restaurant decided to sell it to the butcher Ray Fernandez, who ran it for about 10 years. He then sold it to the next owner Kostas Tsikis, originally from Chios. Finally, in 2014, the diner passed into the ownership of Socrates Fokas, who, although a goldsmith by profession, was not a newcomer to the restaurant business.He was actually one of the shareholders in the famous Future Diner in Fresh Meadows in the 1990s.

“We took over the Lantern in 2014, renovated it and built it up. It paid off financially and before the pandemic we were doing very well. We had customers and then, the prices went up, things changed as I told you. My children have degrees, they had no intention of continuing the business. It may not be my job – I’m a goldsmith – but when needed I even stepped in to wash the dishes. It was not an issue for me,” concluded Fokas.

It should be noted that for various reasons, many Greek-owned diners such as Mike’s in Astoria have already closed in recent times while others have cut their hours after decades of 24-hour operation.


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