Previously I wrote a blog about Jersey diners and although my father owned one back in the 1960’s, he also had one in Northeast Philly (7400 block of Frankford Avenue) from 1977 to 1983.
He didn’t call it the “Philadelphia Diner,” or “Frankford Diner.” Our family being from Macedonia, Greece, there was only one name… what else would we call it? The “Macedon Diner.” It was a 250 seat stainless steel diner with a counter, booths, a dining room, and small banquet room, built by Lou Vlastardis, who had constructed most of the Greek-owned diners in the area. It was opened 7 days a week, 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM during the week and 24 hours Friday and Saturday. Guess who was the night manager on those 24 hour weekend shifts? Yes, yours truly. My sister, Christine, was in charge of the waitresses, her husband, Mike, was also a night manager on weekends together with our good friend, Steve Tsiadis. My mother, Andrea, was the hostess / cashier, my father, Jerry, was everywhere, and my brother, Ted, was the bus-boy. Typical Greek diner family.
There is something about diners – the waitresses, cooks, and especially the customers. They are all the same and could be cut from the same mold but they give the diner character and there were characters. Try finding character or characters in a CFSE (you have to have read my blog, “Thank God For Gus and Maria” to understand what a CFSE is.
You always had the atypical waitress, which I will give the general name, Flo, from the old TV comedy, Mel’s Diner. Every diner had a Flo, including the Macedon – loud, flirtatious, gossipy, and hair teased to the ceiling, but when it came time to serve the customer, extremely fast and professional. They knew how to treat customers and if they gave a good customer a free coffee or a pudding once in awhile (they thought we didn’t know), it was okay. They could also test your patience like the time my brother-in-law, Mike, who was working a weekend night shift fired all of the waitresses. They walked outside, laughed, and came back and started working again.
Some of the cooks were either ex-cons or alcoholics, but under the control of our great chef, Raymond. He who ruled the kitchen with an iron fist – yet encased in velvet. He took care of the workers but made sure they did their jobs and they did it well. Although my parents and our family would speak Greek when we didn’t want the help to know what we were saying, the cooks spoke, what was called back then, “jive” (watch the comedy movie, “Airplane” to hear it). I would walk pass and they would be talking and I would just shake my head and they would laugh.
The customers were definitely the highlight of working at the diner. There were families, business people, bikers, Italian men who had no visible means of support – if you know what I mean – this was Philly in the 70’s, loners, partiers, kids, old folks, students, priests, lawyers, politicians (Philadelphia City Councilwoman, Joan L. Krajewski, started her first campaign in 1980 to run for office from our diner and she had been in office until 2012), and everyone in between. It was a gathering place for people to have a good meal, a cup of coffee, and to talk.
For 3 years, while attending law school, and working at the diner (like so many of my generation), every break I would get, I was studying. It got to a point that customers were taking menus and seating themselves, telling me not to get up but keep studying!
There was Pastor John, the Lutheran priest, who would come in many times a day and sit with my father discussing everything and nothing. They became good friends and when my father visited Pastor John’s church when they were holding a Christmas Bazaar, he told the Pastor that they needed to run the Bazaar like a Greek festival. So the next year they had the bazaar, my father donated the food and showed them what to do and they ended up making 20 times the profit. Pastor John became Greek, at least for that day!
There was John Balis, many of you from the area remember him fondly. John had the Continental Bakery and on Mondays would pull up in his van and unload the fresh baked pies and cakes always with a great big smile. He was great guy.
There are thousands and thousands of stories that one could tell about the diner. One in particularly I’ll never forget happened on a Saturday afternoon. My parents asked me to watch the diner while they had to meet some people in town. While there, 2 young men were ordering all types of food, including filet mignon. Their bill came to about $40 (that was 1978 money – today, easily over $100). The waitress thought they were going to run out without paying. While trying to think what to do, suddenly and unexpectedly, 100 uniformed Philadelphia police officers came walking through the door. They were filling in for the guards at the local prison who were on strike and they needed to be fed. The 2 “gentlemen” didn’t know what to do and sat there for almost 2 hours while we fed the police. Eventually, after telling the lieutenant in charge what we suspected, he went over and asked them to pay. They had $38 on them, in change… I let them go for the $2. I think they learned their lesson!
The neighborhood was a mixture of Polish, Irish, African-American, and Jewish and all blue-collar, working class people who lived in row-homes. They ate simple diner fare like roast beef, chicken croquettes, meat-loaf, and open face turkey (we did have the Macedon Burger and the Alexander the Great Cheeseburger… we taught the neighborhood about Greek Macedonia!) They were good people who enjoyed coming out and seeing their friends and families from the neighborhood and our family was happy to serve them.
The Macedon Diner was your typical diner and whether it was called the Macedon Diner, or Diamond Diner, or Penn Queen Diner, or the thousands of other Greek owned diners, they all had one thing in common – a Greek family running it.
The Macedon Diner is long gone but the memories remain. Welcome to the Macedon Diner – and all the other Greek-owned diners over the years.
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