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Queens Chronicle

Neighbors Surprised At Closing Of Future Diner In Fresh Mdws.

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Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2005 12:00 am

Residents of Fresh Meadows were surprised to learn on Monday that the famous Future Diner had closed.

Located in the Fresh Meadows shopping center, near Kohl’s Department Store and the cineplex, the diner served its last meal on Sunday. An auction of the restaurant’s contents was held on Monday.

Although the name was changed to Kafenio and Grill a few years ago, the original moniker stuck and people often met there before shopping trips or going to a movie. It was also popular in the later hours for after-show dining and just hanging out.

But the Future Diner is best remembered as where Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton campaigned in 1992 and returned as president for a televised health forum in 1993. There were several photos of the events on the walls of the diner before it closed.

“I was surprised at the closing,” said Connie Clausen, a member of the Fresh Meadows Tenants Association. “We have no idea what happened.”

James Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Association, was equally surprised. “I drove by on Monday and sure enough it was closed,” he said.

Some neighbors had speculated that the diner’s owners may have owed taxes, hence the auction. But no records were available from the city.

Joanna Pearlman, spokesperson for the Department of Finance, said the restaurant’s address, 61-09 190th Street, is not in the city computer system. “That doesn’t mean they may not owe money, just for some reason the address is not in our system,” she said.

The mystery was cleared up by Stephanie Blank, a spokesperson for Federal Realty Trust, which owns the property. “The Future Diner was unable to meet its financial obligations to us,” she said. “They were given many chances and we did everything we could to help them stay in business.”

A new tenant is being sought and Blank added that all options are being kept open. “It is a good location for a restaurant and it is sad that the Future Diner had to close.”

Diane Cohen, district manager of Community Board 8, which covers Fresh Meadows, had no knowledge of the diner closing, but is sorry to see it go. “It was a historic place because a president visited there twice,” she said. “Of course I’ve eaten there. Everybody has been there.”

At both visits by President Clinton, he ordered a turkey club sandwich and was photographed sitting at the counter. During his second visit, the President brought a cap from the White House food service and presented it to one of the diner owners.

“I came to this place during the primary as an example of a new small business, and the kind of economic opportunity that I hope to support as president,” Clinton said.

He then went on to address the crowd about health care reform and called on eight Queens residents who had written him about particular health concerns.

David Oats, a historian from Forest Hills who was a former editor at the Queens Tribune, well remembers Clinton’s second visit since he played an instrumental role that day.

“The place was packed and not all local politicians were allowed into the diner. So as not to anger them, I was commandeered, outside before the program, to whisper names of these people to Mayor David Dinkins, who then either said them out loud or told them to President Clinton so he could greet them,” he said. “It was funny, but it worked. Clinton had a way with people and they all were happy he remembered who they were.”

Oats believes the diner was originally selected for a campaign stop because one of the owners was related to Clinton aide, George Stephanopolis. “President Clinton remembered the place from his campaign and he loved it. Queens was vitally important to him in the election and when he came back, he put Queens on the map.”

Oats also remembers that after the health forum, President Clinton was served a dessert plate, which he couldn’t resist. “He loved the place and was very outspoken about liking it.”

The former editor, who was last at the diner about five months ago, was crushed at learning of its demise. “I feel terrible. It was a force in the area and had a place in history.

“It’s a sad thing and I hope someone will make it into something nice and keep the presidential photos up,” Oats added.

Welcome to the discussion.