Woodhaven’s Avenue Diner, open since 2009, is the latest casualty in a series of diner closing that pre-dates the pandemic-fueled economic crisis for small businesses.
Paul Vasiliadis, who has not taken more than 30 days off in 11 years of owning and managing the restaurant, said that there were just too many obstacles stacked against the business to come back from the pandemic.
The restaurant permanently closed on Sunday, Aug. 2, leaving a diner vacuum in the Woodhaven area.
“Diners — restaurants — they’re built for dining in,” Vasiliadis said. “Sit-in dining establishments have taken a 70 percent hit.”
Though he has poured his blood, sweat and tears into the diner since opening it, he said that it just wasn’t possible to make up for the gaping hole in his bottom line, especially when much of his takeout is through delivery apps.
“When you have all these online ordering companies taking the percentages that they take, your profit margin dwindles considerably,” he added.
As New York’s businesses get farther and farther into the pandemic without a set date for dine-in service to come back, it has become increasingly clear that not every strip in Queens is equally amenable to sidewalk dining.
Though more and more businesses on Jamaica Avenue have begun to roll out street seating to try and get by, Vasiliadis simply did not see that strategy as a path toward remaining financially viable. The business strip’s location, which runs under an elevated subway line, made the decision a risky proposition, he said.
“I just don’t find it being a safe option for all my customers because of the elevated train and the amount of dust that falls down, even with a tent or umbrellas,” Vasiliadis said.
The Forest Hills Diner closed in late May, so the Avenue Diner is not the first of its kind to go, but long before the strain of the pandemic, Queens diners have had it tough. Southern Queens’ closures in recent years include The Waterview in Howard Beach and The Fame in Jamaica, and many more dot the rest of the borough.
Vasiliadis said that he takes a lot of pride knowing that he put in all his effort to try and keep it open for as long as he could, but at this point he just cannot go into any more debt.
He does not know what is next for him, but he said that what he will take from his experience are the relationships he’s made with his staff and community members.
“I’m leaving not only with a tremendous amount of new friends, but people who I consider family,” Vasiliadis said.
A devoted group of patrons, staff and community members came to the diner on its last day and gave speeches sharing their appreciation and some of their favorite memories of the restaurant.
Vasiliadis wiped away tears as he told the crowd how much he would miss them.
“Thank you and keep supporting local small businesses. The avenue has to stay alive and thriving and everyone has to do their part,” he said.
Finally, Vasiliadis will be able to take a well-earned break.