Southern Brooklyn

Eggs With A Side Of Nostalgia – Owner, Patrons Remember The Good Times At El Greco Diner

elgreco

UPDATE: See the exclusive renderings for the building the new owners have planned for this space.

El Greco Diner is bustling with nostalgic patrons since news of its impending closure after 40 years of business became public.

“It’s been crazy since you ran the story,” owner George Venetoklis told Sheepshead Bites. “Lines to get in. Too bad we are closing. Packed as we speak.”

Venetoklis said the deal for the 1821 Emmons Avenue location officially closed Friday morning. He declined to name the buyer or the sale price, but Sheepshead Bites learned that Rybak Development purchased the property for $13 million with plans to build a mixed-use property and public plaza. An auction to sell off the restaurant’s equipment is scheduled for late December.

Venetoklis said a sale has been in the works for some time, as he, his brother Peter and mother Anastasia put blood, sweat and tears into keeping it going in a changing community and economy.

“We had a really good run. A lot of businesses, at some point the model just changes. Our model was large portions at good prices. Our food prices were beginning to skyrocket and we couldn’t keep up,” he said. Other economic factors were also at play. “Real estate taxes, labor costs, everything took its toll. As a family, we realized we put in our time. Forty years, it was time to move on.”

A final breakfast of two eggs over easy with sausage and English muffin for this reporter.
A final breakfast of two eggs over easy with sausage and English muffin for this reporter.

El Greco’s owners did mount a search prior to the deal to sell the business and keep it in operation, but they said businesses like theirs have a shrinking place in communities.

“We were looking for a more modern version of the El Greco family to come in and take over,” he said. “I think that [Sheepshead Bay] has been doing well, but it’s just that the larger corporate-run businesses are the ones that have greater longevity and more backing and more ability to do things in a different way. That’s just what the nature of the beast is.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to close the diner. Founded by George’s father Minos in 1974, El Greco’s remained a true family business, where the two brothers were raised and eventually worked to keep the elder Venetoklis’ memory alive 20 years after his passing.

I was three-and-a-half when it opened, and my mother is fighting off tears.” he said. “I have four children … and they were heartbroken. I can understand it because I was basically their age when I was growing up in this restaurant. My 8-year-old turned to me and said, ‘Dad, what are you going to do?’ I said ‘I’ll spend more time with you.'”

Venetoklis said it’s the relationships he makes with customers, employees and business suppliers that he’ll miss the most.

“The highlights have been the customers and the friendships we made. This place has never closed, the business has a life of its own. It doesn’t sleep. And I’ve worked every shift in this place; I’ve seen the neighborhood change. I’ve seen the menu change – we had items that we’ve had to remove because the customers weren’t around to eat them,” he said.

The restaurant, recently named one of the borough’s best diners, was teeming with longtime regulars on Saturday afternoon. Chatter about the pending closure could be overheard at almost every table.

Among the regulars were Marc and Zoya Baroda, a Mill Basin husband and wife who met at the restaurant nearly 20 years ago and who now visit regularly with their three children, ages 6 to 15.

“I worked here as a hostess, and he was the pickle man,” said Zoya. It was 1995, and she got the job because she was a frequent patron. “I grew up here. I came here before I met him, before I worked here, and this was the place to go after a club or a night out and this is where to meet up.”

Marc and Zoya Baroda with their three kids. They say they'll be back again before the restaurant closes for good.
Marc and Zoya Baroda with their three kids. They say they’ll be back again before the restaurant closes for good.

Her future husband made the regular deliveries for Mr. Pickle – which he’ll continue to do until the closing this week.

“He’d flirt, of course. He delivered, and would come to the cashier and I’d have to pay him and he’d flirt,” she said.

It took a vacation out of town to work up the nerve to ask her out, said Marc.

“I was talking, talking and one time when I went on vacation to Mexico, one of the guys who works for me, I told him to tell Zoya when I come back I’m going to be looking for her,” boasted Marc.

He did, and they married two years later. They took their wedding photos inside the restaurant.

“There’s an old joke I used to do with Peter and George after we got married. Every time she got pregnant, I’d tell them the price of the pickles went up,” he laughed.

When they found out it was closing, “I was shocked. I was completely distraught. And my phone has been going off non-stop. My friends who moved out of Brooklyn saying that they have to come to New York to have that last breakfast or lunch or whatever,” said Zoya. “I’m very sad to see the place go, but all good things must come to end.”

“I’m not just losing a diner, I’m also losing a client. But I’m not losing a friend,” he said of Peter and George.

Venetoklis said such sentiments have been endlessly echoed by regulars, and that’s what they’ll remember the most when they lock the diner’s doors for a final time.

“It’s bittersweet. It hurts, but at the same time it feels good,” he said.

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30 COMMENTS

  1. since the article is being nostalgic, remember the time the greedy owners of el greco soldout and gave away their father’s legacy. I think the owners saying that operating prices are too high is a copout excuse, imo.. The place always has a crowd no matter what time of day, not to mention that the owners are lawyers also. Im sure they could have found a buyer(s) who would have kept it a diner but they got money hungry and took a lucrative offer from a developer instead of mabye a lower offer from someone who would have kept it the way it was.

  2. Rybak Development is currently building a six to seven story residential building on the east side of Ocean Ave. right off the corner of Ocean and Vorhees Ave..

    What I’m curious about is how many stories high will they be permitted to build on Emmons. Most of the buildings on Emmons are only a few stories tall.

    Does anyone know?

  3. I stopped eating there long ago. If you read the reviews for it on web sites,mostly bad,for both the food and service.

  4. Good riddance. Awful dirty diner stood at that prime location for too long. Now maybe we can get a good Diner on the Bay again. Thanks for closing El Greco!

  5. idk. I mean if the place was doing poor and I was struggling to make money then yes I would sell too. But it is clear that the owners have plenty of money and business is doing good. They probably had offers from people who wanted to keep the diner because it is always busy and is in a prime location for summertime business. But those offers might have been a little less than the deal they sold for. Either way if I had enough money to live comfortably & provide for my family then I would have definitely taken a cheaper deal if it ment that the diner would still be up and running

  6. Hey anyone hear anything about the Towne cafe being on the market. I heard they have s sign in the window that says bar for sale

  7. They have said many times now- they are building a mixed use property- not another condo. I know Anastasia is heartbroken- and yet has to feel a bit of relief now that this is finally over.. Another HUGE change in our little neighborhood.

  8. How dare you speak of personal things you know nothing about!!!! The Ownersssss arent lawyers, one owner is, who gave up practicing law to keep his Fathers legacy alive. I love it–do you have a clue what the annual taxes are on a place like this ??? Business expenses —your a real fool …..Keep their name out of your mouth and especially their father……..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. I never liked the sign on the door that said “Bathrooms for Customers Only”. It is just plain nasty. I try never to patronize any establishment with that sign. You would never see it in a small town.

  10. I did not say anthing bad about the father of el greco. Im sure he was an honest, hard-working man who cared deeply for his family and business.
    if the owners were losing money and were having a hard time making ends meet then I don’t blame them at all for selling. (dont see how when the place is always crowded but w/e)
    However, if the owners were still turning a profit and were able to live comfortably and provide for their family then I don’t see why they would sell in the first place.
    All I know is that if my kids decided to sell a successful, iconic business that I created and passed on to them I would be pissed

  11. Not if it was a second generation family run restaurant that is making money.
    If the owners were losing money and were unable to provide for their families then I have no problem with them selling
    However, if the business was still making decent money and the owners were living comfortably then it basically shows they are sellouts and dont give a damn about the history that place has in the neighborhood and in their family

  12. Also the hours and 365 days?… People do not understand. When I got out of the restaurant business, I felt like I escaped…

  13. what are you talking about? Im saying keep it open for the fact that their father bulit the place and passed it on to the owners so one day they can pass it on to their children. Im saying to keep it open or sell it to someone who is willing to keep the diner alive.

    Not to mention the fact that these owners basically told their employees (some of which had worked there for years) that they are out of a job in a week. I mean at least keep it open for a couple of months to let them save up some money and look for a new job. Its clear the place was making money the owners just sold away their family business for the money

  14. That is what happens when you own a business long hours and a lot of work. But the owners new what they were getting into when they took it over

  15. their food SUCKS. see the reviews on yelp and other sites. they are lucky they even got SO MUCH money for this garbage dump they call a restaurant

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