A Pelham Parkway Diner Defies the Odds in a Harsh Economy

Many Bronx restaurants face hard times or have closed in the tough economy, but the management of a family-owned diner in the Pelham Parkway area  has defied the odds with an expansion that opened on Sept. 6.

Christos Konidaris, 61, the owner of the Liberty Diner, said that customers had asked for a larger restaurant. Potential diners were leaving during weekends when the diner was too crowded for them to sit and eat. The expansion will allow him to serve 75 customers instead of his previous capacity of 30.

His daughter, Kathy Argyros, 37, a manager at the diner, said that taking over the space – formerly a dollar store that went out of business – was a significant expense. Konidaris and Argyros declined to say how much the expansion cost or discuss specifics regarding financials, but they said they are able to afford some of the costs of the expansion by selling a larger diner they owned in Co-op City.

“The expansion was a big decision,” Argyros said. “I think we were going back and forth for about a year, year and a half. When the spot opened up, we weren’t sure if we wanted to do it. It was a big investment.”

Argyros added that they were able to boost business by offering more specials, accepting credit cards and buying the best meat and coffee they could afford. He also thinks the family’s reputation helps; they’ve owned two other diners in the Bronx.

Other businesses in Pelham Parkway are having a more difficult time because of the state of the economy. Pablo Torres, 39, the owner of D&G Deli & Rotisserie, Inc., which is half a block away from the Liberty Diner, said running his business has been challenging.

“A lot of people don’t want to spend money like before,” he said. Torres works another job part-time and sometimes uses his paychecks to cover his restaurant’s bills.

Torres said that when he opened D&G in 2009, he was able to get a loan easily because he had a good credit history. Since then, business has been tough. He admitted that he has considered closing or selling the café, but that he feels that his employees depend on him to keep it open. An expansion like Liberty Diner’s is out of the question.

“I would love to,” he said. “But I have no money.”

D&G isn’t the only small business facing hard times. Bobby Ruggiero, 60, the chairman of the Morris Park Alliance, said that most small businesses in the area are struggling. The Alliance represents 360 small businesses in Morris Park – just blocks south of Pelham Parkway. According to Ruggiero, many business owners are living week-to-week, having invested their savings into their businesses.

“Three I know are doing well,” he said. “The others are grinding along, waiting.”

Ruggiero was happy to hear that the nearby Liberty Diner was expanding and praised its staff’s work ethic.

“[Liberty Diner] is in a unique location, good service, good product,” he said. “They put the hours in. They work hard.”

Liberty’s expansion included difficulties beyond money. Manager Spiro Argyros, 43, (Kathy Argyros’ husband) said that keeping the restaurant open during the construction was tough but necessary to keep customers coming in during the expansion. This meant that a lot of the construction work, which started in June, was done overnight.

The extra space will provide more room for customers as well as more space for supplies and appliances. Spiro Argyros said that the new space has a big storage area with a walk-in refrigerator, a luxury the diner didn’t have before.

Spiro Argyros said he hopes to hire more people in the future to work as dishwashers, waitresses and at the grill.

Arvin Molinas, 59, who works in bookbinding and copying at Penguin Group USA, is a regular customer who thinks that the expansion is “remarkable” and will bring the Liberty Diner more business.

“The only question I have is if they’ll be able to fill all of the seats in the space next door,” he said.

Now that the family has opened the expansion, they are looking to the future with a mix of confidence and nerves.

“We’re hoping it works out,” Kathy Argyros said. “We’re hoping it really works out. We’re thinking positive.”