Tag Archive | "Bronx"

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.”


Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, East Bronx, Multimedia, SlideshowsComments (0)

Bodega Robbery Suspects Charged with Murder in Cuevas Shooting

Christopher Dorsey’s aunt said her 17-year-old nephew was pressured by the older suspects in the robbery and ultimate death of a bodega worker in the Bronx.  (SADEF A. KULLY/ Bronx Ink)

Three Bronx men arrested for robbing the bodega where worker Reynaldo Cuevas ended up shot and killed by a police officer were arraigned Friday in Bronx Criminal Court on charges of both armed robbery and murder.

Defendants Ernesto Delgado, 28, Orlando Ramos, 31, and Christopher Dorsey, 17, appeared before Judge Villages yesterday.  Family members of the suspects argued outside the courtroom that the murder charge was not fair.

“Honestly, I feel like he shouldn’t be charged – he was committing a crime but he didn’t shoot him,” said Antonio Rodriquez, 21, brother of Orlando Ramos, about the death of Cuevas. “I think this is a way for the state to clean their hands – that cop shot him.”

The Bronx District Attorney’s office has no comment on the case.

Police said an officer accidentally shot Reynaldo Cuevas, after the 20-year-0ld Morrisania bodega worker stumbled out of the armed robbery scene on September 7.  Cuevas’s family members dispute the claim that the officer’s gun discharged accidentally and have called for an investigation.

The youngest of those charged in the incident, Christopher Dorsey, 17, looked anxious and emotional in court.

“He was the first one that came out,” said his grandmother, Anna Cabrera. “He surrendered. He was so scared that day. He is not doing well inside.”

“He is actually a good kid, he gets good grades, and he was definitely peer pressured into this. He has never held a gun.”

Dorsey’s aunt. Jadeira Cruz, 39, said that her nephew had been diagnosed as emotionally disturbed.

“I think the older men took advantage of his mental status,” said Cruz. “He has the mind of a 13-year old.”

Dorsey’s lawyer. Cesar Gonzalez said that it was his first appearance in court with the defendant and that he would have to review all the material before making an official statement on the case.

Maria Tobia, lawyer for Orlando Ramos, did not give any comments on the case.

All three defendants are scheduled to be back on court on Sept 20th.

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Newcomer Trounces Incumbent in Bid for Bronx State Assembly Seat

Mark Gjonaj becomes the first Albanian American with a chance to serve in the 80th State Assembly District. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

A Bronx ballroom filled with supporters of political newcomer Mark Gjonaj erupted in cheers near midnight Sept. 13 when poll numbers pushed the real estate developer over the top in the race for the Democratic state assembly nomination in the 80th district.

Gjonaj, 43, is poised to become the first Albanian American in the Bronx to hold a seat in the assembly. He toppled two-term incumbent Naomi Rivera by a margin of 11 percent (513 votes).

More than one hundred supporters celebrated the successful campaign with food, an open bar and DJ at Maestro’s Catering on Bronxdale Avenue in Van Nest. “I’m feeling loved,” Gjonaj told the crowd, with relief. “I’m feeling blessed and I’m grateful and I’m humbled.”

Rivera, his opponent who has held the 80th assembly seat since 2005 had the backing of the powerful Bronx Democratic Committee, including Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. She faced criticism after political scandals surfaced during her most recent term. Most recently Rivera came under fire for placing  boyfriend Tommy Torres on her state payroll as a part-time consultant. Another investigation involving a different ex-boyfriend is also underway.

Gjonaj won the backing of social conservative New York State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. He outspent Rivera by about 62 percent. Gjonaj thanked his campaign volunteers and supporters in a speech, saying “without them, there’s no me.”

“This is about progress,” said Gjonaj in a speech last night. “It’s about change. It’s about moving forward.” He also acknowledged Rivera’s public service in the district for the past eight years. Gjonaj grew up in the Bronx on Arthur Avenue and Pelham Parkway, the son of two Albanian immigrants. He has worked as a realtor and businessman, and has served as a member of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

A homemade poster supporting Mark Gjonaj. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

According to campaign manager Emmett Hare, Gjonaj currently resides in at Eastchester Road in the Pelham Parkway neighborhood with his wife and two sons, ages 12 and 13. He used his business acumen to his advantage, and raised $227,893 for his campaign according to financial disclosure reports from April to August. His backers included several realtors, construction companies, insurance agencies, contractors and law firms, as well as many individual donors. Rivera raised $140,697.69 between March and August.

Community outreach was a key aspect of Gjonaj’s campaign. On Sundays throughout the summer, he hosted free barbecues for residents of his district. He launched a street-cleaning initiative called “Gjonaj Cares” along 204th Street in the Norwood area of the Bronx and on Lydig Avenue in Morris Park. His Morris Park campaign office opened to the public as a cooling station during the summer, he donated school supplies to the children of the Pelham Parkway Houses development and facilitated the donation of unsold food from local restaurants to shelters.

Gjonaj’s campaign team, dressed in signature yellow shirts, was out in full force in the weeks before the election, handing out pamphlets and talking to community members. Volunteer Troy Coleman said that “the experience was fantastic.” The day of the primaries, he campaigned outside of Tracey Towers, where Gjonaj was active in preventing a rent increase.

Gjonaj promised to work hard for the future of his district. “This means the 80th assembly district will have somebody that represents their best interests,” he said. “I’m going to wake up each with them on my mind and before I lay my head down to sleep. I’m going to think about them and how I serve them.”

Mark Gjonaj stands with his family and supporters after the primary results are announced. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

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Protest at Richard Haste trial

Bronxites Protest Police Violence

Protest at Richard Haste trial

The manslaughter trial of  47th Precinct officer Richard Haste stirs anger over police profiling outside the court. (MARIANA IONOVA/ The Bronx Ink)

A crowd gathered in front of the Bronx Supreme Criminal Court Thursday to protest police violence during a trial hearing for Richard Haste, a Bronx police officer charged with the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham inside his home earlier this year.

More that 50 people chanted, sang songs and held up signs outside the 161st Street courthouse that read, “Richard Haste, you can’t hide,” and “When will it stop?”

Graham was killed on Feb. 2, after Haste chased him inside his Wakefield home, shooting and killing him while his grandmother and his 6-year-old brother looked on. Before the incident, a street narcotics team had been monitoring a nearby bodega where they spotted Graham and two others. Suspecting that he had a gun, the officers followed him home, forced the door open and entered without a warrant.

Moments later, Haste fired a single shot, killing Graham in his bathroom as he was trying to flush some marijuana down the toilet. No gun was recovered from the home.

Haste has pled not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter charges.

During Thursday’s hearing, Haste’s defense team won a trial postponement until the police and prosecution can provide documents that show why police believed Graham was armed.

The brief court proceeding was packed with press and family, friends and supporters of both Graham and Haste yesterday. Afterwards, Graham’s family held a brief conference outside the courthouse.

“We are going to do what we need to do to keep his memory alive and also fight for justice. We will never stop,” said Franclot Graham, Ramarley’s father as he stood beside Constance Malcolm, the victim’s mother.

A small group of family members and community supporters later gathered in front of the 47th precinct with signs and whistles, rallying against police violence and its stop-and-frisk policies.  Some of the protesters had buttons condemning the search tactic while others wore t-shirts printed with the words, “UC my hands. No Gun. Why did you shoot?” Similar rallies were planned at precincts across the Bronx.

Tomasina Sams Riddick, co-founder of the civil rights organization Black Law Enforcement Alliance, said police violence plaguing Black and Hispanic communities is, at its core, racially motivated.

“You can’t Google a white person murdered by police,” she told protesters. “It is people of color. So we must continue our fight.”

Activists also said police violence is on the rise, citing last week’s killing of Reynaldo Cuevas, a 20-year-old bodega worker who was shot by officers as he was running away from an armed robbery. His death stirred widespread criticism and is currently under investigation.

“A lot of people are angry that this keeps happening,” said Malcolm, who has responded to her son’s killing by founding Ramarley’s Call, an organization dedicated to seeking justice for Graham and fighting against police violence.

David Vaughan, Graham’s former tutor also spoke at the rally, describing his student as an educated young man beyond his years and condemning the circumstances around his death.

“You don’t know what dream you’re killing when you do something like this,” Vaughan said.

The family said they would continue holding vigils until they see justice being served in court. Ramarley’s Call currently organizes vigils and rallies every second Thursday in a bid to preserve Graham’s memory and to remind the community of his death.

Haste was the first city officer charged in an on-duty shooting since 2007, when the high profile shooting of Sean Bell led to charges against three detectives. The officers were acquitted in 2008 but were later dismissed from the force.

Court proceedings in the Haste case will resume Dec. 11.

Mariana Ionova can be contacted via email at mi2300@columbia.edu or on Twitter.

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PHOTOS: Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

9 September, 2012- Bronx - Reverend Que English (left) holds prayer for Reynaldo Cuevas, the young father from the Dominican Republic accidentally shot by police during a robbery scuffle on Friday morning. (The Bronx Ink/Jika González)

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Further reading: Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

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Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

Clergy works to calm activists as anti-NYPD feelings rage

Rain began falling Saturday night just as Rev. Ruben Austria led a passionate prayer for justice and healing in the aftermath of a botched robbery that left a 20-year-old bodega worker dead from police gunfire.

Huddled in a tight circle at 169th Street and Franklin Avenue, roughly 50 mourners — family members, friends and community activists — turned out Saturday night in honor of Reynaldo Cuevas, the young father from the Dominican Republic accidentally shot by police during a robbery scuffle early Friday morning.

“We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage. That it doesn’t cause us to consume ourselves and tear one each other down,” Austria told the group, with he and fellow clergy starting a chorus of “Hallelujah.”

Rally participants gathered around a makeshift memorial draped with flowers, rosaries and hand-scribbled notes across from Aneurys Daily Grocery in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. Cuevas worked six nights a week at the store, often staying for 16-hour shifts.

Community activists joined cousins of Reynaldo Cuevas in a prayer vigil Saturday night. “We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage,” Rev. Ruben Austria said. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

The memorial included a few dollar bills, some cigarette butts and a lottery ticket — the type of loot the armed robbers tried to make off with in a backpack before police arrived.

Around 1:50 a.m. Friday, Cuevas, in an “understandable panic to get away from the gunman as fast as possible,” ran outside the bodega to escape the masked robbers and collided with a police officer, according to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and the officer accidentally fired his weapon, striking Cuevas in his left shoulder. He died at St. Barnabas Hospital.

“I want to extend my condolences to the Cuevas family for their loss,” Kelly said in a statement Friday. Kelly emphasized the events had transpired in “split seconds.”

Some came to the Saturday night rally simply to mourn the loss of Cuevas, described by relatives as a kind-hearted young man who’d been saving to send money to his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic.

“He was hard-working and humorous and caring,” said Ashley Rodriguez, 14, a cousin of Cuevas. She said she last saw Cuevas two days before his death, when he helped her get through some issues she was facing with high school. Cuevas was a good listener, she said, and he urged her to stay focused on her studies.

Reynaldo Cuevas, 20, worked nights at the bodega, saving money for his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic.

“How many parents got to bury their kids? When is this really going to stop?” said Juanita Young, an activist with Families of Stolen Lives and Parents Against Police Brutality. “I am so angry at what just happened here — that young man just trying to make a life for him and his family … When is enough enough?”

The candlelit vigil, announced via a cardboard sign at the memorial site and on a Facebook page for Cuevas created Saturday, also drew activists from the New York Civil Liberties Union and Stop “Stop and Frisk” Freedom Fighters, who oppose the NYPD’s controversial tactic of searching people on the streets over concerns police disproportionately target people of color.

“People are out here not just for this incident, but because I think what everybody feels and knows and understands is there’s been years of police harassing and targeting young black and Latino men,” Austria said.

Ashley Rodriguez said she’s not sure her cousin’s death represents a bigger problem; she just wants to see an investigation into the officer who shot him. For now, she wants that officer suspended.

“It’s uplifting to know that even people that didn’t know him are supporting us because they know this wasn’t right,” said Mary Rodriguez, 24, another cousin of Cuevas who was wearing an anti-“Stop and Frisk” button.

A downpour dispersed the crowd on Saturday, with some activists announcing plans to reschedule a march for Wednesday, and to attend a funeral for Cuevas on Monday.

Saturday’s event was the second emotional vigil honoring Cuevas this weekend. On Friday night, after the news vans and most reporters had left, the crowd erupted into angry shouting at the police, who stood quietly across the street. Austria was there, too, working to calm the small crowd for several hours and prevent the scene from escalating into a violent confrontation with the officers.

“The police have to be held accountable when they use excessive force, but we have to hold ourselves accountable. The community’s got to hold each other accountable because the violence between us is unacceptable just as well,” Austria said. “Nobody gets a pass for doing wrong.”

Staff writers Sadef Kully, Adam Perez and Jan Hendrik Hinzel contributed to this report.

The makeshift memorial included a few dollars, cigarette butts and used lottery tickets–booty found on the suspects after their arrest, said police. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

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Bronx-born rock and roll performer dies at 72

Bronx-born Fred Milano, 72, who made rock and roll history on doo-wop hits with Dion and the Belmonts in the 1950s has died.

According to the Associated Press, Milano died Sunday, three weeks after his lung cancer was diagnosed, said Warren Gradus, who joined the Belmonts in 1963. Milano lived in Massapequa, on Long Island, and died in a hospital, Gradus said.

Dion DiMucci, the lead singer who left the Belmonts in 1960, said on his Facebook page Tuesday, “May he rest in peace and rock on in heaven.”


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Fordham prevails vs Harvard in Bronx encounter

The 22-ranked Harvard Crimson left the Bronx with their heads bowed following a defeat against the local boys of Fordham University.

According to USA Today, the win was the first for Fordham (7-6) over a ranked team since a 68-67 win over then-No. 24 St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 9, 2000. It was also the Rams’ first win against a Top 25 team at Rose Hill Gym since beating No. 19 Georgetown 63-59 on Feb. 26, 1978.

“Congratulate Fordham. They played inspired basketball,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “Give them credit. They did a tremendous job.”

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