Tag Archive | "Pelham Parkway"

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.”


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Back in baked goods

On a crisp mid-October morning in the northwest Bronx, a weary middle-aged woman lifted one tray after another filled with colorful cupcakes, creamy cheesecakes and pieces of baklava, a honey-soaked Mediterranean delicacy, inside their glass display racks. Flags flanked the “Grand Opening” sign outside the shop on 204th Street and Bainbridge Avenue in Norwood. Curious customers offered congratulations to Ana Mirdita on her bakery’s opening day, again.“Welcome back. We missed you,” said one elderly woman tenderly to Mirdita, after ordering a fresh loaf of Italian bread.

Two mysterious fires within a seven-month period had destroyed the family-owned Bainbridge Bakery in 2009, an iconic part of Norwood’s business section since 1981.

For the owners, husband and wife team Ana and Tony Mirdita, the bakery’s reopening ended their arduous struggle to keep doing what they’ve done since moving to New York from Montenegro more than 30 years before: provide Bronx residents with freshly-baked breads and sweet pastries.

“It’s so far so good,” said Mirdita, softly. “I think we will do well again. If God’s willing, everything is going to be all right.”

It was no wonder why Mirdita was saying her prayers. Luck was against the couple two years earlier, when a five-alarm fire destroyed 10 businesses along Bainbridge Avenue, gutting their bakery. She and her husband Tony, 62, a baker trained in Montenegro, were days away from reopening.

“We lost $1 million in the second fire. We lost everything,” said Mirdita, who looked stressed even on this more festive day.  “It was a big mess.”

Police eventually arrested a nearby diner owner, charging him with insurance fraud and hiring an arsonist. But it wasn’t enough to help the Mirditas. They didn’t yet have fire insurance. Having already taken out an additional mortgage on their home to invest in the bakery, the couple was left with nothing, and were forced to shut it down.

Losing their livelihood was agonizing, Mirdita said, adding that  the small business bureau and a local bank refused to help them rebuild.

“It was especially hard for my husband,” said Mirdita, adding that Tony, who is an ethnic Albanian, was hospitalized several times due to stress-related health problems.

Other businesses along Bainbridge Avenue had received a token of $1,000 from the city’s Department of Small Business Services after the mysterious first fire, but nothing after the second fire, said a local official.

“They didn’t receive any direct financial support,” said Fernando Tirado, district manager for Community Board 7. “I think maybe they had false expectations about what small business services would provide in the long-term.”

Instead, the couple turned to family and friends, who loaned them $350,000 to open up a new shop, Ana’s Bakery, last year in Williamsbridge on the Pelham Parkway.

But the troubles didn’t stop there. The Mirditas soon found out that the loyal customers of Norwood did not follow them to the new location.

“I come here, biggest mistake of my life,” said Tony, from the Williamsbridge bakery a couple of weeks ahead of his Norwood reopening. “There’s no business. There’s no customers. The rent is high over here.”

When a shop beside the still vacant lot that once held their Bainbridge Avenue bakery became available earlier this year, the couple jumped at the chance to move back. The Mirditas borrowed another $80,000, hoping that this third return would be their last.

The diner owner was charged with arson in the second fire. Mohammed Quadir, 51, is expected in court on November 22 of this year. The Mirditas said they were not following his case and barely knew Quadir before the fires.

Meanwhile, residents said they are ecstatic that the bakery has returned to its roots in Norwood, especially since many of the stores destroyed in the 2009 fires were never rebuilt.

“I’m pretty excited to have the bakery back,” said Greg Jost, 35, deputy director of a housing advocacy group and resident on nearby Rochambeau Avenue. “It’s still a pretty big drag to have a big vacant lot here, but I’m happy they are coming back.”

As to why the stalwart couple has never considered finding other ways to make a living, Ana Mirdita made it clear that the bakery business is in the family blood. One of her three children can often be found baking through the night, she said. He is expected to take over the business at some point. However, it’s Tony’s  devotion to the delicate art of creating tarts, pastries and cakes that has kept the family going.

“He’s a baker all his life,” said Mirdita lovingly of her husband. “It’s his baby.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Food, Money, North Central BronxComments (0)

Top Stories of the Day

New York flexes security muscle to foil 9/11 plot

Anti-terrorist security has been beefed up across New York, in an emphatic response to a possible car bombing on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A New York Daily News report, based on “specific and credible” info, claims that the plot involves three veteran terrorists – one possibly with an American passport – approved by Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. It also quotes investigators saying that names of all three were known, but they were too common to provide much direction.

After 9/11, Anthrax Day in the Bronx

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will declare September 14 as Anthrax Day in the Bronx, The Bronx Times reports, when the band performs with heavy metal’s Big Four at Yankees Stadium on Wednesday night. Anthrax features three native Bronxites – Charlie Benante and Frank Bello from Throgs Neck, and Rob Caggiano from Pelham Parkway. But a Yahoo Music Blog points out that just four days later, on September 18, it will be the 10th anniversary of the anthrax attacks that killed five people in the days following 9/11.

She stuffed him in suitcase, stole his checks

Monique Exum, the woman who ‘buried’ her 73-year-old boyfriend in a suitcase, is now believed to have done it for the money. The New York Daily News reports that Exum, 36, stole Johnny Davis’ Social Security checks and bank funds for three months, till his packed corpse was discovered in Williamsbridge on Sunday.

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