Yes, he knows that diners are closing left and right on Long Island, but that didn’t stop Gus Tsiorvas from buying Bethpage’s 62-year-old Embassy Diner.
“I'm a diner guy," he said, "and I believe in diners."
Instead of stainless steel paneling or paintings of Santorini, the dominant decorative element here is the American flag. Old Glories circle the roofline, hang in the windows inside and out. The counter is festooned with stars-and-stripes bunting, and each booth is hung with a wreath made from red, white and blue stars. Which all started to make sense when Tsiorvas told me that his father Peter is one of the partners at Oconee Diner in Islip, whose seasonal decorations — from beach balls in summer to giant nutcrackers for Christmas — make the Embassy’s look downright restrained.
Gus, born in 1980, was barely 10 when he started working at his father’s then-diner, the Seaford Palace. When Peter Tsiorvas and partners bought the Oconee in 2001, Gus rose to manager. But earlier this year, he decided it was time to strike out on his own, “to build something for me and my family.”
He said that the former owners of the Embassy, both close to 80 years old, had a few offers for their lease, but money was not their only criterion. “They sat down with me and said, ‘please, we need to make sure this will always be a diner.’ And I said, ‘that’s all I know how to do. You have my word it will always be a diner.’”
Tsiorvas took over in April; now his task is “to take the Embassy to the next level.” He wants it to ascend to that top tier that includes the Oconee. That will take more than flags and he knows it. He’s refreshing the interior, replacing some tables and booths and all the carpeting. He’s brought in a new chef and a new baker who are making everything from scratch.
Long-departed favorites, such as beef goulash, pepper steak and lamb shanks, are back, and Gus's brother Billy, an NYPD cop who manages the diner part time, has added some contemporary items that have proved popular with the “overnight” crowd: A grilled cheese that also includes turkey and bacon, a chicken-bacon-honey-BBQ panino or quesadilla, an “Italian grilled cheese” that is filled with “mozzarella stuffed with three mozzarella sticks.”
The Embassy is open Sunday to Thursday from 6 to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday all day and all night. Tsiorvas, who lives in Wantagh, expects to be there during all his waking hours. "I'm the face of this place," he said. "I seat the customers, I make sure they are enjoying their meals."
A lot of diner owners wish they could trim their massive menus without inciting a customer revolt. Gus is having none of that.
“I’m old school,” he said. “I see people putting their dinner menu on one sheet of paper, changing their counter into a bar. But a diner should have a counter and a big menu. A diner is a diner.”
The Embassy Diner is at 4280 Hempstead Tpke., Bethpage, 516-796-1132.