The Mediterranean Diner in Bellmore, which closed on Sept. 8,...

The Mediterranean Diner in Bellmore, which closed on Sept. 8, 2023. Credit: Chronis Tsempelis

Diners were already struggling with changing dining habits when the pandemic dealt many of them a fatal blow. Bellmore’s Mediterranean Diner is the latest to join a casualty list that includes, in part, the Lantern Diner in West Hempstead, Seven Seas Diner in Great Neck, Paradise Diner in Hauppauge, the Plainview Diner and Franklin Square Diner.

“We were doing pretty well until COVID,” said Pete Tsempelis, who owns the 26-year-old diner with his brother, Chronis. “But, unlike a lot of other diners, we didn’t have our own parking lot where we could set up a tent. A lot of our customers found other places that had outdoor dining and when we reopened, we found that people didn’t come back, or they didn’t come back as often.”

The lack of sales made a challenging situation unsustainable. And the Tsempelis brothers say it all comes down to menu prices.

“It won't do us any good now,” Chronis said, “but I wish customers would understand that the era of diners serving big, cheap portions is over." In the past, he explained, “diners were supposed to be places where you could get a lot of food for not a lot of money. But people don’t realize that diners pay the same amount for food as restaurants do.”

Chimed in Pete, “Customers will say, ‘If I’m going to spend $18 on a burger, I’m going to go to a restaurant. But our food costs, our payroll, our insurance, taxes and utilities — they are the same as that restaurant’s. And when a diner raises the prices, there’s this perception that the owners are being greedy.”

It gets worse. Pete pointed out that most people who come to a diner for a burger only have a burger. “Now sometimes they don’t even have a soda,” he said. Whereas at the restaurant they will order a beer or a glass of wine and maybe an appetizer, all of which adds to check total.

Chronis said that while breakfast and lunch were still OK, dinner has fallen off a cliff. “We do a fair amount of takeout, but then you have to buy all those paper products. The delivery services take 30% of the check and the dining room is half-empty.”

And it gets worse. “If there aren’t enough tables, any good server is going to leave. So you get a revolving door of servers, you have to hire people you wouldn’t ordinarily want to hire. Customers come in and then they write on Facebook, ‘the food was good but the service stank.’ It’s a vicious, negative cycle.”

The brothers have spent their lives in the hospitality business, working for their father at his seafood restaurants Pier 3 in Amityville back in the '70s, and later, at High Seas in Huntington. In 2021 they opened Avenue Social Kitchen & Cocktails just across the street from the diner in Bellmore. That’s where they will be spending most of their time now, as they decide whether to sell or lease the diner space or, perhaps, open another restaurant.


 

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