Greek immigrants founded more than 1,500 diners in the Northeastern US between 1950 and 1970. So as a 3rd gen Greek-American my chances of being involved in the industry, in some way or form were pretty high. My grandfather was one of those immigrants that moved to the US with hopes for something better. Back when there was hope that is.
He started off with nothing. In fact, he had to borrow money for the boat ticket. He was an entrepreneur at heart and worked his ass off waiting patiently for the right opportunity. That opportunity came when he opened up his own restaurant in downtown Philly. Ernie’s restaurant.
Fast forward a couple decades to 1997. While all of my friends are enjoying the Greek islands, I am wearing an apron asking customers how they would like their steak cooked. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining here. I was making more money than I could spend – figuratively speaking that is.
The diner offered everything from pancakes to lobster tails, omelets to spaghetti, moussaka to matzoh ball soup. It was a place to gather, eat and socialize. Whether it be early morning or late at night, there was always some ridiculously over dressed, reeked-of-cheap-cologne, host or hostess to greet you and ask “Hi haney smokin’ or no?”.
You can learn a lot about somebody by watching how they eat and what they eat. Not in a stalking – creepy way. More like conducting non-scientific research on the connection between ones character, table manners and choice of food. One of my findings: A Swiss omelet for breakfast was usually eaten by somebody much more polite and neat than the Joe who chose sausage gravy and biscuits. Not that I have anything against sausage gravy, other than the fact its revolting.
There is something about that fast-paced, chaotic, super stressful environment I miss. Not sure what it is though. I financed my college years, made some great friends, and kept myself far away from the notorious Drexel parties over the weekends .
And yes, your moussaka was probably made by some dude called Jose from Oaxaca Mexico.