In October 1993, Tower Diner was opened by Jimmy Gatanas and his wife Anthi in the Colonial clock tower-adorned Emigrant Savings Bank building on Queens boulevard in Forest Hills.
Today, the business is co-owned by their children, Spiro Gatanas and John Gatanas, who have worked at the diner since day one.
The brothers expanded the business in July 2016 when they opened the nearby DinerBar, a modern destination with an Art Deco vibe.
“Tower Diner has been a community staple for 27 years, and the birth of DinerBar has also been a very positive recent development,” Spiro said. “Our family-owned restaurants offer the true definition of a neighborhood feel. Tower Diner is your old-school diner, while DinerBar is more of a date night, birthday, and brunch hotspot in Queens that merges two classic American concepts.”
Natives of Greece, Anthi and Jimmy made New York their home in 1966. Today, Spiro lives in Manhasset with his wife Kelly and three daughters, and John lives in Little Neck with his wife Maria and three children.
“My parents, like many other Greek families, began working in the restaurant business when they first came to this country,” said Spiro. “‘Philoxenia,’ also known as hospitality, is what they knew and wanted to share with others.”
The Gatanas family has organized several fundraisers, including one to support St. Jude’s, sponsored sports teams at PS 175 and Forest Hills High School, and donated to nearby schools.
But the pandemic has been very challenging for small businesses. It is estimated that one-third of small businesses throughout New York City will not survive the pandemic, but Spiro and John are determined to beat the odds.
“More than half of our staff had to go on unemployment when inside dining was banned in March,” said Spiro. “We had to implement new measures to keep our staff and guests safe. In the summer, we were fortunate to have been given the opportunity to have outdoor dining.”
But they now feel that Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are undermining their passion and diligent work as small business owners who prioritize their community.
“They put our side of Queens Boulevard into a COVID-19 red zone one week after we were allowed indoor at 25 percent capacity,” Spiro said. “They took all outdoor seating away and made our restaurants takeout and delivery only once again, while across Queens Boulevard outdoor dining remained. These rules make no sense.”
He noted how the city separated parts of Forest Hills and Rego Park into red, orange, and yellow zones, and yet residents in a red zone can dine across the street and return to their homes.
“You make New York your residence and work extremely hard to live in our beautiful free country, but Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have destroyed the small business blueprint,” Spiro said. “They do not understand that small business owners are not only hanging by a thread, but so are their employees.”
Spiro feels a more effective solution is for businesses to consistently practice safety procedures.
“Temperature check your staff and make sure the store is sanitized correctly,” he said. “We simply need to adhere to the Department of Health’s safety plan that all restaurants must practice.
“You cannot travel eight miles to Nassau County and have indoor and outdoor dining accessible without having to check your guests’ temperatures and logging their name, address, and phone number, but then in Queens we are being placed into red zones and taking jobs away from employees with families,” Spiro added. “Our mayor and governor need to work with us and make a sensible plan straight across the board at once.”