Last week, I saw the following message posted by a good friend on Facebook: “Feeling a bit bummed. One year ago yesterday was an end of an era for me. Missing all of my Woodhaven family and friends; wishing you all the best!”
This was written by Paul Vasiliadis, whose Avenue Diner closed one year ago after a long struggle with COVID-19 and New York City.
There were many replies from friends and family and customers and staff. Wanda Flores, longtime waitress at the Avenue Diner, said “I miss you and Mr. Jimmy [Paul’s father] every day. You always gave your best and that is why you are so missed. Love you always.”
Former customer Wilda Melendez said: “It breaks my heart when Nadira and I walk past the diner and there is nothing there. It truly was a family diner. It was a light in our community. You and your family made it that.”
And another customer, Daisy Croke posted: “We miss you too. Woodhaven is not the same without you.”
It’s not easy to watch bad things happen to good people. And Paul and his father Jimmy and the rest of the staff of the Avenue Diner were good people who had become family to many people here in Woodhaven.
I never met a more hardworking man than Paul Vasiliadis. In over 11 years operating the diner, Paul took off a total of 30 days. That’s 30 days off out of 4,150, covering weekends and holidays and snow days.
That covers all the days he woke up, his body sore and tired, and yet he still came in day after day, making Paul Vasiliadis Woodhaven’s Iron Man.
In the early days of COVID-19, when restaurant after restaurant temporarily closed, The Avenue Diner remained open. It was a struggle, but Paul kept at it and the many customers who depended on the diner, particularly seniors, were never disappointed.
But the City of New York was relentless in their harassment of small businesses over signage and other minor issues, hitting essential businesses like the Avenue Diner with onerous fines that made it impossible in many cases to survive.
Their fines and harassment may have not closed all the businesses, but it certainly set them up to perish once COVID-19 came along. And even then, the city was unstoppable when it came to penalizing and punishing small businesses like the Avenue Diner.
Young men can ride bikes and ATVs up and down our streets, terrorizing pedestrians, but they won’t catch a fine from our city. People can defecate on Forest Parkway, and there will be no one coming along to write them tickets.
Our city doesn’t like moving targets. Hardworking people who show up to their businesses day in, day out to serve our communities are easy targets for income by our greedy and heartless city.
And so, I see Paul’s words and I am sad. But I am also angry because it didn’t need to be this way. The Avenue Diner may have been foiled by COVID, but it was the city that weakened them enough to allow that to happen. Never forget that.
On his next to last day in Woodhaven, residents, customers and friends gathered outside the eatery to let Paul and his staff and his family know how sad we were and how much we were going to miss them all.
“You were the first business I engaged with when I came here and you were so supportive. I will never forget the conversations we had, they meant so much to me,” said Raquel Olivares, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District.
Paul’s wife, Alexandra, and their three children Demetra, Andreas and Eva, and his father Jimmy were touched by the gathering of residents, many of whom were there right from the beginning.
My wife and I were blessed to be there that day, in March of 2009, when the Avenue Diner opened. It was filled with hope and optimism, they had already put in so much work just to reach opening day.
I wonder if they would have stuck with it had they known how hard it was going to be, and already I know the answer is yes. People who are successful have a special work ethic, and Paul Vasiliadis embodies that and he will succeed again.
We should have a city that supports and lifts up and rewards people like Paul. I guess this was just a long way of saying that this city stinks and I miss my friend.