Garden Grill, a greasy spoon staple on Graham Avenue in the eastern section of Williamsburg, will close on February 25 after 21 years in business. Owner Gus Karasakalides tells Eater the reason is a conflict with his landlord.
According to Karasakalides, landlords Chris and Donna Siafakes — who are also the owners of iconic Greenpoint doughnut shop Peter Pan — haven’t given him a lease in five years, making it impossible to plan for the future of the business. He says that while Siafakes raised the rent from $2,900 to $11,000 a month five years ago, it’s the refusal to offer a commitment and a lease — more than the cost — that’s forced him to close down.
Donna Siafakas, reached at Peter Pan this morning, says she’s evicting Karasakalides and is taking him to court over three months of back rent, water bills, taxes, and the cost of paying off a department of buildings fine allegedly incurred when Karasakalides took a wall down without their permission. In total, Siafakas claims she is owed $100,000. “It hurts me to see that store close,” she says. She plans to fix up the building, potentially expanding into the backyard and adding another level for apartments, when the restaurant closes.
For their part, the Karasakalides deny that they owe Siafakas any money, and say the building violation is unrelated to anything they’ve done.
Garden Grill, which serves a classic Greek diner array of dishes, has a clientele of neighborhood old timers, families, and newer, younger transplants, as well as a solid delivery business. It employs 20 workers, many of whom have been with them from the beginning. Karasakalides says he’s spoken to some other landlords but doesn’t want to make plans to reopen or relocate until he’s had some time to regroup following the closing.
Garden Grill isn’t the only longtime diner losing its lease or having to close. Diners are a rapidly endangered dining genre in New York City; the last couple of years have seen the closure of a handful of these old-school establishments, including the West Village’s Hudson Diner just last month. Over in Elmhurst, Queens, 40-year-old Georgia Diner will shutter in March and combine with nearby Nevada Diner, owned by the same person.
Update: This article was updated with Karasakalides’ denial of Siafakes’ claims on 2/16.