It’s true that a litany of diners has closed over the past couple decades — and yet, with those closings, the lamenting of our losses is leading to a resurrection of them over the past couple of years.
The revival started around the reopening of Empire Diner, the debut of MeMe’s Diner, the all-day Golden Diner, hotel-adjacent Soho Diner, and Thai Diner, followed by Old John’s relaunch uptown. It was followed by projects like the takeover of Three Decker Diner from the Variety Coffee folks, as well as the overhaul of Kellogg’s, set for later this year. There are also the openings of places like Revelie and the S&P, both in Manhattan, and Salty Lunch Lady’s Little Luncheonette. And you can probably call Superiority Burger a diner of sorts, residing in the little-changed interiors of what had been Odessa for decades.
So it should come as no surprise that someone is opening a new 24-hour diner, with the wildly straightforward name, Diner 24 NYC, located at 283 Third Avenue, at East 22nd, on track to open on or around February 6. Where once 24-hours were commonplace, servicing both late-night revelers and those off of a work shift, since the pandemic they’ve become rare. Superiority Burger offers late-night service, now under the direction of Chrissy’s Pizza. Kellogg’s Diner, once 24-hours, will restore some late-night service. Three Decker stays open until 10 p.m., midnight, or 2 a.m., depending on the day.
The latest comes from the restaurateur with nine lives, Stratis Morfogen. Best known, at the moment, for franchising his automated concept, Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, there are about 24 locations open, as well as a 110-unit Canadian deal that’s been inked, and more in the works. The concept offers traditional Chinese-style dumplings as well as troubling combinations like peanut butter and jelly or pepperoni pizza stuffed into wonton wrappers — on a menu that’s likened to “classic diner staples.”
Brooklyn Dumpling Shop is one of many restaurants Morfogen has launched in a lifetime of opening restaurants. Others include the Greek spot with regular defendant Todd English, Pappas Taverna — an alleged revival of his grandfather’s restaurant that ended a month later. He also founded Brooklyn Chop House in Times Square and Fidi; and he started Philippe Chow and Jue Lan Club — both of which have been long runs that have had their own high-profile lawsuits either while he was an owner, or after.
Now, a diner property has, he says, fallen into his lap. Having come from a diner family — his was called Hilltop Diner in Hillcrest, Queens, and before that, Atlantis on Long Island — he was approached, he says, by the owner of the building that used to house two other diners, first Lyric, then Tivoli, both closed. “I miss your father,” the owner apparently said, and he wanted to rent the property to someone who would carry on the diner legacy. (Stratis’s father was John Morfogen, a native of Sparta, Greece).
Morfogen takes the stand that, today, regardless of what has happened to 24-hour venues, New York remains a round-the-clock city. And he wants to highlight that aspect of its identity. That’s why he went with the name Diner 24 NYC in the upcoming restaurant he’s opening with his partner, Philippe Bondon, who also works with him at Brooklyn Chop House. Naming a restaurant for the search term is, apparently, becoming more of a thing.
Unlike old timey diners, the key to today’s version, he claims, is SEO marketing and tech. “My dad’s version of tech was my mother behind the counter on a Casio register,” he says.
Even with a tech-forward diner, the bones of the place and the offerings on the menu adhere to diner culture, with updated details. The menu offers double and triple 12-ounce smash burgers with sriracha mayo, vegetarian Mediterranean dips with pita, and gyros carved tableside. Breakfast will be available around the clock with items like stuffed french toast with berries, and specials like $49 bottomless brunch. Expect outliers like marinated lamb chops, dry-aged prime meats, and Greek dishes like orzo stews. And yes, there will be milkshakes, egg creams, cocktails, and wine.
The fully-gutted space offers an open kitchen behind the counter, 90 seats inside and 90 outside, as well as (manufactured) nostalgic accouterments like plenty of neon and a coin-operated pay phone by the restrooms.
Morfogen is as over-the-top enthusiastic as he’s ever been with one of his restaurant projects, though he’s especially into the concept behind the name of this one.
“I can’t wait,” he says, “to get rid of the keys the day we open.”