Volume 79, Number 5 | July 8 - 14, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

Say it ain’t so Joe (Jr.)!

Beloved Village diner Joe Jr. served up its last order on Sunday after 45 years in the neighborhood.

The landmark greasy spoon, at the corner of Sixth Ave. and 12th St., has been owned by the same family since 1977 and became a staple over the years for locals looking for no-frills comfort food.

After a note appeared in the diner’s window last week stating that the owners had lost their lease, an outpouring of support came in the form of a petition seeking to save the restaurant, as well as long lines over the weekend and a steady stream of eulogies from grief-stricken customers.

Owner Eleftherios “Teddy” Hondros explained that lease negotiations stalled when the landlord refused to agree on a long-term deal and attempted to charge the restaurateurs for damages stemming from a fire in the basement early last week. The parties had originally agreed to a three-year lease renewal, Hondros said, before the landlord tried to saddle him with the cost of repairs resulting from the blaze.

“I made the decision to go because I don’t want to stay,” he told Mixed Use a day after closing, noting that a series of short-term leases through the years didn’t provide enough security. “I need to find a space that’s more than a 10-year lease.”

Hondros also acknowledged that the landlord, Sal Iuso, and his sons “don’t want food operations” due to the conditions brought on by restaurant use, including an increase in insurance rates. But rather than try to stick it out and negotiate another short-term deal with Iuso — who Hondros noted has been more agreeable to work with than his sons — the longtime owner decided to throw in the towel.

“After 33 years, I’ve had a good time with these people,” Hondros said of his loyal clientele, many of whom learned of the closure only a day or two before it happened. “Lots of friends, lot of families — beautiful people in that neighborhood.”

One devoted patron, Elissa Stein, has lived across the street from Joe Jr. for the past 14 years and started the petition after seeing the note in the window last week.

“I was so distraught,” said Stein, who began the drive just three days before the restaurant shuttered, and still gathered nearly 1,500 signatures. “It’s a home away from home.”

Stein fondly recalled that the diner sent a massive order to her St. Vincent’s Hospital room after she gave birth to her daughter — “enough food to feed the entire maternity floor,” she quipped — and promised to hire the girl when she turned 12.

“I’ve never walked by Joe’s without somebody waving at me,” Stein said. “It was that for so many people. It’s a black hole now.”

Hondros, whose son Gregory ran day-to-day operations at Joe Jr., said the family will wait a couple of months before searching for a new location, preferably in the Village.

“This is my life. I love restaurants, I love to cook,” the elder Hondros said. “But I don’t think it’s going to be easy for me over there because the rent is high.”

And despite reports of a possible reprieve at the Sixth Ave. location, the grill has been turned off for good and staff have been busy dismantling the restaurant. Stein was one of the lucky few to snag a menu for posterity, and she said that sentimental regulars have been trying to get their hands on everything from plates to saltshakers.

“I’m all out, completely,” Hondros added of the closure. “Now it’s all over.”

Planning’s new commish

Borough President Scott Stringer tapped West Side advocate and community board force Anna Hayes Levin as his first-ever appointee to the City Planning Commission.

Levin, a land-use expert who recently stepped down from Community Board 4 (covering Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen), has remained active as chairperson of the Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee.

While her paid, part-time position on the 13-member commission is still subject to City Council approval, Levin’s likely appointment marks the culmination of nearly a decade of work on the West Side.

“The experience of having seen the process from beginning to end, and that land-use expertise that I acquired in the process, I believe was very relevant to Scott and his decision,” Levin said, noting her contributions to more than 60 ULURP (uniform land use review procedure) applications during her eight-year tenure with C.B. 4. “Obviously, I’m going to remain true to where I came from as someone who’s keenly attuned to the importance of understanding all aspects of the application,” she continued. “What I certainly learned through the community board process is ensuring that the legitimate concerns of the local community are taken into account. It’s got to make sense from the land-use perspective over all, but it also has to make sense locally.”

A Yale grad with a law degree from N.Y.U., Levin’s career as a corporate lawyer instilled an attention to detail she will no doubt need to analyze land-use applications.

“She’s a blockbuster choice,” Stringer added. “If this was the NFL draft, she was the first pick in the draft.”

“This is not anything that I could have ever predicted when I got into community board work eight years ago, knowing nothing about land use work,” Levin said. “Life takes some interesting twists and turns. Who would have guessed?”


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