08 February 2011

Pete's Cafe Without Pete

I was in The Bronx recently, waiting for a bus, when I noticed what looked like a nice old school diner on E. Fordham Road. I peered inside. Counter, stools, booths, veteran waitresses. A sign that said "Fordham Students 10% off." Looked nice, if a bit tacky. (Plastic plants, fake Tiffany lamps.) Then I saw a large oval decade stuck to the glass front door. It showed a portrait of a man with long dark hair, thick dark eyebrows and an elaborate waxed mustache worthy of Dali. There was a cross over his head and the legend "2-2-2010. RIP" below.

The figure depicted must be Pete himself, I surmised, and Pete must have died. I digged around, and found my supposition, sadly, to be correct. He was Pete Nikolopoulos and he was struck down by a heart attack on the date indicated, while on a trip to Sparta, Greece. He was 56. Pete came to America from Greece in 1976 and began working at the diner as a busboy. In 1978, the Greek couple who owned the diner sold it to young Pete. (He was just 24 at the time—think of it.)

He was beloved by locals, particularly generations of Fordham students and educators. Students often went there late at night to nurse hangovers. One professor of media studies regularly sent students there on assignment to write a restaurant review of the scrambled eggs.

The diner now sells t-shirt with Pete's visage on it. It is currently run by Pete's widow, Anna (who, incidentally, never liked the mustache).


fifilaru said...

Thanks, that is fabulous!! I love stories like this, except of course for the death. Too bad Pete is gone. I grew up in that area.

Ken Mac said...