This was a sad weekend in Woodhaven as we bid farewell to The Avenue Diner, the popular eatery that opened its doors in March 2009 and closed for good on Sunday, a victim of a city that sometimes seems hostile to small businesses followed by a knockout punch called COVID-19.
The past few years have been hard on owner Paul Vasiliadis, as he had to reckon with onerous fines and picayune complaints from the city which were all very costly. You all remember the nonsense the businesses in Woodhaven had to put up with over the signs?
Well, all that nonsense eventually has a cost, one that Woodhaven paid this weekend.
Residents of Woodhaven gathered on Saturday outside the diner to pay tribute to Paul and thank him for his years of service and hard work for Woodhaven. In the early days of COVID-19, when restaurant after restaurant temporarily closed, The Avenue Diner remained open.
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. All the days he woke up, his body sore and tired, and yet he still came in day after day, making Paul Vasiliadis the Iron Man of Woodhaven.
We only invited a handful of people to Saturday’s gathering, but they all told a friend and we ended up with a healthy little crowd on Jamaica Avenue, our faces covered in masks, and then tears as we beckoned Paul out for a heartfelt round of applause.
“I have a tremendous amount of gratitude to the whole community,” he said to the group that gathered. “It’s not the way I envisioned going out, COVID won. We tried our best. You will all be missed, you don’t know how much.
“Thank you and please keep supporting local small businesses,” he said. “The avenue needs to keep alive and thriving.”
Raquel Olivares, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, teared up as she thanked Paul for his support of the community.
She also thanked him personally for the support he gave her when she first came to Woodhaven, taking over the position that was previously occupied by Maria Thomson, a task far more difficult than many of us appreciate.
“You were the first business I engaged when I came here and you were so supportive,” she said, bringing tears to everyone’s eyes to join her own. “I will never forget the conversations we had, they meant so much to me,”
Wanda Flores thanked Paul for giving her an opportunity. This was her first job waitressing, and she too has been a fixture at the diner over the past 11 years.
“From the beginning, it was like being part of a family,” she said. “Paul taught me from scratch, I didn’t even know how to serve a table. But Paul taught me with such patience, with such love for the people and the service.”
And Paul’s father Jimmy, a mainstay every morning at the diner, was convinced to come out for a round of applause. At 81 years old, Jimmy Vasiliadis is hanging up the apron and embarking on a well-deserved retirement.
It was an emotional day for everyone, but Paul was able to get through it with the help of his three families. His Woodhaven family came out to show their love for him, and his work family was there, going through these last few days with him.
Last but not least, his wife Alexandra and three children Demetra, Andreas and Eva were there, a bittersweet day for them as they know how disappointed he is, but knowing that for the near future at least, they’ll get to see much more of their father.
And so with the support of three families, we all bid farewell to The Avenue Diner, but we don’t say goodbye to Paul and the rest of the Vasiliadis family, because you never say goodbye to family.