Tower Diner stands proud in Forest Hills
by Michael Perlman
Jun 11, 2019 | 9490 views | 0 0 comments | 198 198 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At a time when mom-and-pop shops are displaced due to rising rents and redevelopment, Tower Diner at 98-95 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills is determined to continue serving Queens.

Tower Diner was opened on October 26, 1993, by Jimmy Gatanas and his wife Anthi. Today, the business is co-owned by their children, Spiro and John Gatanas.

“From the very first day, people embraced us and became loyal customers and friends,” said Spiro, who has worked with his brother at Tower Diner since day one.

Their parents moved to New York from Greece in 1966.

“My parents, like many other Greek families, started working in the restaurant business when they first came to this country,” said Spiro.

Jimmy Gatanas owned restaurants in Manhattan for over 35 years, and then decided to open a restaurant closer to his Queens home. Spiro reminisced,

“Jimmy fell in love with the architecture of the building and the neighborhood, and decided to bring his passion and hospitality to this beautiful Queens community,” said Spiro. “The name ‘Tower’ was chosen because of the clock tower that was added to the building when it was a bank.”

Tower Diner has become a go-to spot for special events, and has enticed the palates of notables such as Borough President Melinda Katz, Alan Hevesi, Al Sharpton, Al Roker, Ti-Hua Chang, and Alonzo Mourning.

“Tower Diner has been feeding me for years,” said Betty Steinman. “I'm a busy professional with little time to cook, and I'm very grateful for the friendliness and service they have provided. I often joke that I have a team of personal chefs.”

Today, Tower Diner employs approximately 40 people.

“Many employees have been with us from the time we opened and have become a part of our Tower family,” said Spiro.

The Gatanas family has seen the changes in the neighborhood in recent years, but remains proud of the traditions that made Tower Diner a community institution.

“We are successful because we work hard, try to keep our prices reasonable while never compromising on quality, and we give everyone who sits around our tables a taste of everything we've experienced, making them feel a part of the Tower family,” said Spiro.

In July 2016, Spiro and John opened Dinerbar at 97-45 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, a restaurant that combines a diner with a bar.

“While Tower Diner is a traditional diner, Dinerbar offers a twist on the classic diner experience with a diverse menu, full bar, and live music on Thursday nights,” explained Spiro.

Tower Diner has hosted several fundraisers, including one to benefit St. Jude’s. The family also sponsors sports teams at PS 175 and Forest Hills High School, as well as donated to nearby schools.

“This country was built on mom-and-pop businesses, where strong family values can prove productive and stabilize the structure and dynamics of the business,” added Spiro. “Our parents taught us that through hard work comes success, and we were also taught to be kind to people and give back to our community.”

Carol Davidson Hagarty is hopeful for the future, since other neighborhood staples she once admired are now memories.

“Sadly, this is one of the last diners and local places with a sense of history on Queens Boulevard,” she said.

Tower Diner has become a family tradition for many patrons.

Whenever my mom comes to visit from the Bronx, we eat here,” said Joan Steele. “My husband David also enjoys it very much. The service is always great, and we always love our favorite waiter Luciano.”

“My best memory is taking my son Dustin to eat there every Wednesday after his Bar Mitzvah lessons,” said Andrea Schwartz. “Our waitress, Olga, has been there from the days when my kids were really young.”

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