Scobee forced to shut its doors

Gus Xikis looks last week at Scobee Diner's many accolades hung on its walls. The diner is slated to close at the end of the month. Photo by Christina Santucci

After being a staple in the community for more than 40 years, the Scobee Diner in Little Neck will close its doors permanently at the end of this month, the restaurant’s owners said.

The owners said they were unable to extend their lease with the landlord, the Hageman family, who they said wanted at least double the rent they currently pay. When the owners offered to purchase the site, they said the landlord’s asking price was “sky high.” The owners are expected to close up shop Nov. 28, before their lease is set to expire in January. The Hagemans could not be reached for comment.

“We’re very sad to leave,” said Harry Pallas, a co-owner of the restaurant that employs about 40 people and is at 252-29 Northern Blvd. “It’s a way of life for many people to come here.”

The diner, which opened June 22, 1965, has a huge fan base, including former CIA Director George Tenet, who worked as a busboy at Scobee’s in the 1960s and whose letter from 1997 to one of the owners is proudly hung on the wall at the entrance of the restaurant. Tenet’s family owned a restaurant at the same site before it was sold in the 1960s and named the Scobee Diner.

Upon entering the establishment, diners are immediately greeted by photos of hundreds of happy faces from people who have spent much of their time eating the beloved seven-layer cake and green pea soup, including former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and a host of New York Mets pitchers. There are a countless number of comments posted in Facebook fan groups that note Scobee’s was their favorite high school hangout or place to celebrate birthdays.

A poem entitled “Ode to the Scobee Grill” hangs on the wall and lauds the place that it says has “Old World charm” and lets you “get away from the hustle and bustle of life’s hectic chores.”

It is not simply a place where people eat, Pallas and fellow co-owner Gus Xikis said. It has been a place where people congregate, where they spend hours debating politics or catching up on family stories.

“It’s a place where relationships have been built,” said Ron Freifeld, a regular customer who ran Bay Chevrolet in Douglaston for 40 years and now lives in Franklin Square, L.I. “We came here because of the way they conducted their business and ended up forming personal relationships that took us to each others’ weddings and birthdays.”

Freifeld said when he came through the door on Thursdays, the waiters and waitresses always knew it was because he wanted the day’s special: green pea soup and steak chips.

“When I wouldn’t come in on Thursday, they’d call and say, ‘Aren’t you coming in?’” he laughed. “They’d tell me their steak fries would be running out but that they’d save some for me. This place is going to be sorely missed.”

Dana Jaffe, a Little Neck resident for 38 years, said she was “simply shocked” by the news the diner was closing.

“I remember going to the Scobee alone, at times when no friend or family was available, when I just wanted to enjoy a meal, either up at the counter, or sitting at a small table with my newspaper,” Jaffe wrote in a letter. “The managers, waiters and waitresses got to know me and always made me feel welcome and at home. I shall miss this familiar spot in the neighborhood deeply.”

As the owners looked around their diner last week, at a place that began as a small restaurant with little more than 100 seats in a railroad car, they said they know they are proud of their run. And after decades of watching the customers grow up, of seeing so many people have children and then grandchildren, they know it will be more than hard to wave goodbye.

“We love our customers,” said Xikis, who worked his way up from cook to owner at the diner. “We want to thank them, all the customers who stood behind us all these years.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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