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Dine and dashed: Brooklyn’s 24-hour greasy spoons are toast, insiders say

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Their orders are up.

Gravesend staple the Del Rio Diner will serve its last meal on July 24 after 40 years, and industry insiders say the iconic eatery’s closure is just an appetizer, because Brooklyn’s 24-hour mom-and-pop eateries are toast in the wake of the minimum wage hike Gov. Cuomo signed in April.

“The minimum wage, that’s what broke the camel’s back. It killed us,” said Del Rio co-owner Larry Georgeton. “The only way to compensate is you gotta hammer the menu — raise it 25 percent every year. If I was somewhere in Park Avenue Manhattan, people will pay $20 for a burger — this is Bensonhurst–Gravesend, this is working people, this is the real America, and I can’t do it to them.”

And Georgeton is not the only one hurting, an expert said.

“Very soon, all the Brooklyn diners will be gone. It’s the minimum wage, the Health Department, water bills,” said John Gavallas, a food distributor whose clients include the Del Rio, the Vegas in Dyker Heights, the Mirage in Midwood, and the Floridian in Marine Park.

The wage hike, which promises cooks $15 an hour and servers $10 an hour by 2018, is just the icing on top — lawmakers have been serving up onerous regulations for at least a decade, the insiders said. The first course was Mayor Bloomberg’s 2003 indoor smoking ban — letting patrons puff away kept them at tables longer and increased the chances they’d order more food, Georgeton said. Then Health Department enforcement went off the deep end — inspections are a necessity, but under Bloomberg’s reign, they went sour and turned into a revenue-generator for the city, Gavallas said.

Georgeton declined to say whether the regulators use his restaurants as a piggy bank, because he also co-owns the Vegas and still has to work with inspectors, but he admitted examinations are more stringent than the military’s.

“I used to be in the airforce — those inspections were easier,” said Georgeton, whose Del Rio got an A rating in June.

Diners are now a losing proposition, and Brooklyn’s are sure to go the way of Sheepshead Bay’s El Greco, which made way for condos in 2014 after operating for 40 years, he said.

“I don’t think there’s gonna be any standing in five, 10 years. Nobody in their right mind is gonna buy a diner and work it. Those days are over. They’ll knock them down and develop them,” said Georgeton.

And landlords salivating over developer cash are hiking rents — another greasy spoon is almost certain to shutter when its lease expires, said Gavallas, who declined to name the eatery.

“I have a customer in Brooklyn, his lease is up in two years and they want $30,000 a month — he’s paying $14,000 now,” he said.

Now, the only sustainable models are chains and franchises, Georgeton said.

“I guess the Chipotles, the Fridays, and the Outbacks — they’re gonna take over,” he said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.

Updated 10:00 am, July 21, 2016
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Reader feedback

Tim says:
Please support these diners. Write to the city and ask for exemptions of the minimum wage for these diners. We can prevent this from happening. Do not support the big name corporate chains.
July 21, 2016, 4:32 am
Tim says:
This article (and the owner of the Del Rio) blames the smoking ban, health department inspections, and the minimum wage on 24 hour diners closing, when in reality this has everything to do with rents going up and 1 story buildings being replaced by higher revenue condos.

Clearly, though, if requiring restaurants to pay their workers a subsistence wage is in fact leading to the end of old 24 hour diners, then they're not sustainable and should close.
July 21, 2016, 11:27 am
Tim says:
"I can't run my business unless I cheat my employees and run an unclean kitchen."

Ok.
July 21, 2016, 12:24 pm
Mike from Manhattan beach says:
I stop going to Diners years ago. The food choices are no longer attractive to me. I prefer smaller specialized restaurants. The Diners need to reinvent themselves. For example if a Diner converts to a specialty food place it will do much better and be able to charge a higher prices.
July 21, 2016, 2:40 pm
Charles from Bklyn says:
I definitely believe the city is killing small businesses with higher water bills and increased regulation designed to collect fines. However, having a minimal wage is fair and in the interest of all. A shame that big real estate gets the breaks and everyone else pays.
July 21, 2016, 2:43 pm
Bobby from Staten Island says:
The owner of Del roe is 100% right, my daughter owned a small eatery, on the last hike in min wage her salerys went up 900$ a week,when it goes ti 15$ it will go up 2400$ a week.No profit left, she will have to close.Health dept is out of control ,there just a revenue collector .real estate tax out of control.NY IS NOT BUSSINESS FRENDILY.
July 21, 2016, 3:37 pm
Frency says:
7 comments and nobody has blamed DiBlasio yet? That may be a new world record
July 21, 2016, 4:39 pm
Jim says:
I hear that the remaining diners own the property they are built on. Regardless, don't believe the hype. Support them and they might outlive this boon for Condos thanks to bloom berg and cronies.
July 21, 2016, 7:05 pm
am goodridge from crown heights/prospect heights says:
thanks a'lot mayor Bloomberg & De Blasio for destroying their local neighborhood that people live here, shop here & enjoy their life here that their called close to home. but now southern Brooklyn is the next target for gentrification that may bring that repeat the 2003 rezoning of 4th Ave, East Harlem & riverdale, the 2005 rezoning of the Williamsburg/Greenpoint shoreline, the 2008 rezoning of 125th Street & the 2010 rezoning of Astoria which may displacing local residents & small business stores in neighborhoods of color. shame on city planning for messing up their backyards that people live here & enjoying sunlight, losing our local mom&pop stores & 24/7 diners cause by high rents,water/sewer rates & real estate tax which is getting out of control by greedy real estate developers want's to make profits in our backyards & don't benefit our neighborhoods,while bringing high-end 1% luxury condos & hotels that may destroy longtime residents & homeowners that live here & if may put an end to the neighborhood in southern Brooklyn. we must hold the city & community boards accountable period.
July 21, 2016, 7:27 pm
Ray C. from Bensonhurst says:
The reason why some gentrification is happening is that some of those areas are a straight shot to Manhattan. Areas like Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, Sheepshead Bay and Gravesend will take far longer to gentrify because of the travel time to Manhattan. Look at the areas around the L Line? Prices are skyrocketing because of the convenience factor.

As for Del Rio: Business was down, yes. But far from dead. They probably got offered a truckload of money from a developer to develop the property. Someone else could have ran that place as a diner for another 20 years. I will miss that Brooklyn Omelette.
July 21, 2016, 7:43 pm
Murray from Ex Kensington says:
What a shame. One of the things I miss about Brooklyn (that and bagels). Avoid the chains (that's all we have in the south) they suck. Even Carvel sucks now. They are owned by a cooperate franchisor in Atlanta.
July 21, 2016, 8:28 pm
YuYu from Sunset Park says:
Good riddance to the smokers.
July 21, 2016, 8:45 pm
Charles says:
Call 311 and complain about the unfair treatment these diners are getting from the city. Also call your politicians and let them know how you feel.
July 22, 2016, 9:26 am
Not an Economist from Bklyn says:
Does raising minimum wage contribute to inflation?
July 22, 2016, 9:49 am
Joel from Bensonhurst says:
Bensonhurst has changed as many neighborhoods have. Fast food places have taken over. The building of condos have made the price for land sky high.It is a shame that Vegas is the only diner left in the neighborhood. How long until they sell?
July 22, 2016, 11:54 am
Paul says:
See the first 3 comments by Tim....

If you can't afford to pay a full time cook $600 a week or $30,000 a year, then you shouldn't be in the diner business, and it's past time for some commercial rent regulations to be legislated to prevent this from happening. People cannot live where there isn't affordable food. Real estate greed is spreading over the NY area like a cancer.
July 22, 2016, 12:19 pm
Derek from Brooklyn says:
If you business can't afford to pay minimum wage, then you deserve to go out of business. Tired of these whiners who can't run a business, and want to blame someone else. if minimum wage was a "problem", all businesses would be going out of business.
July 22, 2016, 1:47 pm
Barry from Flatbush says:
24 hour diners ran on cabbies and cops. I get that Uber is killing off the cabbies, but the NYPD needs to rally for the diners.
July 22, 2016, 2:05 pm
Cee from Sea Gate says:
Blaming the higher minimum wage is like plantation owners blaming the end of slavery for their troubles. Diners all over the metropolitan area are closing as tastes are changing. Also, the sons of the owners don't want to do the hard work required in running a diner.
July 23, 2016, 5:29 am
daniel hammond says:
OSHA also took on the passive smoking fraud and this is what came of it:

Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Third Edition

This sorta says it all

These limits generally are based on assessments of health risk and calculations of concentrations that are associated with what the regulators believe to be negligibly small risks. The calculations are made after first identifying the total dose of a chemical that is safe (poses a negligible risk) and then determining the concentration of that chemical in the medium of concern that should not be exceeded if exposed individuals (typically those at the high end of media contact) are not to incur a dose greater than the safe one.

So OSHA standards are what is the guideline for what is acceptable ''SAFE LEVELS''

OSHA SAFE LEVELS

All this is in a small sealed room 9x20 and must occur in ONE HOUR.

For Benzo[a]pyrene, 222,000 cigarettes.

"For Acetone, 118,000 cigarettes.

"Toluene would require 50,000 packs of simultaneously smoldering cigarettes.

Acetaldehyde or Hydrazine, more than 14,000 smokers would need to light up.

"For Hydroquinone, "only" 1250 cigarettes.

For arsenic 2 million 500,000 smokers at one time.

The same number of cigarettes required for the other so called chemicals in shs/ets will have the same outcomes.

So, OSHA finally makes a statement on shs/ets :

Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)...It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded." -Letter From Greg Watchman, Acting Sec'y, OSHA.

Why are their any smoking bans at all they have absolutely no validity to the courts or to science!
July 23, 2016, 6:09 am
PotBellyFatGuy from Brighton Beach says:
diner food SUCKS! it is for old people who have lost their taste buds. the entire meals are expensive and they are just slobs of grease. i would not pay 6 bucks for a hamburger. you also have to add tip on top of that. where is the value? and from my experience, these places just unfreeze a lot of stuff and heat it and give it to you. it is not really cooked fresh. heck subway sandwiches are fresher i shudder to say! also the diner is a business entity from the 1950s. it is not applicable to the smartphone/millennial generation. who eats there besides old people, seriously?
July 23, 2016, 7:24 am
Joe Farr from Formerly Gravesend says:
It's a shame to see Del Rio close, I remember driving car service at PDQ all night during the summer months going there for breakfast with our crew then playing touch football at Lafayette HS to work off the twin chess burger special. I believe all of the reasons as to why it is closing however the real estate value and the owners age makes the choice to close easier. I would not be surprise to see Del Rio knocked down soon for a high rise. RIP Del Rio
July 23, 2016, 7:32 am
Michael J. McFadden from Park Slope says:
The smoking ban -- the gift that keeps on giving evidently.

See this table of a thousand or so of businesses hurt and/or destroyed by smoking bans and see the words of their workers and owners.

- MJM, originally from 10th St. & 7th Avenue
July 23, 2016, 7:34 am
Jack the ripper says:
Wow make one post and you get banned for telling the truth about second hand smoke! Typical liberal censorship when you expose the truth! They don't like that

As Mike can attest to SHS is 96% water vapor and air SG report 1989 page 80. They think that's going to cause harm its not even a nuisance to flys over your table and then let's discuss those 3500 exhaled human breath chemicals then restaraunt cooking or grill smoke etc etc all equal to millions of cigs each day indoors or out and that's just a single venue and its customers and cooking for a day!
July 23, 2016, 11:11 am
Non Smoker says:
Michael J. McFadden from Park Slope is an inconsiderate pig.
July 23, 2016, 12:22 pm
Jack the smoker says:
Mike is a gentleman and a scholar besides Tearing up

Anti- smoking liars!
July 23, 2016, 12:33 pm
Bruce from Crown Heights says:
Smokers may as well be hairspraying it up. They're morning breath unbearable.
July 23, 2016, 1:20 pm
Jack the ripper says:
You anti smokers may as well get ready for the repeals of the bans they always get repealed. The last time between 1900-1917 we had 43 states with bans out of 45! All repealed by 1917 and the last one Utah in 1923 after they became the laughing stock of the country for arresting 2 businessmen and one politician for smoking in a restaraunt!

It lasted 2 weeks and then in a midnite session the governor signed the repeal of the last statewide indoor smoking ban.

Since we all know it's been nothing but lies and propaganda about smoking since around 1880 by the progressives and then alcohol in 1919 with the volstead act that ended in utter failure you people seem to think it will be diferent again!

Your even trying to pass laws outlawing obese people from restaraunts in Mississippi in 2008!

Where's it end with your total political destruction then you can go hide again for another 50 years and strike again just like this time.
July 23, 2016, 1:54 pm
Big Daddy K says:
https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/smo/risks
July 23, 2016, 5:10 pm
Jack the ripper says:
No end point proof exists to any so called smoking disease!

It's all old age diseases both smokers and non smokers get!

It's why they call it tobacco related since they have no proof to say causes anything in anyone!
July 23, 2016, 5:29 pm
Dana from Old Days Bensonhurst says:
My daughter Victoria and I love going to the Diner to have coleslaw and pickles with our Bacon Cheeseburgers Deluxe!! It's a nostalgic feeling sipping our coffee and shooting the breeze together!! Also the jutebox makes us happy too!! We will miss Del Rio Diner!!
July 23, 2016, 6:22 pm
Walt from Manhattan says:
The loss of independent, family-run diners is a real loss for people who don't want mass-produced food in a mass-produced atmosphere. And people who like to sit and talk to each other, lingering over coffee and hot apple pie and, yes (oh gasp!) even a cigarette, instead of checking their smartphones and twitter accounts every 23 seconds.

The comments from those who think small businesses can easily afford to pay a jacked-up minimum wage in addition to ever-increasing benefits, on top of soaring rents and utilitiy bills are clearly people who've never run a business or had to meet a payroll. And can blithely dismiss the result for workers--unemployment.
July 23, 2016, 7:10 pm
Guest from HK says:
“'I have a customer in Brooklyn, his lease is up in two years and they want $30,000 a month — he’s paying $14,000 now,' he said."

Something tells me that outrageous rent hikes are the bigger culprit than an increase in the minimum wage.

And that's happening all over the world.
July 23, 2016, 9:49 pm
Big Daddy K says:
http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cessation-fact-sheet
July 24, 2016, 3:51 am
jack the ripper says:
JOINT STATEMENT ON THE RE-ASSESSMENT OF THE TOXICOLOGICAL TESTING OF TOBACCO PRODUCTS"
7 October, the COT meeting on 26 October and the COC meeting on 18
November 2004.

"5. The Committees commented that tobacco smoke was a highly complex chemical mixture and that the causative agents for smoke induced diseases (such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, effects on reproduction and on offspring) was unknown. The mechanisms by which tobacco induced adverse effects were not established. The best information related to tobacco smoke - induced lung cancer, but even in this instance a detailed mechanism was not available. The Committees therefore agreed that on the basis of current knowledge it would be very difficult to identify a toxicological testing strategy or a biomonitoring approach for use in volunteer studies with smokers where the end-points determined or biomarkers measured were predictive of the overall burden of tobacco-induced adverse disease."

In other words ... our first hand smoke theory is so lame we can't even design a bogus lab experiment to prove it. In fact ... we don't even know how tobacco does all of the magical things we claim it does.

The greatest threat to the second hand theory is the weakness of the first hand theory.
July 24, 2016, 7:28 am
jack the ripper says:
Judge doesnt accept statistical studies as proof of LC causation!

It was McTear V Imperial Tobacco. Here is the URL for both my summary and the Judge’s ‘opinion’ (aka ‘decision’):

(2.14) Prof Sir Richard Doll, Mr Gareth Davies (CEO of ITL). Prof James Friend and
Prof Gerad Hastings gave oral evidence at a meeting of the Health Committee in
2000. This event was brought up during the present action as putative evidence that
ITL had admitted that smoking caused various diseases. Although this section is quite
long and detailed, I think that we can miss it out. Essentially, for various reasons, Doll
said that ITL admitted it, but Davies said that ITL had only agreed that smoking might
cause diseases, but ITL did not know. ITL did not contest the public health messages.
(2.62) ITL then had the chance to tell the Judge about what it did when the suspicion
arose of a connection between lung cancer and smoking. Researchers had attempted
to cause lung cancer in animals from tobacco smoke, without success. It was right,
therefore, for ITL to ‘withhold judgement’ as to whether or not tobacco smoke caused
lung cancer.

[9.10] In any event, the pursuer has failed to prove individual causation.
Epidemiology cannot be used to establish causation in any individual case, and the
use of statistics applicable to the general population to determine the likelihood of
causation in an individual is fallacious. Given that there are possible causes of lung
cancer other than cigarette smoking, and given that lung cancer can occur in a nonsmoker,
it is not possible to determine in any individual case whether but for an
individual’s cigarette smoking he probably would not have contracted lung cancer
(paras.[6.172] to [6.185]).
[9.11] In any event there was no lack of reasonable care on the part of ITL at any
point at which Mr McTear consumed their products, and the pursuer’s negligence
case fails. There is no breach of a duty of care on the part of a manufacturer, if a
consumer of the manufacturer’s product is harmed by the product, but the consumer
knew of the product’s potential for causing harm prior to consumption of it. The
individual is well enough served if he is given such information as a normally
intelligent person would include in his assessment of how he wishes to conduct his
life, thus putting him in the position of making an informed choice (paras.[7.167] to
[7.181]).
July 24, 2016, 7:29 am
Tommy from Bay Ridge says:
My smoking grandfather died of emphysema.
July 24, 2016, 2:38 pm
Chris from East New York says:
If a diner can't afford to pay the cook $15 an hour they're doing something wrong.
July 24, 2016, 7:08 pm
Tyler from pps says:
Seriously -- What is wrong with you guys? You want a FULL-TIME cook to earn less than $30k per year... to cook for you? On his feet for long shifts in a hot kitchen. This is OK? How little do you want him to earn?

$600 a week for 40 hours of labor.

That's what we're talking about here. If you can't pay this, go out of business and let someone else try.
July 25, 2016, 2:52 pm
Walt from Manhattan says:
A minimum wage is not a maximum wage. Which it seems you're assuming. It's more than likely the (skilled) cooks were making at least $15 an hour --or more if they were good and had been there for a time. Traditionally workers get raises based on time as well as merit. That's how employers keep good employees. The question is whether the unskilled bus boy or dishwasher hired yesterday or the many waitresses /waiters who get tips on top of their base pay should start off or be raised to the new minimum. Small business owners are not major corporations; the owners themselves work as hard as their employees and make a slim profit. As the owner here says, it's basic math. He'd have to raise menu prices beyond the r ach of his customers which would make him lose customers. A lose-lose proposition.
July 25, 2016, 4:03 pm
Paul from Bensonhurst says:
Democrats have destroyed communities like South Brooklyn, plain and simple. From Bay Ridge to Marine Park, the small business is an endangered species thanks to a bloated and corrupt government that's in bed with the corporations and the lobbyists. The $15 minimum wage will wreck small businesses, and we'll have NOTHING but fast-food, Walgreens, and Chase banks. Wake up, stop voting for liberal Democrats like Cuomo, Colton, Gentile and Abbate, and start voting for your neighborhood. Enough is enough.
July 25, 2016, 6:34 pm
Huguito from Bensonhurst says:
The employees need to make money too. I dream NYC of the 80'
July 26, 2016, 12:38 pm
Allan says:
Of course smoking bans negatively affect the business of mom and pop restaurants(especially their late night business) moreso than chain restaurants, why wouldn't they? Secondhand smoke has always been a farce, IMO, and a false guise used to scare more governments and individual businesses into banning smoking(which sadly has worked a lot).

I see a lot of turnover of diners in the Chicago area that used to have more regular and steady business, before smoking bans affected restaurants years ago. And if the business hasn't sold off to another owner, the owner probably had to compensate for decreased business in another way such as reducing hours to breakfast and lunch only, like what the now closed(as of 2015) Jack's Restaurant in Skokie did after a local restaurant smoking ban in the early 2000s.
Sept. 2, 2016, 4:13 pm

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