Some impressions of Empire Diner friends...

... read more after the break ...


Last days of the Diner

We sit now in The Empire Diner soaking in something we've never before experienced here-Silence.
Sunlight shines through the 10th ave. windows, gleams off the Chromed Black Chairs that are up on the tables making this beacon of warmth look like a Retro-Futuristic Kindergarten Classroom waiting for the happy hungry noisy kids to return.

They will not return.

Two days ago, Friday Night, we served our last meals at the World's Most Famous Diner. The crowds came early and we were busy to the end. I came up from the basement prep kitchen and overheard bits of conversation; people remembering past meals here, past encounters, past celebrity sightings.
Different menu items ran out through the evening one by one- Lamb Burgers 86 ed at 10:30, Fish & Chips just past Noon, Grilled Chicken Cutlets around 9:45. We sat at table 82 in the cafe having a beer and trying to keep our smiles on when, just after I heard the waiters passing the word that our Hamburgers were gone, I got a text message from the kitchen-"Shut it down, we're down to Eggs and White Bread."

At 11:15 we closed the kitchen and I chatted with the couple sharing the last meal to come from our kitchen-a plate of French Toast, sliced banana already devoured. They had come here for their first date years ago, she said, and were now married for some time. I thanked them, picked up their tab and said goodnight to my business partner, to staff, and gathered my own wife and her bag into a cab.

Saturday morning Debra and I returned to the Diner to prepare for our Wrap Up Party- an intimate affair for 250 or so of our closest friends. Wine and Brie en Croute, Huge bowls of Chili, Beef and Turkey Sliders, Hummus, Giant Frittatas, Renate working like a smiling Mad Scientist at the Punch Bowls, re-mixing the liquors and the Lemon Ice as the day went on, always changing, always tasty and alwayseffective! A pair of rambling off the cuff speeches, a shout out to Carl who helped start it all in '76: the Diner, the Icon, The whole Chelsea Renaissance. An enormous Carrot cake cut into slices- four us us cutting, plating, traying.

All day and into the night former waiters, guests, managers who had once worked with us returned to say farewell, their faces, some burnished by time, some bearing the years with less grace, all expressed the grief of our departure, the joy of our shared memories.

A wonderfully boisterous party with Seniors parked by the counter, Renate's grand daughters and friend gently slipping through the maze of giant grown-ups, three babies, a couple of toddlers, one former waitress returned with her husband and growing clan, the sweet reporter from WNYC with her boyfriend, the former manager/waitress Betsy stirring up the crowd when she was hoisted aloft by her neck- (Don't Ask!), plans for future Empire Diners discussed, Photos taken, poems exchanged, hugs lingered over and departed friends remembered.

Again I took Debra and our daughter Sarah home early, exhausted in mind and body, and later heard that the festivities went on into the late night with some dancing, some declarations of love, some tears. It was just like any great party that lasted 34 years.


The last day...

Well friends, the day we have dreaded has arrived; this, our last morning at the Empire Diner on 10th & 22nd has broken clear and bright, and soft Spring breezes make sitting at our Sidewalk Cafe a real treat. This is your last chance to dine there or in our Black Glass, Mirror and Stainless Steel interior.

The last chance to have one of our omelets at the Counter, a burger and a beer at one of our tables.

Come to us, Pilgrim, and take sustenance for Body and Soul on this day of Leave Taking and Goodbyes.

Our doors will close at Midnight tonight, so join the crowd and get toasted- (I know I will)

See Ya'.


Across the Black Glass

Friends, we are nearing the end of our stay here on the corner of 22nd and 10th.

As Spring and its promise of change and renewal quickens our pulses and heightens our optimism, we find ourselves packing our bags to leave what has been home to us for over three decades; we say goodbye to the friends we've made, the strangers we have fed and charmed, to those who have met future lovers, spouses, one-night flings, and mortal enemies here in our oasis of cool warmth and cold beer.

We are also touched by the fond memories and the outpourings of affection we have received since we announced our departure.

We are touched to the point of tears.

We always had an inkling that the Empire Diner was a Big Deal, but when you've been intimately involved with its day-to-day operation for well nigh three decades, you don't have an appreciation of what it has meant to so many who have passed through its doors, read about it in Guide Books, seen it in movies or ads, or just caught a glimpse of the flashing lights, EAT sign, and Stainless Steel Spire on the corner of its roof.

We expect to soon be moving into new quarters, new kitchen, new office, new job.

We hope to have fresher, better iterations of the Empire Diner in the near future, and we will grow to love our new digs and the new friends we make there, but.


This has been our home and our love, our misery and our joy for the better part of our lives, and it tears at our souls to be leaving here.

We hope to see you at our New Empire Diner, wherever it will be.

Keep reading this page for news and updates.

In the meantime - "Be Kind, For Every Person You Meet Is Fighting A Great Battle." -- Philo

New York Times Blog

Dinersjournal Blog

Customer notes...

...just a incomplete collection of some customer notes...

Empire Diner To Close

After more than thirty years of serving Chelsea residents, actors, police commissioners, athletes, gangsters, such luminaries as Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, and anyone carrying a New York City Guide Book, the Empire Diner has lost its lease and is closing its doors May 15th, 2010.

Renate Gonzalez and Mitchell Woo are facing the bittersweet task of closing this iconic New York institution on 22nd and 10th while actively looking for sites to open a new Empire Diner.

The search is on for appropriate real estate in and around New York City, as well as abroad, on which to develop both new Empire Diners and Burger Rebels eateries.

Inasmuch as the Empire Diner will no longer be in its original location, the plan is to bring the Empire Diner Experience to neighborhoods around the world.

The Empire Diner was closed and nearly abandoned in 1976 when three young New Yorkers-Jack Doenias, Carl Laanes, and Richard Ruskay, renovated the former greasy spoon on then-grungy 10th Ave. and turned it into the landmark restaurant it has become. With its Chrome and Black interior, traveling marquee lights, outdoor cafĂ©, flashing “EAT” sign, and stainless steel Empire State building silhouette, the Empire Diner became a major force in the Chelsea Renaissance that allowed art galleries, hotels, and other restaurants to replace the machine shops, gas stations and auto parts stores that then dominated the landscape.

After the passing of Doenias and Ruskay, surviving partner Carl Laanes sold the operation to Executive Chef Mitchell Woo and General Manager Renate Gonzalez. Renate had come to the Diner in 1986, Mitchell in 1980. Both have been hands-on owners and are deeply saddened to have to leave their professional homes of over three decades.

Mitchell and Renate hope that friends, customers, and anyone with a lead on a suitable site will leave word here for them. Interested people will be kept informed of progress in the News section of our web address. 

Send us your thoughts