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March 26, 2008 12:35 PM

Andy -- of Diner fame, weighs in

Posted by Nancy Leson

After writing about the hoped-for resurrection of Andy's Diner yesterday, I got a call from Andy Yurkanin, who just might be the nicest restaurateur I've ever had the pleasure of conversing with. He told me that yes indeed, he was excited about the potential for his old diner's return to life, and said he was going to talk to "a couple of guys" today who are interested in leasing the place. Yes, of course I asked him who the guys were, but he pleaded the Fifth -- though he did mention that they were in the restaurant business. (Thinking, thinking, thinking. . .) And then it hit me:

Could it be Peter Levy and Jeremy Hardy? The owners of Chow Foods restaurants would be the perfect guys to revive Andy's and turn it into the destination diner it once was.

I wasted little time getting Jeremy on the phone. Nope. He's not my man, he said, though he did get a call from somebody who felt as I did: that the Chow Foods guys and Andy's Diner were a match made in heaven. Before we hung up I tried to convince Jeremy to throw his hat in the ring. He said he'd at least think about it. (Peter? Am I crazy?) He'd better think fast. Interest on the space is high.

So: what do you think? In your fantasy-restaurant life, who would do justice to the legend of Andy's Diner? And don't tell me chef Scotty Simpson, because he's already got himself a new gig.

Anyway, here's a little slice of the diner's history from Andy himself, who promised he'd treat me to lunch at his old diner when it reopens -- "And I'm sure it will," says he.

Andy Yurkanin began working at his uncle Andy's diner in 1955 and took over as operator in 1959, running the place till about 12 years ago when he turned the restaurant and bar over to his son T.J. His son didn't love the restaurant business ("He said it was too many hours") and after four or five years under his operation, says Andy, "I sold the place to Bill Howard and his partners." Howard shuttered Andy's Diner in January. Several weeks ago, developer Henry Liebman took possession of the property -- and the landmark railcar restaurant that sits on it. Then he got busy looking for an operator.

Andy celebrates his 76th birthday next month, and says he's enjoying his retirement big time -- golfing, fishing, hunting and traveling. But spend time in conversation with the man, and he'll prove he's still got restaurateuring in his blood. "I was in the business for 40-some years. I worked every day, 12, 14 hours," he says. "I was the greeter, the hands-on operator, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I bet I knew half the customers by name -- they'd come in for lunch four or five times a week!"

With 18 waitresses on staff, he served between 1100 and 1200 customers daily at lunch. "Those were the days when Boeing was going real big." Back in the '50s, '60s and '70s, he says, competition for dining dollars wasn't as steep as it is today. He's still proud of his steadfast employees. "We didn't turn our staff over at all. I had cooks and waitresses who worked there for 25 years."

And as I write this, he's having lunch with one of them.

"Millie Petersen worked for me from the time she was 21 years old, now she's 62 or 63," Andy says. "We're having lunch because I'm going to introduce her to the guys who are interested in [re]opening the place. She wants to go back and work there."

Well, from one old waitress to another, I wish Millie the best, and when Andy's reopens and I'm sitting in a railcar dipping my steak in barbecue sauce and forking into a blue cheese salad garnished with crumbled Cheez-Its, I'm hoping it will be Millie who served it to me.

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