Patrons mourn loss of Shalimar Diner
by Michael Perlman
Nov 27, 2018 | 8634 views | 0 0 comments | 166 166 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ivy and Steve Hammer with owner Chris Karayiannis (center).
Ivy and Steve Hammer with owner Chris Karayiannis (center).
Dr. Arther Gudeon with servers Dennis and Dell.
Dr. Arther Gudeon with servers Dennis and Dell.
For nearly 45 years, Shalimar Diner at 63-68 Austin Street has been an unofficial Rego Park landmark.

It was manufactured by the popular Kullman Dining Car Company, and was one of numerous freestanding family diners dotting the tristate area. It was delivered to its location on Austin Street in 1974.

At any hour of the day, patrons would sit elbow to elbow at the counter or together at a booth or table. It's classic look was featured in an episode of the CBS drama “Blue Bloods” and the 2016 film “The Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill.

Behind its stone façade, owner Chris Karayiannis and his staff became an extended family. On November 25, tears were exchanged.

Shalimar Diner was forced to close after the owners failed to negotiate a new lease, with the landlord reportedly looking to more than double the rent for a 20-year period. It has now met the same fate of the Flagship Diner and many other diners throughout the borough.

On its final day, patrons were hard pressed to find a seat. Among the expressions of gratitude were letters and poetry at the cash register.

Forest Hills resident Carol Lustgarten, who often dined at Shalimar with her close friend Amy, designed a colorful collage featuring the retro Shalimar sign and a handwritten poem.

“Shalimar, oh Shalimar; You’ve been part of my life for so long; Where did we ever go wrong?” she wrote. “Now you are singing your goodbye song. We will always keep fond memories in the light and in the dark; Every season you are a true landmark!”

For over 70 years, Dr. Arthur Gudeon, a well-respected podiatrist who lives in Rego Park, was a Shalimar regular.

“My office was across the street when the Shalimar was built, and I was one of the first customers of the four brothers who owned it,” he said. “It’s been our go-to place for my family, staff, friends and neighbors. Although my office moved to Fleet Street, I still brought Shalimar breakfasts to my staff regularly.”

On the farewell evening, he spent three hours reminiscing over his dinner.

“The diner was loaded with regulars, often tearing up, and I took lots of selfies with friends, patients, and staff,” Gudeon said.

Margot Zimmerman patronized the diner with her family for decades.

“This is a story of the real Rego Park with a teary ending,” the Rego Park native said. “Back in 1975, there was no place for the teens in the neighborhood to go, so the owners would let us stay in that little lobby and hang out. As I got older, this was the place to be after a night of clubbing. I remember many late-night meals at 5 a.m.

“It was a home away from home for Passover and Thanksgiving for extended family,” Zimmerman added.

Bonnie Sholl moved to Rego Park in 1984, and said Shalimar Diner served more than food.

“This is where I have memories of my married life, friends visiting, and my son’s first restaurant experience at one-week old,” she said. “It serves friendships, community, and gives a pleasant diversion to our lives.”

For 20 years, Forest Hills patrons Frank Carroll and his wife Gina have shared laughs and good times with the staff, especially their waitress and good friend Judy. He and his wife were emotional on the final night.

“The Shalimar offered that true New York diner experience that our out-of-town family and friends craved,” Frank said. “It added a charm to the neighborhood and losing the Shalimar, as well as other small shops and theaters, is diminishing our New York culture.

“There are too many vacancies and too many towers going up,” he added. “What a shame the landlord and current owner are unable to negotiate an acceptable lease.”

Rego Park residents Ivy Hammer and her husband Steve were also there on Sunday to say their last goodbyes.

“We used to bring our son Michael in his carseat into the diner, and even though he is now 25, the owner Chris still asks about him,” Ivy said, whose sadness was compounded by news that her favorite waitress, Dottie, recently passed away.

She said the Shalimar was a great place to bring grandma on a Sunday afternoon.

“You don't have to worry about what type of food she will like because you have your choice of everything in a diner,” Ivy said. “Many elderly people and singles in our neighborhood count on eating there daily or weekly, so it is sad that they will have to find another place.”

The Hakim family has lived in the nearby Walden Terrace for generations, and the diner has been a staple for Lisa Hakim.

“On weekends and after every softball game we would go to the Shalimar,” she said. “Most local businesses that are family owned are closing due to the high rents. I wish there was a way we could save this one, as it's one of the last from my childhood.”

After moving from Russia, Mira Pinkhasova lived in Rego Park for 21 years before relocating to Long Island. She feels that diners are part of the American Dream.

“Diners brought all types of cultures together,” she said. “Now I work nearby, and on Fridays my colleagues and I would go for lunch.”

“It feels like the death of a good friend,” mourned Rego Park resident David Schantz. “Patrons developed longtime relations with one waiter or waitress, but most eateries nowadays do not have that due to the high turnover. I would chat with owner Chris, who was always willing to engage.”
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