The Last Coffee Shop

For over 15 years, Janice Bayer, director at the real estate brokerage Brown Harris Stevens, was addicted to the French fries at Gardenia Restaurant, an upscale diner on Madison Avenue near 67th Street that closed at the end of the summer.

“Where else around here can you get that kind of food?” she said.

Up and down the prime retail stretch of Madison Avenue, new luxury European designer emporiums are popping out as prolifically as celebrity babies. Meanwhile, the old-fashioned coffee shop, one of New York’s most quintessential and beloved establishments, has become an endangered species, so imperiled that many neo-New Yorkers now consider the phrase “coffee shop” synonymous with—the horror!—“Starbucks.”

Also gone, since the summer of 2006: Soup Burg on 73rd Street. Threatened: 3 Guys, between 75th and 76th. Where are Upper East Siders supposed to get a decent grilled cheese, chicken salad or BLT? What about a cup of coffee that doesn’t taste artfully over-roasted and come served with a world-music soundtrack? How about a sense of community that hasn’t been generated in some corporate boardroom?

“When Gardenia’s doors closed, it closed a piece of our lives,” said Jill Simonson, director of corporate relations at Dress for Success, who used to eat at the diner several times a week when she worked at Ungaro, across the street, and became friends with the owners.

“I’m starving!” wailed Muriel Melendez, assistant store manager at the women’s clothing boutique Marina Rinaldi, also across the street. “I really miss the convenience … and being known by name.”

“I went to stop by for lunch the other day and was shocked that they weren’t there,” said Albert Hadley, the well-known interior designer. “It’s a great loss. I went there several times a week. We all miss a place like that. It was very popular with lots of people.” Mr. Hadley said that he’s been eating at his desk of late.

“The area is not the same without Gardenia,” said Joyce Black, who has lived in the neighborhood for about 30 years. “Where do you go now? When I walk past it, I feel sad.”


According to George Katsichtis, 24, one of the family members who ran the Gardenia, it was his own uncle, owner of the building, who decided to renovate and lease the property to a more profitable mystery tenant. “We were devastated,” young Mr. Katsichtis said. “It was our bread and butter. We had three generations of customers.”

Mr. Katsichtis is currently looking for space to open his own restaurant. “Not a diner,” he said. “Something trendy.”

John Zannikos and Spiro Argiros, the owners of 3 Guys for 30 years, said that they are hoping to renew their lease, though their landlord, William Friedland of Friedland Properties, wants to raise their rent to three times more than what they are currently paying. “We don’t want people to lose their jobs,” Mr. Zannikos said.

“The city is turning into a nightmare with rents,” said Mr. Argiros. “We hope our landlord will be understanding that this is an institution, not just a restaurant.”

Mr. Friedland, who also owns the building that formerly housed Soup Burg, refused to comment.

Wendy Chaiken, 32, a local mother of three young children, shudders at the prospect of losing 3 Guys. “There are so few places that accommodate strollers,” she said, noting that the popular restaurant Serafina nearby has steep stairs. “And you can’t just order a grilled cheese at places like Serafina!”

The Last Coffee Shop