This has nothing to do with the food at Metro Diner; it is an analysis for my Greek class about the presence (or lack thereof) of Greek culture in New York diners nowadays.
Metro Diner, located on 100th St. and Broadway, is a Greek-owned establishment, like most diners in New York City. However, the rambunctious atmosphere typical of Greek-owned diners is missing; it lacks the homey feeling of diners such as Tom’s Restaurant (112th St. and Broadway), which is owned and managed by an immigrant from Greece. The fact that the manager of Metro Diner is an “American with Greek ancestry” rather than a “Greek” and that the feel of this establishment is much different from that of places like Tom’s Restaurant is hardly a coincidence.
Metro Diner’s appearance attempts to reproduce the iconic “all-American” diners from the 1950s. Flashy neon lights, typical American food fare on a bubbly-font menu (with Greek food selections like Chicken souvlaki conveniently camouflaged between cheeseburgers and tuna salads), and a reserved atmosphere complete the picture of Metro Diner. Unlike some Greek peers, Metro Diner is much too businesslike – it is a no-nonsense, eat and leave, place – it does not stand out from other places in New York, where anonymous customers come and go. The famed Greek hospitality appears to be thrown to the wayside, a cultural tradition lost after generations in America.
Metro Diner also represents the cultural Diaspora of New York City. Here Greek-American owners work with a mostly Latin workforce, and have thus learned to speak Spanish. The Latin American waiters themselves not limited to speaking English, but Greek as well. One such person was an Argentinean waiter, Mario, who speaks English, Spanish, and has been learning Greek for two years. Commenting – as Mr. Nikos would during our interview – that learning either Spanish or Greek is relatively easy if the person speaks one of the two languages already. Sadly, the opportunity to interview this fascinating man was lost. In essence, this diner is in many ways a microcosm of New York, it has been evolving like the city and its inhabitants have evolved; Greeks are now Americanized and a new wave of immigrants has arrived to replace them.
The manager at this location, Mr. Nikos, was very helpful, but nonetheless serious. He explained the dwindling presence of Greek-owned and operated diners – the difficulties of the job, which he does not wish on his children if they can avoid it. Mr. Nikos was very proud of his Greek heritage, speaking fluent Greek and having his children learn the language themselves, but he identified as American. It seem as if he was most proud of his immigrant family, who fought for a better life for their children by undertaking the hard working life of running diners, a legacy he has undertaken as well. His American identity overshadowing his Greek identity could be a result of him viewing his family’s struggles and successes as more of an American trait (chasing the American dream) than a Greek one. Despite this, Mr. Nikos is proud of his Greek heritage and actively fights to preserve its presence in America, either through his children or through anyone willing to learn the language and culture of Greeks. During the interview, Mr. Nikos did not hesitate to correct his interviewer (me) when she continually made grammar mistakes or confused tenses when asking a question. This is indicative of the Greek culture as well – a warm, intimating culture where it is normal to address strangers with the same confidence as old friends – despite their approach to business, the owners and managers of Metro Diner still retain the Greek spirit, which they choose to keep from customers in an attempt to appeal to a more widely American consumer base (used to being treated in a sterile manner). When it comes down to it, it is all business, and Metro Diner cannot fall back on a large student consumer base (one distanced from home and that would be more likely to appreciate friendliness) like Tom’s Restaurant can; Metro Diner targets a different audience.