Dine and dashed: Brooklyn’s 24-hour greasy spoons are toast, insiders say

Out on a pie note: Larry Georgton is closing the Del Rio Diner after 40 years, becuase the cost of doing business is too high, and he doesn’t want to stick it to his customers, he said.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

Their orders are up.

Gravesend staple the Del Rio Diner will serve its last meal on July 24 after 40 years, and industry insiders say the iconic eatery’s closure is just an appetizer, because Brooklyn’s 24-hour mom-and-pop eateries are toast in the wake of the minimum wage hike Gov. Cuomo signed in April.

“The minimum wage, that’s what broke the camel’s back. It killed us,” said Del Rio co-owner Larry Georgeton. “The only way to compensate is you gotta hammer the menu — raise it 25 percent every year. If I was somewhere in Park Avenue Manhattan, people will pay $20 for a burger — this is Bensonhurst–Gravesend, this is working people, this is the real America, and I can’t do it to them.”

And Georgeton is not the only one hurting, an expert said.

“Very soon, all the Brooklyn diners will be gone. It’s the minimum wage, the Health Department, water bills,” said John Gavallas, a food distributor whose clients include the Del Rio, the Vegas in Dyker Heights, the Mirage in Midwood, and the Floridian in Marine Park.

The wage hike, which promises cooks $15 an hour and servers $10 an hour by 2018, is just the icing on top — lawmakers have been serving up onerous regulations for at least a decade, the insiders said. The first course was Mayor Bloomberg’s 2003 indoor smoking ban — letting patrons puff away kept them at tables longer and increased the chances they’d order more food, Georgeton said. Then Health Department enforcement went off the deep end — inspections are a necessity, but under Bloomberg’s reign, they went sour and turned into a revenue-generator for the city, Gavallas said.

Georgeton declined to say whether the regulators use his restaurants as a piggy bank, because he also co-owns the Vegas and still has to work with inspectors, but he admitted examinations are more stringent than the military’s.

“I used to be in the airforce — those inspections were easier,” said Georgeton, whose Del Rio got an A rating in June.

Diners are now a losing proposition, and Brooklyn’s are sure to go the way of Sheepshead Bay’s El Greco, which made way for condos in 2014 after operating for 40 years, he said.

“I don’t think there’s gonna be any standing in five, 10 years. Nobody in their right mind is gonna buy a diner and work it. Those days are over. They’ll knock them down and develop them,” said Georgeton.

And landlords salivating over developer cash are hiking rents — another greasy spoon is almost certain to shutter when its lease expires, said Gavallas, who declined to name the eatery.

“I have a customer in Brooklyn, his lease is up in two years and they want $30,000 a month — he’s paying $14,000 now,” he said.

Now, the only sustainable models are chains and franchises, Georgeton said.

“I guess the Chipotles, the Fridays, and the Outbacks — they’re gonna take over,” he said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.

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