New York, NY – Tom’s Restaurant has been at 112th and Broadway for more than a half century – a true example of a family business. While scores of small businesses on Manhattan’s Upper West Side have been unable to weather the ongoing storms of gentrification, Tom’s, owned and operated by the Greek-American Zoulis family, has not only remained where it is – it still welcomes locals and tourists alike as an oasis of friendliness, affordability, and good value.
On any given day, patrons will find Michael Zoulis sitting at the cash register with a “Tom’s Restaurant” t-shirt pinned up on the wall behind him. Minas Zoulis, his father, along with his brothers, bought the now-iconic diner located at 2880 Broadway back in the 1950’s. Michael Zoulis is intimately involved in the day-to-day work of creating a venue that serves everyone from neighborhood locals to students and faculty from nearby Barnard College and Columbia University. Old and young, working and retired, the customers pour in steadily, each one seeming to take particular pleasure in the now nearly vanished milieu of a real New York City diner.
Longtime employee Nick, who works behind the counter, says, “People support us. [The reasons are] Good food. The prices are logical. [It’s] cheap, good service and good people.”
Indeed, through a wonderful bit of alchemy, Tom’s continues to thrive, while so many other small businesses have succumbed to New York City’s astronomical rent hikes. A “Now Hiring” sign hung in the diner’s window when LaborPress visited recently.
Tom’s is well known for its longevity and good eats and great staff – but it has also become famous through the indirect praise of the arts. Suzanne Vega, a singer-songwriter who grew up in upper Manhattan, wrote a hit song, “Tom’s Diner” where she gently raps in a zen-like manner about sitting in the diner and the simple experience of being there. (Her song was also sampled for a remix by the British group DNA in 1990, and reached number 1 in Austria, Germany, Greece and Switzerland.) And, more widely known, is the use of the outside of the restaurant in the classic TV sitcom Seinfeld, starring Jerry Seinfeld as the perennially dissatisfied character who routinely comes to Tom’s – or Monk’s Café as it is called in the show – to meet his friends Elaine, Kramer and George and, of course, to eat.
In real life, the dedication of the Zoulis family remains at the core of their restaurant’s enduring success.
“Every day, I say, ‘thanks god,’ for places like Tom’s,” says Eddie – a Tom’s regular originally from Santo Domingo, who has been patronizing the diner for nearly 40 years.
Tom’s is a place where he is treated like family and feels at home – all of which, becomes manifest in Nick’s big smile, friendly greeting and speedy fulfillment of Eddie’s order.