The Greek food industry has held a strong position in the Astoria community.  This can be seen through the various Greek restaurants and the ethnic niche that Greeks have over diners. The evolution of the Greek diner system can been seen through the fact that Greek diners are still owned by Greeks, however, the workers are primarily Latin American.  We are currently noticing another evolution.

Although the Astoria community has preserved the Greek culture and is a great example of a Greek enclave, there is a lot of evidence of the community being a victim of assimilation and gentrification which has led to a loss in Greek culture.

A prominent example of Greek establishments assimilating and adjusting to meet the demands of American customers is the establishment of Greek-American diners.  Greek-American diners offer both Greek and American food in order to address the demand for American cuisine.  This helps to attract a wider range of costumers and ultimately results in an increase in profits.  However, many may believe this to be an example of loss of Greek culture due to the fact that many customers go to these diners to enjoy a juicy burger instead of traditional Greek foods.  This need to adjust to the wide range of customers is also present in restaurant establishments such as Pizza Palace which offers Greek, Italian, and American food.  This diversity of cuisine portrays the need to adjust and address the needs of everyone in the community, including the non-Greeks.

Image courtesy of Karen Lopez

Another prime example of this moving away from the Greek culture is the Bare Burger establishment, a well known burger shop.  This establishment has been recognized as an example of “Hellenic Entrepreneurship”1 (The National Herald). It portrays a Greek immigrant success story as Euripides Pelekanos established this burger shop as a small mom and pop store.  However, this once small restaurant in Astoria is now expanding across the country and is becoming a corporate structure.  Although this business is portrayed as a Greek success story it does not entirely preserve the Greek culture due to the lack of traditional Greek cuisine.  In fact, in an interview with “Give Me Astoria” Pelekanos states, “I wanted to give people another take on burgers, not your Greek uncle’s diner burger…”2 (Give Me Astoria). This non-traditional shop portrays the moving away from Greek culture.  It also portrays the commercial and profit success of the establishments that have accommodated to the needs of all types of individuals.

Along with the establishment of non-Greek restaurants many Greek establishments have been shut down in the recent years.  This being a result of the newcomers who have placed a new value on the community, rising rents and making it unaffordable to own a business.  Gentrification of this neighborhood is leading to a loss of culture due to the newcomers focus on the latest trend rather than tradition3 (Kobal). This demand for familiar stores as opposed to mom and pop stores invites in chain stores.  It leads to the establishment of a Starbucks and steals attention away from the traditional bakery shops that sell authentic Greek pastries.  The establishment of chain stores like Starbucks does not only exemplify the increase in the cost of living but also the loss in authenticity giving that the Starbucks on 31st street and Ditmars Blvd in Astoria and the one in 42nd street in Times Square are relatively the same.  Perhaps this familiarity is what makes it attractive for newcomers who are not interested with exploring a different culture.  These changes in the community have taken a toll on Greek establishments such as that of Lefkos Pirgos Café, which was once a place to feel at home for many Greeks, and after 40 years was forced to close down and was replaced by a Time Warner Cable4 (Edmonds).

Starbucks in Ditmars, Photo by Karen Lopez

Image courtesy of Karen Lopez

Despite this battle against gentrification and assimilation many Greek restaurants are persevering and preserving the Greek culture.  A prominent example of this is the Greek mediterranean restaurant Taverna Kyclades.  Taverna Kyclades is a Greek family owned restaurant found on Ditmars Blvd in Astoria.  It’s name is in reference to some Greek islands essentially reminding Greeks of their homeland not only by their food but also by their name.  This restaurant is highly recognized for its authentic, delicious Greek food.  It is one of the few restaurants that continues to embrace the pure Greek culture.

These slow changes in the food industry in Astoria foreshadows a future Greek succession.  The gentrifiers and young people with a lack of desire to preserve the Greek culture will eventually displace these Greek establishments.  Ultimately, losing the Greek culture which has made the Astoria community so unique for many years.

Author: Karen Lopez