Dimitri’s Diner celebrates 25 years in Ridgefield
The diner business is a tough business but for the past quarter of a century Dimitrios Paschalidis has made it look easy with a warm smile and a welcoming handshake for every customer who walks through the door of Dimitri’s Diner.
And that’s exactly the reason why people keeping coming back in for a quick bite — even some of those who have left Ridgefield.
“People come from all over — North Salem, South Salem, Redding, Wilton, Greenwich,” said Paschalidis, “but my favorite is when someone who used to live in town comes in. ... They’ve retired down to Florida or wherever and they’re back in for the day visiting family or friends and they feel the need to stop in. ... There’s nothing better than knowing that we’ve built their trust and that they know it’ll be the same experience whenever they come back.”
The restaurant celebrated its 25th anniversary on Oct. 26, and Paschalidis is planning a community-wide party for June 2020.
“In 2004, for our 10-year anniversary, we closed down the entire block. We had animals, a magician — you name it,” the longtime restaurateur recalled.
“We served 10,495 people that day — I remember because we counted the plates!” Paschalidis said. “Everyone was just so happy that day and we want to do that again.”
But November is here already, which means the holidays are right around the corner. And Paschalidis, whom frequent customers know as just “Dimitri,” knows what a busy time of year it can be.
“We want it to be another outside party and we want to make it big so there’s no point to rush it,” he said. “Whatever we end up doing, I want to do it right.”
The diner’s longtime manager Kostas Mavridis agrees.
“November is cold,” he said. “It’s no time to be outside. ... We want to make it right and find the right time. The weather is always good in June so that’s the goal.”
Dimitri doesn’t just have fond memories serving customers who have left town and came back in to say hello. He also enjoys giving residents their last meal in town — if that’s the direction they’re heading.
“I’ve met so many good people and became friends with so many — I’ll never forget them,” he said. “It’s extra special when they’re getting to leave town and they come here for their last meal. ... People get older and leave for the South. That’s how it goes. They come back North to see the grandkids and that’s when we see them again.”
He’s been serving Ridgefield families for so long now that the kids who used to order off the children’s menu in the 1990s are coming back in with children of their own.
“They’re taller than me now — all grown up,” Dimitri said.
So what makes generations of people keep coming into Dimitri’s Diner?
“Families love Dimitri’s for what we are — a clean place with quality food at fair prices and the best service around,” Mavridis said.
And there’s no question about the service for anyone who’s ever ordered an omelet there and gotten it in five minutes.
“Eggs don’t take a while,” Mavridis said. “... And most of our servers know frequent customers’ orders. It’s kind of like how a bartender knows your drink at a bar. It adds to our quality of service when we can get you your food quickly.”
Ever since opening its doors in 1994, Dimitri’s Diner has wanted to serve one part of the Ridgefield community more than any other — the schools and its students.
“Schools have always been No. 1,” Dimitri said.
It’s why he set up a scholarship fund for the best student athletes in town 10 years ago, and is in the process of creating another one for the top academic students at Ridgefield High School.
“As a kid growing up in northern Greece, I loved to play soccer,” he said. “That’s why any place I’ve ever opened, I look at the schools and try to figure out a way to help kids play sports. It’s always been a passion of mine — athletics. Every kid loves soccer back home in Greece.”
The diner has also celebrated Halloween, offering free dinner to kids on Oct. 31 for the past 10 years.
“Most come in wearing costumes before going out that night,” Dimitri said.
In addition to the kids, Dimitri’s Diner runs on the Sunday morning church crowds, the highway department workers who stop in late at night during a storm, and the police and fire crews who are always on the clock — and have become frequent visitors of the diner that boasts being open “eight days a week.”
While Sundays are the busiest for breakfast and lunch, there is another day of the week that produces an even larger.
“Friday nights around 9,” Mavridis said. “We have 120 kids in here. It’s absolutely packed. They’ll come in after the football games or hockey games. It’s filled to both sides. Good luck getting a seat on Friday — it’s so crazy in here.”
Both Paschalidis and Mavridis are fine with Dimitri’s Diner being the de facto Friday night hangout spot in Ridgefield.
“It’s good for the kids to have a place to go,” Mavridis said. “It’s not just good for business, it’s good for the town. We want to be there to support the kids.”
Mavridis is in line to take over from Paschalidis, who at 79 years old still works six days a week and rests on Sundays.
“He has the same philosophy as me,” Dimitri said. “He’s like my adopted son.”
The restaurant’s manager has been with the business for 13 years. He started out as a chef in Greece
“It’s a good thing he came,” Dimitri said, “[Kostas] is friends with everyone. It comes natural to him, and that’s an important part of this business.”
Dimitri is staying on to help groom his successor.
“He knows every aspect of this business and I know he’ll do a great job.”
According to its owner, Dimitri’s Diner has stayed in business this long because of respect and love for the people it serves.
“When people open a restaurant or a business here they think there’s money in the floor and then they close in three years,” Paschalidis said. “To be in business this long, you really have to care about getting to know people. It’s just the way I grew up. It’s who I am.”
He immigrated to America in 1968 from Greece and started working as a dishwasher at a diner in Norwalk. Three years later, he owned his first restaurant.
“I was making $95 working 72 hours a week when I first arrived,” he said. “I got promoted to short order cook and then started out on my own in Danbury on White Street.”
That’s where the eight-days-a-week mindset was founded.
“Eight days, not seven,” he said. “It wasn’t easy commuting up there from where I lived in Norwalk so I sold it but from after that experience I knew I wanted to be in this business ...
“It’s a tough business,” he added. “You’re open early, you close late. Holidays, when most restaurants are closed, we stay open and work. The only day of the year we’re off is Christmas. We’re here working every other day of the year. That’s how it was before Dimitri’s and that’s still how it is today. ... We don’t mind hard work. We came hungry to this country and that’s why we’re still here.”
Paschalidis has a deep love for America — the country that gave him the opportunity to work, build a business and create lifelong friendships.
“This country gave me a job and a great place to raise a family, and for that I’ll always be grateful,” he said. “... I didn’t know anything about the business when I started but I worked hard and believed that I could do it. And that’s the greatest lesson I’ve learned: If you believe in yourself, you can do anything as long as you love and respect the people around you. Help them when they need you, and you will always have friends who come back and want to see you.”