92 years later, Newest still top dog
Diner recently featured on Travel Channel show “Food Paradise” show
SCHENECTADY Dean Plakas always gets visitors.
They show up in the morning, afternoon and early evening.
“We do a lot of breakfasts,” said Plakas, who co-owns Schenectady’s landmark Newest Lunch with his uncle and cousin, John Papanikos and Angelo Papanikos, respectively. “We open at 7 a.m. and loyal customers are lined up outside, waiting for us to unlock the door.”
The narrow, diner-style restaurant near the bottom of the Albany Street hill, just off Veeder Avenue and situated between Georgetta Dix Plaza and Germania Avenue, is more popular than ever. Some of Newest’s favorites, a hot dog smothered in meat sauce and another dog sharing a bun with onions, tomatoes and sauce, recently were featured in a segment on the Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise” television program.
“We really lucked out on that one,” Plakas said. “What happened was, the executive producer of that program grew up in Schenectady. He came [to the restaurant] and moved away 30 years ago. When that show came up, he said, ‘You’ve got to check this place out where I grew up. I don’t even know if it’s still open.’ ”
The exec didn’t have to worry. Newest Lunch has been open since 1921, always in the same location and always operated by Greek restaurateurs. “It has never closed. It has weathered all the storms,” said Plakas, who said he and his partners bought the business in 1985 and are the fourth ownership group.
The “Food Paradise” segment on hot dogs — “Hot Dog Paradise 2” — also featured dressed-up dogs from restaurants in Philadelphia, Miami and Detroit. The Newest Lunch segments were filmed last summer and the program aired in early January. It has been presented twice as an encore performance.
“That helps a lot, because every time it airs, we get an influx of new customers,” Plakas said.
Travel Channel personnel say the Newest Lunch bit on “Food Paradise” will next air Wednesday, May 15, at 11 p.m.
Plakas said more publicity is on the way. A big-budget movie production has scouted Newest Lunch, he said, and plans to use the restaurant this summer in “Electric City.”
“Ron Artest, the basketball player now known as Metta World Peace, is helping produce and is acting,” Plakas said. “He’s actually going to play the cook in the scenes here at the restaurant. Danny Aiello is going to play the owner. Joey Lauren Adams will play a waitress.”
Plakas said the movie company is expected sometime in early July.
For now, regular customers have the place all to themselves. They seem to like the restaurant, with its old-fashioned looks, just the way it is.
Seven wooden booths with light blue tabletops line one side. On the wall above the booths, 24 large, framed collages of favorite customers remind diners the Newest has always had friends.
Across a narrow aisle, 17 stools covered in maroon-colored vinyl are available for people who prefer the counter. Menus, napkins, salt, pepper and ketchup — in red plastic squirt bottles — are all on the counter at arm’s length.
Eight large menu signs are posted on a wall above the counter, advertising home fries, cheese omelets, mushroom Swiss burgers and bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. Eight white globe-style lights hang from the ceiling; a red Dr Pepper soda clock on the back wall near the small kitchen reminds people when their lunch breaks are over.
“I haven’t seen any renovations,” said longtime customer Tony Delgado, 62, of Schenectady. “They’ll change the menu, that’s about it. I like that — that’s what makes it Newest.”
The hot dogs and hearty breakfasts keep other people coming back.
“The food is a tradition, always good and fresh,” said Mario Pantalone, 49, of Niskayuna, a Schenectady contractor who shared a booth with three friends on a rainy Friday afternoon. “The company, too. We usually end up meeting here sooner or later.”
Pantalone likes the idea that generations of family members have walked into the restaurant and spent time on stools or in booths.
“My uncle Tommy, he used to come here after World War II,” he said. “The first stop when he came back to Schenectady, he came to Newest Lunch in 1945. Then he moved to Wilmington, Del. When he used to come back to Schenectady, the first stop would be Newest Lunch.”
Niskayuna resident Zak Cassady-Dorion, 33, one of Pantalone’s friends, said he’ll visit five or six times a week. “I walk in the front door and the food’s already on the grill,” he said.
Erica Boddie, 21, a nurse who lives in Schenectady, prefers the breakfast foods. “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid,” she said. “I get a bacon, egg and cheese with sausage added to it. That’s like a heart attack in a sandwich. But it’s just delicious. This is the only place you can get a home-cooked breakfast.”
Some like the anonymity that comes with a seat at the Newest. A guy could be a judge, cop, painter, lawyer or criminal, and customers say it doesn’t matter.
“Whoever you are, when you walk in here you’re all the same; you’re all customers treated the exact same way,” Cassady-Dorion said. “They don’t care who you are when you’re outside. When you’re in here, you’re a happy customer.”
Plakas especially likes people who know the place, who have been coming for years.
“A lot of families have traditions — they’ll come here on the day after Thanksgiving. We have a lot of that,” he said. “I always like when families have certain traditions. They come in every Easter or whenever, when everybody’s in town.”