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Crown Diner by Yankee Stadium May Move for Chase Bank

By Patrick Wall | March 6, 2013 7:39am

CONCOURSE — Crown Diner, the beloved greasy spoon by Yankee Stadium, may move from its longtime location this year to make way for a new Chase Bank branch, the restaurant’s manager revealed.

The diner, which has served donuts and grill fare from the corner of East 161st Street and Gerard Avenue for decades, will most likely relocate a few storefronts over in the same building due to an expired lease and negotiations between the building owner and Chase, said manager Chris Katsihtis.

“At the end of the day, the landlord rules,” said Katsihtis, 28, whose family bought the restaurant in the late 1970s. “But everything’s good — we’re not leaving the neighborhood.”

Chase Bank did not respond to requests for comment.

Adam Mayer, a representative for Lido Realty, the building's Brooklyn-based owner, said in an email that he "cannot comment on internal discussions regarding the property."

Chase currently occupies a storefront space inside the one-story building that stretches from 67 to 79 E. 161st St. Chase also operates a separate branch that sits diagonally across 161st Street from the diner.

Negotiations are still under way, but Chase may be looking to purchase the building from Lido, then establish a larger branch within the building, perhaps by consolidating multiple storefronts, Katsihtis claimed.

“I think they want this Chase Bank to be huge,” he said.

Details are still being hashed out, but the move is likely to occur this year, Katsihtis added, hopefully after the busy baseball season ends.

The diner’s new space will be slightly smaller than its current 2,600-square-foot corner spot, he noted, but the seating area will be similarly sized and will feature updated amenities, such as granite countertops and maybe a steam buffet.

“We want to do nice stuff,” Katsihtis said.

Before buying the restaurant, Katsihtis’s grandfather ran a Bronx hot dog cart, his father manned a diner grill and his uncle worked nights at Crown Diner, which was then mainly a donut and coffee shop.

After the three men bought the diner, they toiled as its only employees for several years — with help from Katsihtis’s grandmother, who cooked soup, he said.

The family bought the nearby Court Deli, which they also run, in the mid-2000s.

In 2009, Mark Benun, then co-owner of the building at 67-79 East 161st St., used forged documents to convince a buyer that he owned the entire property and then sold it for nearly $6 million, according to court records. He was arrested and pleaded guilty to fraud charges that year.

Crown Diner’s lease expired two years ago while the remaining owners were still dealing with the fallout of the fraud, Katsihtis said. The diner has paid month-to-month rent since then.

The narrow restaurant sports roughly a dozen lighted menu boards crammed with egg sandwiches and omelets, pancakes and waffles, gyros and Greek salads, and burgers that range from $2 for a single patty to $12.95 for the all-new Grand Slam Burger Deluxe.

“To be honest with you, this is the only decent restaurant on 161st Street,” Steven Jackson, 69, a retired construction consultant, said sitting at the eatery's counter on a recent afternoon.

A waitress had just plopped down Jackson’s usual — a charred turkey burger on slightly burnt bread — when he asked her to toast the bread a little longer.

“This is the only place I know where we can get it wrong every single day and he’ll complain,” Katsihtis said, nodding at Jackson, “but he’ll keeping coming back.”

Moments later, the woman seated beside Jackson leapt up from the counter, signaled to Katsihtis for his keys and some quarters, and bolted out the door.

Another Crown Diner regular, she was dashing to fill Katsihtis’s parking meter before an officer issued him a ticket.

“Crazy loyalty,” Katsihtis said, smiling.