QUEENS — Dozens of Queens residents and several elected officials came together for a rally Tuesday to support a popular diner, which is currently facing a court battle with a new landlord after more than five decades in business.
The owners of The Flagship Diner, at 138-30 Queens Blvd., which has been a community fixture since 1965, said their new landlord — Jamaica-based White Rock Management — began harassing them shortly after White Rockpurchased the site for $6.125 million last year and promptly obtained permits to knock down the restaurant and replace it with a seven-story, mixed-use apartment building containing 64 units.
On Tuesday, patrons holding signs that read “No more buildings — Save the Flagship,” “Stop Unfair Landlord” and “Stop the Harassment White Rock,” said that the diner has been like a “second home.”
“This is my family,” said Eugene Leon, 67, a retiree who has been coming to the diner for 45 years.
“My children and my grandchildren come here too," he added. “For us to see it happen, it hurts a lot.”
The diner's owners — Vincent Pupplo, Jimmy Skartsiaris and Frank Lountzis — said they were initially hoping to keep their business open until their lease expires in October 2019, and then most likely retire.
The landlord proposed to buy them out, offering each of them $100,000, but they turned it down, the owners said.
Since then, they said, the landlord sent them several "notices to cure," requiring them to address a variety of issues within five days if they wanted to avoid eviction, including accusations that their parking lot, sidewalk and back steps are in disrepair and have to be ripped up and replaced immediately.
The owners said that their lawyer was able to obtain a “Yellowstone injunction” for each notice which temporarily suspends the time period during which they must address the issues.
In July, the restaurant owners filed a lawsuit in the Queens County Supreme Court accusing the landlord of harassing them, with the first hearing scheduled for Sept. 19.
Steven Schlesinger, the landlord’s lawyer, said Tuesday that White Rock Management initially offered the diner a space on the ground floor of the new building for the same rent.
He also said that the buyout offer was fair because that’s approximately how much the owners would have made during the remaining lease period, according to their tax returns, he said.
“My client was going to pay what they really make and if they wanted they could have their store back when the building was built,” he said. “But they refused all that.”
Schlesinger also said that the owners refuse to maintain the property, and as a result the landlord now has to pay higher insurance rate for the property.
Pupplo confirmed that the landlord offered them a spot in the building, but said that White Rock Management never said how much rent specifically they would have to pay.
He also called their accusations of not maintaining the property “ridiculous.”
“We are going to fight, we are not going to leave, I have too many employees here that have been here longer than me,” said Pupplo, noting that he has co-owned the diner for 32 years.
A petition that the owners started about three weeks ago asking their patrons for support, already collected more than 2,400 signatures, they said.
Local elected officials who participated in the rally, including Councilman Rory Lancman and State Senator Tony Avella, said the landlord has never reached out to them nor the local community to introduce themselves and discuss their plans.
“This is our diner and we want it to be here for as long as it can be,” said Lancman, 48, noting that he has been coming to the Flagship Diner with his family since he was a little boy.
"Briarwood loves the Flagship,” said Seymour Schwartz, a local resident and former president of the Briarwood Community Association. “It is our community home and friend."
Referring to the new landlords, he added that local merchants and homeowners “will long remember such infamy."