“Diners are places where you can have anything you want, made to order. Everything is fresh, never frozen, no matter what you order,” says Jimmy Trahanas, the owner of Golden Reef Diner in Rockville Centre. “Even the baked goods are all homemade. Everything is made on premises, including the bread.”
While this may not be the case at all diners on Long Island, it’s a longtime point of pride for Trahanas, who has run the historic Golden Reef for nearly 40 years. The restaurant has operated as a diner at the same location, but under various names and owners, since roughly 1922.
A Greek immigrant, Trahanas came to the U.S. in 1971 at age 16.
“I started as a busboy and I didn’t speak any English,” he says, recalling that he worked at “every position in the diner.”
He explains, “You need to know the kitchen, the back-end areas, everything. In any business, you need to have knowledge of every area, to be able to take care of problems when they come up.”
Those positions included everything from cook and waiter to manager at various diners throughout Queens, including the North Shore Diner in Flushing and the now-defunct Blue Dolphin Diner in Bayside.
He recalls taking over the Golden Reef in 1983, renovating it, and working alongside family members including his brother-in-law Jimmy, who has been running the kitchen and overseeing as many as 12 different cooks, for decades.
Trahanas says some of his loyal staff has been with him for nearly 30 years.
“All my staff, from the cooks and waiters to the bussers, they’re all nice people and it wouldn’t be nice if I didn’t mention them all because they help to keep the place running.”
He also credits his wife Georgia, who has helped him run things for more than 25 years. Trahanas says that now, at nearly age 70, he longer does any cooking, but that homemade foods are made “seven days per week…from scratch. We make anything you can think of.”
Commenting on signature dishes, he says diners “don’t have signature dishes because you can have so many different things, from eggs to burgers.”
“This is the American kitchen,” he says. “You can get anything you want. I have people here twice per day…everything we sell is homemade and good.”
Some of those homemade foods include Golden Reef specials such as half-pound made-to-order burgers, specialty omelets, salads, fresh fish, steaks, and a dizzying array of breakfast items including pancakes, waffles, French toast and bagels. In addition to numerous fresh bakery items there is a homemade gelato bar.
Among the diner’s numerous local fans is chef/actor Joseph Gannascoli, best known for his role as Vito Spatafore in the HBO drama series, The Sopranos. Trahanas says Joseph Gannascoli lives nearby and is a frequent visitor.
“It’s my favorite place for breakfast or lunch,” says Gannascoli. “The pancakes are huge and fluffy and light, omelets are generous, and because it’s clean and busy, everything is always fresh. They also have the best bran muffins.”
Discussing the impact of the ongoing pandemic, Trahanas says it has taken its toll on business.
“It was a rough ride and it’s still rough,” he says, noting that while the diner was forced to close for two months in the early part of the pandemic, “Like everything else, somehow, we’re going to be able to pull through.”
He says that “everyone is afraid now…we’re in unstable times,” explaining that things were getting better but now with the coronavirus variant Omicron, things have backslid quite a bit, and business has dropped off with the recent surge.
“The whole world has changed in these past two years.” He adds that it’s “not easy to keep up, but somehow he believes they’ll survive.”
Trahanas says that he was told by an old customer years ago, that ironically, the diner before the Golden Reef never closed down — even during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
“Back then, he said, “They sold rice and beans…but we had to close during the pandemic.”
He says that right now, there is “extreme inflation,” with prices rising on everything from carry-out containers to especially meat.
But he remains optimistic that things will soon get better.
Until then, he says, “somehow, we’ll deal with it.”
Golden Reef Diner is located at 329 Sunrise Hwy. in Rockville Centre. It can be reached at 516-764-9273 or goldenreefdiner.com
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