Three years ago, Irene Siderakis, a stay-at-home mom, suddenly inherited Kellogg’s Diner, a 24-hour go-to for eggs, burgers, nachos, Greek staples and more in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Chris Siderakis, her husband and the diner’s previous owner, had died unexpectedly, at 49. “I had no idea how to run a diner or if I could,” she said. “I had to make a choice: sell the diner or learn the business on my own and show my boys we can do this and persevere.” She opted for the latter.
Ms. Siderakis was just getting up to speed when she was hit with the double pandemic whammy of getting sick with Covid herself and having to close the restaurant, nearly 100 years old, during the shutdown. She was afraid she would lose the business for good. “But people really helped,” she said. Regulars started a GoFundMe for her and Kellogg’s. The effort helped the diner reopen for takeout in May 2020 and return to 24-hour service earlier this year. “This was a place everyone wanted to save,” she said.
Ms. Siderakis, 48, lives in Whitestone, Queens, with her four sons: Themi, 18; Billy, 16; Mario, 15, and Demetri, 12, and their dog, Agapi
LOVE IN THE MORNING I wake up at 7 a.m. I make a Greek frappé, which is Greek iced coffee with Splenda and Greek milk. The kids sleep in. I have a Yorkie-poo who I got on Thanksgiving after my husband died. We call her Agapi, the Greek word for love, which is what he used to call me. I wanted to hear it. Now I hear everyone saying it. I fix her meals for the day. I fix the couch, which is where I sleep so my kids can have their own rooms. My oldest sleeps in the basement. We’ve outgrown the house.
THE DINER I’m there by 11. We’re an indoor place. Because we’re on a corner there wasn’t anywhere to put outdoor tables. The train runs underneath us, and the stairs to the subway are right here. There were months where I didn’t think we’d make it but people are here again. Now I can finally start paying bills.
MORNING ROUNDS Sunday is a day the boss should show up. It’s very busy, full of families and large tables and couples. I put my bag behind the register, say good morning to the staff on the floor and in the kitchen. I check the bathrooms, walk the diner and say hello to customers, many who know me because they are regulars. When Chris died, I stepped into his shoes and learned how the dollar is made. I developed a new respect for what he did. This also makes me feel closer to him.
BOOTHS Turnover happens every 45 minutes to an hour. We have about 25 booths; the rest are tables. Everyone wants a booth and a window. It’s Williamsburg. They like to see the old Brooklyn buildings and the busy intersection.
FARE People love hangover, greasy-spoon food. Everyone is drinking coffee or ice cream shakes. We sell a lot of pancakes, eggs Benedict, waffles and, believe it or not, people order chicken wings, fried chicken and waffles, and burgers at 11 a.m.
THE DELIVERY DANCE The phones are always ringing and faxes are always coming in. Deliveries and pickups are a huge part of the business. Grubhub, Seamless and Delivery.com come through the fax. Uber and DoorDash have their own tablets, and those are always dinging. I check everything to make sure the orders are correct, then they need to be confirmed. Those confirmation numbers are written down on a pad. If something is wrong I have to call the food service companies, they call the customer, it’s an endless barrage of calls. Then we pack everything up and bring them to the door.
FRONT DOOR DUTY I like connecting and greeting customers. We were so divided and away from one another. I want to embrace everyone. We all say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ I tell them how we are, they tell me how they are, if they got engaged or married. My mouth doesn’t stop.
OFFICE ESCAPE If it’s not too busy, I go upstairs to the office at 3 and eat my lunch for 30 minutes. I’ll order a BLT or egg-white omelet with veggies, or a plain burger. And another iced coffee. My brain is strained and my eyes are tired. My lower back hurts. The office is small, but there’s a desk and chair and recliner, which I’ve slept in. I unwind and call my boys to see if they’re OK, what did they eat, do they have friends over, am I walking into a home that has four kids or 10.
GROCERY HAUL If the staff has everything under control, I go to Key Food in the Whitestone Shopping Center and shop for the week. We go through a lot of milk, bread, eggs, cold cuts, toilet paper and cereal. I leave with five to eight bags.
HOME The kids help bring everything inside. The sports channel is always on. I pick the dog up or she won’t stop jumping. She’s only five pounds and is like a rabbit. There’s a lot of noise. I’m always asking, ‘Why are your clothes on the floor? Why can’t you pick up this or that?’ They only help when I ask. I’m working on it. It’s been very hard. It’s a single woman’s life with children. If my kids don’t have any friends over I change into my loungewear, which is p.j.’s or yoga pants and a T-shirt.
FILLING MORE BELLIES I do laundry and make dinner. Sometimes I will have prepared something before I left or I’ll make chicken and potatoes, spaghetti and Bolognese, or pork chops and salad. If I’m really tired I bring in food from the diner: wings, Philly cheesesteak, nachos; they all want different things. Since Chris died, we rarely sit down as a family, which is sad. My whole life is different now. Sometimes they will have eaten during the day and don’t want anything. If that happens I get a bowl of cherries and we all watch a game on the TV, which is really nice because I love being with them.
WIND DOWN I’m exhausted from the day. The kids are usually in their rooms playing video games. This is the time I make calls to my sister or friends. I’ll check my email or get on Facebook. I’ll watch some news. The dog curls up next to me, and I’m usually asleep by 11:30.