Skip to comments.'Big fat Greek diner' drives top Wall Street bank off the road
Posted on 04/19/2003 5:09:10 PM PDT by MadIvan
When Goldman Sachs, Wall Street's most powerful investment bank, decided to build itself a new skyscraper it also planned a fast new road to its door.
It reckoned, though, without Andy Diakos and the thousands of customers who eat at his old-fashioned Flamingo diner, which stood in the path of the proposed road.
In an upset tagged the Big Fat Greek Diner for its echoes of the hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the local authorities last week prevented the demolition of the Flamingo.
Instead, they told the bank that its 6,000 besuited employees who are to occupy the 800ft tower must struggle through traffic, or walk from the local stations, like everybody else.
The story, like Nia Vardolos's film, has struck a powerful chord in New York, playing on traditional themes of family values immigrant hard work.
"I came from Greece to America to work hard for a better life and for 35 years I have been in this kitchen seven days a week. To take it from me would be a great injustice. Now I am saved, I feel like a new man!" said Mr Diakos, 59.
The new Goldman Sachs building towers over a financial district being built in Jersey City, across the Hudson River from the site of the World Trade Center. Leading Wall Street companies have been lured to downmarket "Jersey" by low corporate taxes, cheaper land prices and lower rents.
Goldman's plans for its new tower entailed flattening Mr Diakos's four-storey redbrick building - a scruffy leftover of the original waterfront - to make way for a four-lane approach road to its new headquarters.
Jersey City drew up a compulsory purchase and demolition order and offered $1.5 million (£1 million) for the Flamingo. But Mr Diakos, his extended family and customers from the old dockyard area decided that some things were worth more than money.
Mr Diakos's three daughters, Kalliope, 30, a graduate of the London School of Economics who works in television, Joanna, 28, and Maria, 27, hired a lawyer and organised a protest. Twelve thousand residents signed a petition and hundreds crowded into planning meetings to make their voices heard.
Joan Colletti, 53, a social worker, summed up the mood of residents as she tucked into moussaka at the Flamingo. "This is the heart of the community, and while people in Wall Street might not notice, there is a community here," she said. "This is the only place we have left for good food at low prices, any time of the day or night."
Mayor Glenn Cunningham finally got the message. Last week, he announced that he was lifting the demolition order. Goldman Sachs workers would instead have to negotiate a system of one-way streets to reach their office.
"I've listened to the people. God bless the Flamingo and may she fly for ever," he said. "I'm pretty sure Goldman Sachs would have preferred the building to go down. But I've checked their voting address - and they don't vote in Jersey City."
A spokesman for Goldman Sachs said that the company was unruffled by the change of plan. Privately, however, its executives have a different message.
"This smacks of political opportunism," one said. Another said: "They should get real: 6,000 people are going to try to get to work in that building and this will create a safety problem in the streets they will have to use."
To Kalliope, such complaints miss the point. She had watched her parents work around the clock to build up a business with loyal customers and make a modest fortune.
"All my father ever wanted to do was to go on running the Flamingo. It is because of his hard work that we could do all that," she said.
Mr Diakos, surrounded by a family of women whose chatter with the customers is a part of his diner's allure, prefers to toss burgers and stuff cabbage in the background, and keep his thoughts to himself.
Why had he refused the $1.5 million which could have provided a comfortable retirement and an end to his 16-hour days? "Money? I don't mind so much for the money, but all my life I wanted something, a business, to leave to my daughters, and it is here," he said.
When Goldman Sachs announced it was moving, it was a coup for New Jersey. It is considered Wall Street's leading investment bank and when it was publicly floated in 1999 its partners received a record-breaking windfall.
Gavyn Davies, now the chairman of the BBC, was then its chief international economist and saw his shares valued at £100 million.
The present recession, which caused the bank's profits to fall eight per cent last year, prompted a characteristic response: Goldman Sachs fired 2,900 staff.
Thanks for this one Ivan.
You have a point, Ivan.
But it is the secretaries and programmer, electricians and cafeteria workers that will be struggling through (and this is probably not an overstatement) a chain of one-way streets. Corzine, if he still worked there today, would be brought to the roof in a helicopter.
1. You should see the post to which I replied. Yours is a different point.
2. When a property is bought out, it is not a comparison of two businesses but a property vs. public. YOu may disagree with the conclusion, but you should at least understand the ussue.
And a BUMP for traditional, hard-workin', family values!!!!
Your attitude suggests that the rumors of traffic jams justifies the taking of private property. "Rumors" in such cases are based on studies.
And, yes, it is important to buy our a private property when public interests predominate overwhelmingly. Eminent domain should be exercised conservatively, but you seem to be against it totally, which is ill-founded. Takeing private property to give to other private interests (and chargeing the public for the expense) is just wrong.
Hardly! You cannot equate a small business man, who worked hard all his life, to build up a business he loves, with the French and the UN.
What have the French contributed to the UN? (In comparison what little Greek restauranteur has contributed to his local community, his staff and his family?) BAD analogy, friend.
How tough would it have been to have one of the VP's meet with the guy, be nice to him, sympathize with him, etc. and offer him free or cheap space in the bottom of the office tower in exchange?
They didn't offer him a bad deal, but they DID offend his pride - an dus self-employed types are a stubborn lot.
A politician who listens to his voters????
There will be 6,000 people inconvenienced, but there are 12,000 who had their voices heard!