Owner of the Melrose Diner and Broad Street Diner has obtained demolition permits – The Philadelphia Inquirer
Owner Michael Petrogiannis plans to raze the one-story buildings in South Philadelphia, city records show.
Two diners to go?
The iconic Melrose Diner, the stainless-steel-and-neon-trimmed touchstone for generations of Philadelphians, may be getting a date with the wrecking ball, according to a city demolition permit.
Melrose owner Michael Petrogiannis also obtained a demolition permit for the nearby Broad Street Diner, which had been long closed before he bought and renovated it in 2011, according to city records.
Both the Melrose and Broad Street are still operating as usual in South Philadelphia.
Sources said Petrogiannis intends to raze the Melrose, which opened in 1956 in a sprawling, one-story building on a triangular tract bounded by West Passyunk Avenue, Snyder Avenue, and 15th Street. Petrogiannis plans to build a taller structure, possibly with apartments above a new diner on the first floor, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Petrogiannis’ plans for the Broad Street Diner, five minutes away at the southeast corner of Broad and Ellsworth Streets, were not known. City records reviewed by The Inquirer show that the demolition permit for that property was approved June 28.
The permit was news to the office of City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the Second District, including the Melrose. His aide Vincent Thompson said Johnson would reach out to Petrogiannis next week to assess the situation about what he called a “legendary location.” Any new construction would need to pass community muster, Thompson said.
Petrogiannis did not reply to messages seeking comment. Word of the Melrose’s demo permit began spreading late Friday on social media. A Melrose manager, who declined to give her name, told The Inquirer that only an unused garage on the site, not the diner itself, was being knocked down. Social media users who had called the restaurant reported being told a similar scenario.
But plans for the Melrose show that the entire property and its two adjoining brick buildings are part of the demolition plan, and that the block will be ringed with a chain-link fence during the process.
City records also indicate that earlier this year, the site’s two parcels were merged into one, easing the path to demolition. When Petrogiannis applied for a liquor license for the Melrose in 2018, he told The Inquirer only that he had “big plans” on the way.
The Melrose, known especially for its baked goods, middle-of-the-night people-watching, and its catchy jingle (“Everybody who knows, goes to Melrose”), dates from the Depression.
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Dick Kubach, in the hardware business in Germany, came to the United States in 1929, according to a family history. Kubach went to work in a linoleum factory, but after he began to lose his hearing, he quit to work in a diner in North Philadelphia.
In 1940, Kubach took over a 19-stool diner at 1610 W. Passyunk Ave., according to a history prepared by the Smithsonian Institution.
Kubach’s son Richard Kubach Jr. told The Inquirer in 2007 that it was named after a can of Mel’s Tomatoes, which had a picture of a rose on the label. Kubach Sr. asked a sign painter to start with the word Mel and to add a rose. The painter, though, lacked artistic skills and simply wrote the word.
In 1956, Kubach Sr. moved the business across 16th Street to its present location, which at one time was a police and fire station.
In the Melrose’s heyday, it was open 24 hours a day and line-out-the-door busy much of the time with a cross section of South Philly sitting side by side at the two counters: You had your politicos, your celebrities, staff from St. Agnes Hospital down the street, shift workers, students, and retirees. The crowd after last call could be scary and delightful all at once. Unrelated patrons had to share tables, adding to the lore.
The Melrose is now open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The Broad Street is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In 2007, Richard Kubach Jr., who had started working for his father as a 12-year-old, turned over the keys to Petrogiannis, who came to the United States from Greece as a teenager and owns such diners as the Mayfair and Warminster West.
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The Melrose was a 24-hour diner at the time of the sale. Kubach told The Inquirer that he ordinarily had to search for the keys once a year — on Christmas, the only day the Melrose closed.
The Melrose was closed for several months in 2019 by a fire in the ceiling. It operated outdoors, awkwardly, at the height of the pandemic.
It’s logical that Petrogiannis has decided to develop the properties rather than continue to operate them as diners. The era of the diner, at least in Philadelphia, has been fading for the last few years, even before the pandemic, amid the rise of 24-hour food-delivery services and Wawa stores.
The shutdowns of the Midtown III in Center City and the City Diner at Broad and South Streets in 2020 were only the latest. The South Street Diner, which had been open 24 hours a day before switching to overnights as recently as last year, now is open only daytime hours.