The owner of the Melrose Diner and the Broad Street Diner has obtained demolition permits
Two takeout dinners?
The iconic Melrose Diner, the stainless steel and neon touchstone for generations of Philadelphians, may have a date with the wrecking ball, according to a city wrecking permit.
Melrose owner Michael Petrogiannis also secured a demolition permit for the nearby Broad Street Diner, which had been closed for a long time before buying and renovating it in 2011, according to city records.
The Melrose and Broad Street are still operating as usual in South Philadelphia.
Sources said Petrogiannis intended to raze the Melrose, which opened in 1956 in a sprawling one-story building on a triangular lot bounded by West Passyunk Avenue, Snyder Avenue and 15th Street. Petrogiannis plans to build a taller structure, possibly with apartments above a new restaurant on the first floor, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Petrogiannis’ plans for the Broad Street Diner, five minutes away on the southeast corner of Broad and Ellsworth streets, were not known. City records reviewed by The Inquirer show that the demolition permit for this property was approved on June 28.
The permit was new to the office of City Council member Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the Second District, including Melrose. His assistant Vincent Thompson said Johnson would contact Petrogiannis next week to assess the situation at what he called a “legendary location”. Any new construction would have to be approved by the community, Thompson said.
Petrogiannis did not respond to messages seeking comment. News of Melrose’s demo permit began spreading late Friday on social media. A Melrose official, who declined to be named, told The Inquirer that only an unused garage on the site, not the restaurant itself, was being demolished. Social media users who called the restaurant said they were told of 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 surrounded by a chain-link fence during the process.
City records also indicate that earlier this year the two parcels of the site were merged into one, easing the way for demolition. When Petrogiannis applied for a liquor license for the Melrose in 2018, he only told The Inquirer that he had “big plans” in the works.
The Melrose, best known for its baked goods, its people-watching in the middle of the night, and its catchy jingle (“Everyone who knows, go 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 at a linoleum factory, but after he began to lose his hearing, he quit to work at a restaurant in North Philadelphia.
In 1940, Kubach took over a 19-stool restaurant 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 he was named after a box from Mel’s Tomatoes, which had an image of a rose on the label. Kubach senior asked a sign painter to start with the word Email and add a rose. The painter, however, lacked artistic skill and simply wrote the word.
In 1956, Kubach Sr. moved the business across 16th Street to its current location, which was at one time a police and fire station.
In the Melrose’s heyday, it was open 24 hours a day and lined up most of the time with a South Philadelphia cross-section sitting side by side at both counters: you had your politicians, your celebrities, your corporate staff. St. Agnes Hospital down the street, shift workers, students and retirees. The crowd after the last call could be frightening and delicious at the same time. Unrelated patrons had to share tables, adding to the tradition.
The Melrose is now open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Broad Street is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In 2007, Richard Kubach Jr., who had started working for his father at the age of 12, handed over the keys to Petrogiannis, who came to the United States from Greece as a teenager and owns restaurants such as the Mayfair and the Warminster. West.
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The Melrose was a 24-hour restaurant at the time of the sale. Kubach told The Inquirer he normally has to search for the keys once a year – at Christmas, the only day the Melrose is closed.
The Melrose was closed for several months in 2019 by a ceiling fire. It was operating outdoors, awkwardly, at the height of the pandemic.
It makes sense that Petrogiannis decided to develop the properties rather than continuing to operate them as restaurants. The restaurant era, at least in Philadelphia, has been fading for a few years, even before the pandemic, amid the rise of 24-hour food delivery services and Wawa stores.
The closures of Midtown III in the city center and the City Diner on Broad and South streets in 2020 were just the latest. The South Street Diner, which was open 24 hours before switching to nights last year, is now only open during the day.