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FORMER COFFEE HOUSE NOW HAS 1950s LOOK

Photo by David B. Corbin

POPULAR EATERY... Vicki’s Diner on East Broad Street has become a popular place to meet at all hours of the day in downtown Westfield. (Left to right) husband Tom, son Teddy, Vicki Pavlou and Chef Francisco Lopez

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Vicki’s Diner Becoming Favorite Westfield Spot to Meet and Eat

By PAUL J. PEYTON

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

The following is the third part in a series of articles about the future development and viability of Westfield’s downtown business district. This week’s story takes a look at a business owner who has invested time and money to expand an existing business to fill a void in town.

* * * * *

For over a decade, NBC (National Broadcasting Company) aired a show about a popular establishment where "everybody knows your name." The show was "Cheers." Well, Vicki’s Diner on East Broad Street is starting to gain a reputation as a place to meet where the wait staff and owner, Vicki Pavlou, actually know all the regular customers by their first names.

After operating a small coffee house for 12 years, Mrs. Pavlou knew she needed to expand in order to better serve her customers who wanted expanded hours, including Sunday evenings, and more space to bring their families.

"All the time I was here (as a coffee house) my customers used to say, ‘Vicki, you have to get a bigger place,’" she explained, noting she used to only have small tables, located against a side wall and in the front, which simply couldn’t fit large families.

Vicki’s Place offered breakfast and lunch with about half the seating of the diner.

So when she heard that the travel agency located next door to her business was closing its doors, Vicki’s Place, she realized she couldn’t pass up this opportunity to expand. The location was perfect, as it didn’t require her to move the restaurant to another location, which could have caused some confusion on the part of her regular patrons.

After shutting down for 25 days for construction, Mrs. Pavlou officially opened her new establishment, Vicki’s Diner, a vintage 1950s diner. In addition to historic shots of the town, the local fire, police departments and rescue squad have provided pictures for display on the diner’s walls.

Despite the fact the eatery had been closed, customers quickly came back.

"We are doing very well. We are very happy," said Mrs. Pavlou, whose husband, Tom, and two kids, Teddy, who works full-time, and Rena, who works while she is in college, are both helping out at the diner.

The popularity of the diner spread quickly by word of mouth, said Mrs. Pavlou during an interview with The Westfield Leader on Tuesday, noting that during the first couple of weeks she worked from 4:30 a.m. until as late as 12:30 a.m. Lately, she has been able to leave the establishment in mid-afternoon on some weekdays.

While most Westfielders are sound asleep, Vicki and Tom Pavlou and their chef, Francisco Lopez, are busy preparing for the day ahead by making the pancakes, boiling potatoes for the home fries, cooking the bacon, making the soups, etc.

But for Mrs. Pavlou, the hours are just part of the business she loves so much. Practically every person who walks in the diner’s doors is greeted by her friendly smile and Greek accent.

"I love to be with people," she said, noting that she considers her many patrons as part of her family.

The expansion into the former Travel Time space has doubled the square footage of her business, which now seats 90 in booths and at the counter.

Vicki’s Place used to close at 4:30 p.m., thus eliminating the possibility of families and singles coming in for a bite or coffee at night, perhaps even movie crowds getting out of the Rialto Theatre.

The diner is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.

Since its conversion to a diner, Vicki’s has attracted crowds not just from Westfield, Scotch Plains and Fanwood, but from Summit and Cranford and even from the Jersey Shore as word continues to spread about the popular eatery.

Although Vicki said the loss of the Excellent Diner a few years ago did not figure into her decision to open a diner, it has apparently attracted persons who used to eat at the former downtown staple.

In keeping with her desire to keep the interior of the restaurant simple, the eatery does not have fancy chandeliers or upscale booths.

The interior of the diner features checkered floors, red booths with old fashioned tables and counters. To give the place a Westfield feel, Mrs. Pavlou visited the Westfield Historical Society. They gave her a number of historic shots which have been framed and displayed throughout the diner.

In addition, pictures of her younger customers at the opening of the diner, as well as pictures of Mrs. Pavlou with Mayor Thomas C. Jardim and his predecessor, Bud C. Boothe, are displayed on a side wall in the front of the diner.

A picture of the late former Police Chief James Moran also is displayed as are pictures of now retired Westfield Patrolman William Sampson, who was a regular figure downtown when he directed traffic at East Broad and Prospect Streets.

Among the favorites on the menu are the Greek salad and burgers. Hamburgers are made with chopped meat which is purchased fresh each morning. Mrs. Pavlou noted that a hamburger with a Greek salad is a very popular meal.

Each day the menu consists of daily breakfast specials including waffles and blintzes. Lunches and dinner specials also are offered.

The diner employs 25 persons who are mostly from Westfield and surrounding communities. Like the diner’s owner, the staff maintains a friendly attitude when greeting customers, especially the regulars.

As is traditional with many diners, the owner and staff share many of the customers’ joys, such as an engagement or marriage of a customer’s child or the birth of a grandchild, as well as sorrows such as a death in a patron’s family.

Over the years Vicki’s patrons have remembered their experience of eating at her place. In one case, a couple from Colorado Springs, Colorado, saw an article in a Greek newspaper recently about the opening of Vicki’s Diner and decided to send her a copy of the paper.

That couple had eaten at Vicki’s Place in 1977 and still recalled their experience when they came across the story.

So while businesses come and go from Westfield, Vicki’s Diner is likely to continue serving up omelettes, Belgian waffles, grilled sandwiches, salads and triple decker sandwiches, for many years to come.

Copyright 1997
TheWestfield Leader.
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10/25/97.

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