Coffee and controversy steeped within the final months of the College Diner, ultimately resulting in a two-sided battle and messy eviction early this month.
When the diner’s previous business co-owner Andreas Vlamis passed away in November of 2014, his brother Leonidas turned the 40-plus year ownership over to their brothers, Demetrios and Theodore, who operated the diner until its final meal.
However, the eventual eviction ended with vandalism accusations on one end and rightful property ownership solutions on the other.
“It was very amiable, it was a very good relationship, then two brothers who weren’t living up to the Vlamis family standard took it over,” said Maura Shaw Tantillo, wife of Joseph Tantillo Jr. The couple inherited the property 10 years ago when Joseph’s father died. “We treated them with every courtesy and respect that you could give to a family, but it just wasn’t returned,” she said.
Demetrios and Theodore were given a time extension until Oct. 31 to remove their personal belongings and consider other options for the diner before its closure, according to Maura, but they were also reportedly not paying their “way below market value” rent since around the summertime.
The Vlamis brothers reportedly did not show up the morning of their legal eviction on Nov. 2, and before this they collected items from inside the diner, supposedly ranging from the water system’s copper piping to the doors from the coolers and freezers, which caused the food to spoil, according to Maura.
“They took anything of value. They smashed the booths. They filled the toilets with stuff that wasn’t so great…they made holes in the roof…and left it open to the rain…and cut the wires so that the basement flooded,” Shaw Tantillo said in her recount of these discoveries. “We spent thousands and thousands of dollars in the last three weeks trying to stem the extent of the damage that they did when they left. We’re not going after them for anything or any damage that they did. We just want them out of our lives.”
A new lease was negotiated between these families, but was ultimately not agreed upon. The Tantillos are now looking to sell their 2.14 acre property, which 18,000 cars pass by every day. This was not a matter of wishing to close the diner, but simply the end of this lease after 56 years of service, according to Theodore.
“The building is mine, so I took my possessions, whatever I had…whatever you see, it’s mine, including the dirt, believe it or not,” Theodore said. “We have no problems. He has his property, I left behind my building, so actually he’s a winner, so I’m not going to cry about it.”
Theodore hopes to open another business soon, possibly a new and improved location of the College Diner.
“The premises were closed up by the building inspectors here in town. We solely helped with the eviction of the property,” said Lieutenant Robert Lucchesi of the New Paltz Police Department. “Based upon everything at this point it’s not criminal in nature. This is a matter really for civil court and there’s no active investigation we’re pursuing at this point.”
Steve Battaglio worked the overnight shift at the diner during his summer breaks and described the atmosphere as a community and “a place to hangout and unwind.” Once the bars closed, he and others gathered at the diner for early morning food and friendly conversation.
“They wanted to develop it for a long time. It’s always been an argument, my entire life,” Battaglio said. “New Paltz and big companies have always been trying to move into that specific area by the thruway…that’s always been a big issue, the land around there.”
Battaglio last visited the diner about three years ago before his move to Rhode Island. He mostly misses their food and family-oriented business.
Adam Kane, a 20-year patron of the diner, first discovered the diner in the late 90s, but stopped going to the diner about three to six months ago.
“Once the ownership changed, the quality of the food, the service, everything just went down the tubes, until obviously now they’re out of business,” Kane said. “Once you have an absentee owner, the people who were working there didn’t have the same best interest as them when they were there…because when Theodore and Dimitri were physically there they kept the quality standards up very high.”
Kane is a business owner himself of a bed and breakfast in Highland. He said he used to recommend his guests to go to the diner, but now he does not, as he does not want them to have “bad experiences,” like that of his own.
A Facebook page, called “College Diner Memoirs,” was created by Theodore’s son in honor of the diner. The main post from the management and staff currently has over 203 reactions, 79 comments and 150 shares, featuring the recollection of heartfelt memories from past visitors’ teenage and college years, and sadness in the realization of this chapter’s end.
“I miss it being there in a staple of our community,” Kane said. “It was really just a nice thing to have right there off the thruway—easy, convenient, good food, you know? I really miss it.”