Brothers plan to clone popular diner Pasadena to be site of 2nd Double T

June 10, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

For two decades, the Korologos brothers have sniffed ou struggling diners and rebuilt them, sticking to the theory that it's impossible to pile too much food on any plate.

Tom, John and Louis Korologos, former merchant sailors from Greece, started with a diner in upstate New York and moved five years ago to the Double T Diner, a Catonsville landmark with a neon sign that has dominated the U.S. 40 landscape for more than 30 years. Now, they are spreading out to Pasadena, where they plan to open a second Double T Diner by the end of the summer.

The new restaurant, at Ritchie Highway and Mountain Road, is to be the spitting image of the diner on U.S. 40 near the Beltway -- a 1959 stainless steel classic, with 6,700 square feet of floor space, 195 seats, a main dining room, two additional rooms and 97 parking spaces.

The brothers, who left their home by the Aegean Sea in the early 1970s to escape a life of laboring in the olive groves, say they're building their diner from the ground up because it costs less than refurbishing an old restaurant.

They searched for an established restaurant but couldn't find anything worth renovating, explained John Korologos, 37. But they liked the Ritchie Highway location and thought the price for the land was right, he said.

What's more, "It has always been my dream to build a new place from scratch," he said. "The old ones, at one time, were built that way."

To realize the dream, he and his brothers have traveled far -- in more than miles -- from the poor mountain village of Tyros on an island in the Peloponnese.

As teen-agers, they bused tables in the tourist restaurants each summer and worked in their father's olive groves the rest of the year. These days, they devote at least 80 hours a week to running the original Double T and supervising construction of the new one.

To get out of the olive groves, each brother joined the Greek merchant marine at the age of 16.

The oldest brother, Tom, now 39, jumped ship in New York in 1970. Awed by the city and its seemingly endless possibilities, he found his way to Long Island and to a dish-washing job.

Four years later, he had saved enough to put a down payment on the Fountainbleu diner in Rockland County and bring his brother John to the United States to help him. Louis, now 34, joined them two years later.

The diner became their school of English, U.S. customs and business management. They learned the business by working around the clock. Their formula of good food, large portions, inexpensive prices and fast service made the Fountainbleu profitable within three years.

Tom Korologos sold the restaurant in 1977, returned to Greece briefly, then came back to the United States to manage restaurants. By 1983, the Fountainbleu had become the Blauvelt Coach Diner and was in sad shape. The brothers took over, turned it around again, sold it for a profit again and looked for the next challenge.

It came in the form of the Double T, a worn relic from the 1950s that was grossing about $20,000 a week. But the brothers saw potential

They "paid a premium price," said Gus Prevas, the family lawyer, recalling that others thought they paid too much. "But they knew once they expanded it and started running it like a class New York, New Jersey and Long Island diner, it could gross $60,000 to $80,000 a week. They saw they could get dividends."

But their plans to give the Catonsville landmark a face lift caused alarm among some of the regulars.

"At first I thought, 'Oh, there goes the Double T,' " said Janet Hare, 68, a waitress who started there in the days when she and six others wore white uniforms and were asked for by name, and when the minijukeboxes at each table played records instead of compact discs.

Now, she said, "I still have people who come in that I used to wait on years and years ago."

The new owners poured $700,000 into remodeling. They doubled the capacity by adding two dining rooms to the existing structure. They added neon, mirrors and Italian marble, expanded and upgraded the kitchen and threw some Greek specialties in with the Western omelets and fries and gravy. Business more than tripled.

"They kept it looking like a diner, but a polished diner, where you can get a nice meal at a moderate price, with the old appeal and some new life," said Bob Blume, an insurance broker who works near the diner and eats lunch and sometimes dinner there at least five times a week.

"It gets to be a habit sometime," he said. "It's convenient. The service is always fast and pleasant. Plus, it's kind of a meeting spot, where people know each other."

"Customers we have known since the first day come here," said John Korologos, settling down to a turkey sandwich in the rear dining room with Tom. "They remember when they were youngsters, 15 or 18, and now they're in their 50s."

"The diner business, it's never at an end," John said. "It's always something. This is the toughest school of life."

"But you can't give up," Tom said.

John nodded in agreement. "We don't know anything else to do," he said.

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