Back in 1945, the Diamond Restaurant in Plaza Midwood opened with a menu of Southern fare that the locals loved. Over the ensuing years, it's been a political meeting place and a spot where families and billionaires ate (Bob Johnson was a regular there). But then things began to change.
The restaurant fell on hard times, falling into disrepair on the inside, and had an owner (Jerry Pistiolis) who was ready to retire.
Enter Jimmy King, Brian Rowe, Andy Kastanas — well-known in Plaza Midwood because of the Penguin (which King and Rowe ran for 10 years) and Soul Gastrolounge (which Kastanas owns) — and John Fuller (a member of the rock band Player/Kommander), who are taking over and restoring The Diamond.
"[Pistiolis], who had the place since the 1980s, said a very funny thing — that his clientele was dying off," said Rowe. "His older customers were passing away, and he wasn't getting any new customers. We're trying to do what we did with the Penguin and bring some old thing back to life. We're going to keep a lot of the signature items and be respectful to the building and put it back similar with a bit of a new look and new feel."
Kastanas said it was important to keep the Diamond in Plaza Midwood because the restaurant is a part of the history of the neighborhood. "It's been here longer than any other restaurant. We'll be able to celebrate a 65th anniversary this year, and that's something to be said."
And what about that menu? What items will Diamond diehards still recognize? Definitely the fried and baked chicken, said Rowe and Kastanas. The country-style steak, the chicken and dumplings, the collard greens and fresh vegetables, just to name a few staples. But, according to Kastanas, there will be some upgrades.
"We're going to bring it up-to-date a little bit and add some vegan and vegetarian items," he said. "As much as possible, we're going to try and use local fresh ingredients. We want to capture what the Diamond was always about."
Along with keeping the old-time crop of Diamond customers, Kastanas said he hopes having more choices on the menu will bring everyone to the restaurant. "We'll have a kids menu as well, and it's going to be better than your hot dogs and French fries," he said. "[The Diamond] is going to be the place where everybody can go. If you're going out to eat with six people and four of them eat meat, you can still come here."
If you're a fan of the historic restaurant's classic look, don't think the place that you remembered is going away. Kastanas said he and his partners are restoring the eatery to its "original" interior, courtesy of Scott Weaver, another well-known personality in the neighborhood.
"We've remodeled the place, and it still has the feel of a '50s-style décor," said Kastanas. "There's some wood paneling that was there before and some '50s-style wallpaper from that era. The coloring and the laminate will reflect that era. I don't want to say 'retro' because that makes it sound contrived."
Another twist to the new Diamond that is sure to bring in new and old eaters alike is the fact that, some time after the reopening, the restaurant will operate on a 24-hour basis. Plaza Midwood, Kastanas said, is lacking a place where residents can get breakfast anytime.
"We hope to have an active place day and night for the people in the neighborhood."