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El Greco’s last meal

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Photo gallery

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Proud patrons: Kelly Zhumi, left, holds a burger, Yesenia Bonilla, center, holds chili cheese fries, and Yacelyn Soriano holds a chicken sandwich — the last meals ever served to customers at the El Greco diner.
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Loyal local: Eleanor Puma has been coming to El Greco for almost 40 years.
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Moving forward: El Greco waitress Veronica Astarita already has a new job lined up.
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Memories for a lifetime: Zina Krivorot, left, enjoys her last meal at the iconic diner with her longtime friend Alina Deren, and her daughter, Anastasia Krivorot.
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A new chapter: Anastasia Venetoklis said she is using her free time to go back to school to study archeology.

It is the end of an era in Sheepshead Bay.

The El Greco diner served its last meal on Dec. 19. The family-owned eatery closed its doors after more than 40 years and one of the owners said customers came from across the nation to say goodbye to the place that served as the backdrop of their lives from adolescence to adulthood.

“They’re coming from all over — California, Maryland, Boston,” said Anastasia Venetoklis, whose late husband built the diner. “They’re saying, ‘Thank you for being here, this is our home.’ ”

El Greco closed its doors to the public shortly before 5 pm last Friday and served its last dishes to three teenage patrons who ordered the eatery’s staples — a chicken sandwich, a burger, and a plate of chili cheese fries. It was a fitting final course for the all-American diner, said one of the owners.

“That is very appropriate,” said Peter Venetoklis, Anastasia’s son. “That’s what we serve.”

The diner was bought by Rybak Developers and is being demolished to accommodate a seven-story mixed-use development, according to Peter Venetoklis. He said the developers plan to break ground in six to nine months.

Before the restaurant began its private send-off party for the Venetoklis’ staff and family friends, regulars reminisced one last time in the eatery that served up their favorite foods, fond memories, and — for one patron — secrets from her youth that she’s finally ready to share.

“I used to bring for breakfast one date, lunch one date, dinner one date — and whoever I chose would be my nightcap,” said Alina Deren, who lives in Bergen Beach, and was visiting the diner with her friends Zina Karvorot and Irina Strem. “Dancing in the parking lot — we used to do crazy things here. How many times did my car get towed away?”

Karvorot couldn’t recall all of her memories of the diner, but she said she will always remember the orders that got her through the crazy nights.

“After you’re nice and drunk, you come here for the hors d’oeuvres — the fried zucchini sticks and coffee. Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee,” said Karvorot.

The loss is sentimental for most locals, but it is a financial hardship for the eatery’s staff. Several employees haven’t found new jobs yet, but one waitress said she is hopeful for her co-workers.

“It is a little sad but everybody is going to find something,” said Veroncia Astarita, who has already found a new gig.

Peter Venetoklis said the closure was bittersweet, but he said he is thankful for the characters who made the diner everyone’s home.

“The real stories are the customers,” he said.

Reach reporter Vanessa Ogle at vogle@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4507. Follow her attwitter.com/oglevanessa.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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