By Kevin Deutsch
Diner lovers rejoice. Tibbett’s back.
The beloved eatery will re-open Tuesday, nine months after a fire gutted its interior. The new place looks shiny and new, from its gleaming seats and glistening wall panels to the fancy new lighting and futuristic-looking ceiling fans.
But lovers of the old Tibbett Diner need not worry: the eatery maintains its old-fashioned feel, has the same layout (plus two additional booths) and will serve all the food on its original menu at the same prices.
“Yes! They’re finally back!” said an overjoyed Evan Levy, 50, who ate at the diner almost every day for more than 30 years before it burned down. “Oh yeah, I’m excited. I’ll be there for breakfast the first day.”
The 40-year-old diner suffered major damage after a suspected electrical problem triggered a massive blaze about 1 a.m., Feb. 7, hours after the eatery had closed.
For co-owner Nick Diakakis, the first whiffs of bacon and eggs coming from the kitchen Tuesday will mark the end of a long struggle to rebuild. After the fire, vandals covered the diner’s walls in graffiti and broke in to steal the few salvageable items left inside. Then came delays with insurance payments, water damage from June’s endless rains and problems getting gas turned back on.
“It’s been stressful, but its good to be back,” Mr. Diakakis said, showing off the eatery’s fancy new touches. “It’s definitely got a classier feel to it. But we also tried to keep the old feel of the place, the familiar elements that people loved.”
Tibbett, deemed the best Bronx diner by The Village Voice in 2002, probably won’t have much trouble filling its booths. Customers have been bombarding Mr. Diakakis with phone calls and e-mails for months, seeking information about when Tibbett would reopen. They even made regular visits to the eatery’s Facebook page, through which the owners kept them abreast of developments.
Tibbett has been a mainstay in the diets of many Bronxites since it opened in 1968. For area schoolteachers, it’s been a lunch-break favorite. For senior citizens, it’s a social gathering spot where the gossip is just as good as the French toast. Some ate three meals a day there.
“The fire helped us realize what this place meant to the community,” Mr. Diakakis said.
Many longtime customers, who came to 3033 Tibbett Ave. day after day to see the diner’s windows still shuttered, took their business to other neighborhood eateries.
But Mr. Levy said there’s no comparison.
“This means there will finally be good food in the neighborhood again,” he said. “Thank goodness.”