Monday, February 27, 2006

The Nick and Gus Diner

When I worked in Oakland in the 80s, the Nick and Gus diner was the best and cheapest place to grab eggs and toast or a cheeseburger with fries. The Greek family run diner had been a fixture in downtown Oakland since 1909 and featured a line cook who remembered every patron's name. In a time when most businesses were fleeing Oakland for the the suburbs, the Nick and Gus diner held steady, dishing out the fries and sandwiches with Hellenic flair and tenacity. The city of Oakland showed its appreciation towards this small, old time business in a very predictable way: the city wanted the restaurant out.

Nick and Gus fell victim to a grandiose re-development plan. The restaurant was to be evicted, the building demolished, and a new hotel built, across the street from a new underused hotel. Even the Oakland Tourist Board could find only one reason for a tourist to stay in downtown Oakland: there was a BART station to San Francisco.

So, the "Save Nick and Gus" movement was born. Their argument was that Oakland had plenty of re-development projects that only resulted in a hole in the ground for 20 years, but "Nick and Gus" was a one of a kind diner (at least in Oakland, this line of reasoning would've been a tough sell in Chicago). I proudly sported a "Save Nick and Gus" bumper sticker on the side of my computer terminal, and we signed endless petitions at work to save this old Oakland landmark.

So what eventually happened? Nick and Gus were forced out (they moved to the suburbs) and their restaurant, formally known as the "Nick and Gus Hole in the Wall Diner" became a hole in the ground re-development project. The latest plan now involves the construction of a University of California office building.

3 comments:

Steve said...

I agree. Urban renew projects remove an area's personality and replace it with lifeless expanses of dark streets after 5 PM.

I processed out of the Army at the Oakland Army Depot in 1983. I can remember driving around the area in vain trying to find a store from which to purchase some toothpaste with no luck.

In the 1970s Denver, Colorado decided to renew its downtown. Just like the Nick and Gus Diner the renew projects removed all the businesses and places that gave downtown its urban flavor that those of us who lived in the suburbs relished. One place that got evicted never to return was an Army surplus store. This place was a real surplus store. It featured things like used US fatigues, Italian gas mask bags, and German rucksacks. Of course they also closed down all the gin joints and strip clubs. From a place that use to have a whiff of the exotic and adventurous about it, Denver downtown became the same as an office park. A place you go to if you work there, but otherwise would have no reason to visit.

Mitch Kief said...

I think part of the problem is that the seedy and shabby businesses project an image a city doesn't want. Esepcially if the image is close to the reality. Plus these little outfits are cash based and don't, as rule, generate a lot of taxes. However, a re-development project means grants, bonds, plans, consultants, meeetings, proposals, and finally the bids. Even a hole in the ground or re-developed parking lot offers the promise of a gleaming future, and very a torn buidling site can through the process of planning and consulting several times, thus generating revenue for many political allies, if not the actual politicans.

Anonymous said...

This is my Familys Dinner. We have high hopes in re-opening our restaurant we are now in 2011 and we are trying to find ways to keep our family dream alive. My Dad was the chef along with a team of family including his father Lou and Sister Jill Lekas! We have been trying to come up a plan to keep this family tradition alive Pleas email me if you have any input! nicolebriggs24@yahoo.com