Philadelphia Says Goodbye To Little Pete's, An All-Night Dining Icon : The Salt For nearly 40 years, the old-fashioned diner has served up round-the-clock Reubens and eggs Benedict to all walks of life. But on Monday, the landmark served up its last meals.
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Philadelphia Says Goodbye To Little Pete's, An All-Night Dining Icon

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Philadelphia Says Goodbye To Little Pete's, An All-Night Dining Icon

Philadelphia Says Goodbye To Little Pete's, An All-Night Dining Icon

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Little Pete's in Philadelphia provided an omelet or a club sandwich at any hour of the day or night, the kind of place where it didn't take long to become known as a regular. The diner closed for good last night. It was a fixture in the city for nearly 40 years. Bobby Allyn of member station WHYY spent time with some of Little Pete's last customers and with Little Pete himself.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Little Pete's was named after Pete Koutroubas, a Greek immigrant who started in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher. He was so short he had to stand on a milk crate to do the job. He was 1 of 3 Petes. That's where he got the nickname.

PETE KOUTROUBAS: Big Pete - he was, like, 6-foot-something. And there was a manager there. So I was the busboy. So I was the little. They used to call him Big Pete, Middle Pete and Little Pete. So I got stuck with Little Pete.

ALLYN: And that name on an old fashioned sign is what invited people in before sitting down at one of the simple booths or on a stool around a U-shaped counter. Generations of lawyers, construction workers, businesspeople and janitors have been served Reubens and chicken pot pies here since 1978. It became a community outpost in a section of the city that went from seedy to bustling.

Waitress Margie Storn has watched the neighborhood change. Wearing big, gold hoop earrings and purple eye shadow, Storn says as more bars and clubs opened in the area, there were more and more after-hours diners.

MARGIE STORN: That crowd is wild.

ALLYN: Lining up at the door after last call, she says they were often insatiable.

STORN: So they're hungry enough where they go up to a complete stranger and take a French fry off their plate, you know? And sometimes it's funny, and sometimes they're throwing French fries around.

ALLYN: Regulars, Storn says, have developed nicknames over the decades.

STORN: We have a customer whose name is John, and we call him Neither Either because he doesn't want a pickle or a chip.

ALLYN: It's a place where campaigning politicians would come to shake hands and celebrities would sneak in for a low-key meal. As Tracy Mueller found out, it didn't take long to become part of the Little Pete's family.

TRACY MUELLER: The second time I came here, the waitress knew my name. She knew what I drank. Before I even sat down, she's like, hi, Tracy; would you like some ice tea? And I'm like, I love this place. It's like Cheers without alcohol.

ALLYN: But it's now coming to an end. New York developers are raising the diner and building a luxury hotel on the site, a symptom of the growing affluence of the city's core. Philadelphia resident Andy Kaplin isn't embracing the news.

ANDY KAPLIN: What we need is affordable food that isn't a fancy restaurant where the culinary critics are going to come and criticize and break down a restaurant. You need a little of everything to make a city a diverse.

ALLYN: Owner Little Pete Koutroubas meanwhile says he's long known the end was near. Selling $6 mozzarella sticks and $7 roast beef sandwiches kept things rolling for decades, but when he started in the 1970s, his monthly rent was $800. Last month, it was $10,000. For NPR News, I'm Bobby Allyn in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF MFSB SONG, "T.S.O.P. - THE SOUND OF PHILADELPHIA")

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