Cup and Saucer is a classic all-American Lower East Side diner. The Canal Street mainstay is known for its blueberry pancakes and homefries- and for staying true to its roots. When it opened in 1940 it was a Jewish luncheonette, then, in 1988, Nick Castanos and his business partner John Vasilopoulos were the third owners to take over the popular breakfast spot (they kept the name). We met up with Nick at the restaurant to get his take on Chinatown, hipsters, and the New York attitude.
So where are you from?
I’m from Greece.
Tell us about Cup and Saucer.
Well, Cup and Saucer is an old time diner. We’ve tried to keep it that way. We’ve been here for 28 years but the old timers we found working down here have been here over 70 years.
Did you guys name it?
No, it was Cup and Saucer from the beginning, when it first opened. That’s why we have the original cup and saucer on the floor.
What’s popular on the menu?
We serve typical American breakfast. Blueberry pancakes, omelettes, homefries…
Let’s talk about your homefries. They’re special.
My homefries? They’re special? It’s potatoes, more potatoes, a little onion and a little oil…We cook ‘em on the grill and a lot of people like ‘em.
What are your roles?
John’s always up front. That’s how we divided it. I stay in the back and he stays in the front. We have our own thing. He takes care of the customers in the front and we do the cooking. A lot of times when it’s very busy it has its ups and downs.
Ok, let’s talk about New York. Tell me about Chinatown.
Chinatown is always changing. When we first came here in 1988, it was mostly Jewish shops, jewelry stores… Canal Street was all jewelry stores. There was nothing Chinese on either side, then in the early ‘90s it started changing.
How has it changed since then?
You have little bars coming in from Soho, and from uptown. Every day, every week; it’s a different store opening up.
Who are the regulars here?
Our regulars are business people, school teachers, kids, all kinds of people. Lately we’ve had many tourists, mostly from Europe.
And you must have hipsters, too? Can you define the word hipster?
We do, we do. They call it hipsters, they call it yuppies; they call it different names, but they’re all customers. Before, we didn’t have too many hipsters. In the 2000s they started moving down here, and then we had 9/11 which stopped everything. They’ve started coming back down here now. But we maintained our clientele.
Can you talk about your clientele- the people in New York?
New York is made by the people. Different cultures, different restaurants, different… everything. Everything you want to see in New York, they have.
Does Cup and Saucer have a New York attitude? Does it get crazy in the kitchen?
I work alongside the grill-man. When it gets a little hectic, then I do a little- not screaming at him- we just scream out the orders, so we can work together. The New York attitude: it’s fast. New York is a fun place to be. It has its ups and downs. We like to give it our best and give everyone our best service. Our customers enjoy it and we enjoy seeing our customers happy.
Did anything about New York keep you going? New York always seems to give you another chance…
It does, it does. You need an opportunity, you get it. If you’re willing to do it, you get the opportunity to do it. It was difficult in the beginning. Coming down here, it was different in every way, but we held on.