WOODBURY – Annoula’s Diner has only been open since January, but has already cooked up a huge following in Woodbury’s crowded restaurant scene.
How popular has Annoula’s Diner become in such a brief time?
Well, Annoula’s Diner owner Nick Papanikolaou has been in the restaurant industry for 30 years. Papanikolaou said this Father’s Day was the busiest Father’s Day he’d ever had.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” Papanikolaou said on a recent weekday morning while he made a western omelet with a side of bacon for a hungry customer. “It was the busiest breakfast I’d ever made.”
And it wasn’t just a Father’s Day fluke – Papanikolaou said business has been up 30% since he opened his doors.
Secrets of Annoula’s Diner’s Success
So what’s made Annoula’s Diner such a quick success story?
First, Papanikolaou knows the area. Papanikolaou is the former owner of Nick’s Country Kitchen in Bethlehem, where he’s still a partner. He also owned The Mad Greek in Southbury, which he sold to his son about a year and a half ago.
“I was very confident when we opened because we have had successful restaurants in the area,” Papanikolaou said. “We knew a lot of people, but the location is a great spot.”
The location is 740 Main St. S., in the Middle Quarter Mall. It’s been a diner before – it is the original location of Phillips Diner, and later Dottie’s Diner. Papanikolaou leased the space at the beginning of 2016, and it took nearly a year for him to completely remodel the diner and get all the permits in place to open.
Second, there’s the menu selection. Instead of staying in his comfort zone of serving traditional diner food, Papanikolaou offers a number of farm-to-table selections and items for the health-conscious foodies.
“We offer healthier things here because times have changed,” Papanikolaou said. “People are paying attention to what they’re eating now.”
Papanikolaou has even done some gourmet meals, and also serves up regular diner offerings to accommodate all types of customers.
For example, Papanikolaou sources farm-to-table items such as nitrate-free bacon from Percy Thomson Meadows in Bethlehem. Salad offerings include Zorba’s Greek Salad (mixed greens, tomatoes, red onions, peppers, cucumbers, feta cheese, Greek olives, stuffed grape leaf, hard-boiled egg and oregano) and an Apple Salad (mixed greens, Granny Smith Apples, red onions, Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and craisins). And, of course, there’s French toast, pancakes, benedicts, and 14 kinds of omelets.
“To keep up with times, you have to make changes,” Papanikolaou said. “Restaurants themselves are not cooking like they did in the old days, but this is working out really good.”
As noted above, Annoula’s Diner is in the former location of Dottie’s Diner, which you can see from the front door of Annoula’s Diner. Head north, and you’ll hit The Split Rail, and then Woodbury Diner. That’s four diners – and 23 total restaurants – in a town of about 10,000 people.
“There is a lot of competition, but you do the best you can to make your customers happy,” Papanikolaou said.
But that doesn’t always happen, especially when you’re a new restaurant that is working out the kinks. Papanikolaou has a staff of five, and his girlfriend, Renee Smith, fills in when needed.
So when unexpected crowds come in – as can happen in the restaurant industry – it can be hard for the staff to keep up. For example, on a Wednesday, during lunch house, Annoula’s Diner filled up four times.
“Customers have been happy, but sometimes you have to give people a break,” Papanikolaou said. “We just opened up, and you can’t expect you to be 100% from the start. If 50 people walk in at the same time, you’re not going to get your order in 10 minutes.”
Woodbury Brewing Company
Annoula’s Diner is currently open from 6:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. But Papanikolaou said he may expand his hours for four or five days a week.
That’s because Annoula’s Diner will be the packaged food provider for Woodbury Brewing Company, which will open its doors in October.
“The brewing company is opening up and they can’t serve food there, so we will be doing the cooking for them,” Papanikolaou said. “Now we are considering keeping the front open, since we’re going to be here.”
Papanikolaou said food for Woodbury Brewing Company will be packaged at Annoula’s, then brought over to the neighboring business. While a menu has not been determined yet, Papanikolaou said it will be bar foods, such as sandwiches.
“I think it’s going to work out really good for them,” Papanikolaou said of Woodbury Brewing Company. “It’s a nice spot, and they are great guys.”