Jimmy’s Diner owners Blair Papagni and Josh Cohen outside their closed restaurant

Another beloved small business has closed in the wake of COVID-19. Jimmy’s Diner (577  Union Ave.) announced this month that the local restaurant would close for good. And yes, “The pandemic is absolutely the reason we closed,” says Blair Papagani, owner of Jimmy’s Diner.

Jimmy’s diner paused service in mid-March, when Governor Cuomo put New York State on PAUSE. “I had no doubt we would reopen,” says Papagani. At the time, she was beginning remote learning with her three kids, and assumed this closure would only last a few weeks. “In the first two weeks of being closed, we watched, like everyone else, I’m sure, the stories on the news of healthcare workers overwhelmed by the huge influx of patients into hospitals on a daily basis,” Papagani recalls. “We wanted to help and do what we had always done: Feed people.”  Jimmy’s partnered with North Brooklyn Angels to produce 450 meals a day for Woodhull Hospital healthcare workers and military personnel stationed there. This continued for eight weeks until the need subsided. Still, that wasn’t enough to keep Jimmy’s in business.
In early June, when became clear to Papagani that indoor dining was not going to be returning to normal anytime soon, it was time to make some tough decisions. “Jimmy’s is located on a busy stretch of Union Avenue and our sidewalk is quite small.  The idea of outdoor dining never seemed feasible to me,” Papagani says. “On a good day, when the world was a different place, Jimmy’s maxed out at 26 seats, eleven counter seats and fifteen table seats. When indoor dining returns we would not have been able to seat the counter and spacing people out would mean a maximum of 10 people seated at a time, if we were lucky. After thirteen years, it was no longer economically possible to stay open.  Delivery is not profitable enough for us to rely on and the takeout market is super saturated right now. I mean, even Peter Luger is doing takeout.”

A burger and fries at Jimmy’s Diner

Jimmy’s opened 2007, six weeks after the birth of Papagani and her husband’s second child. “I was 27 years old and really didn’t know a lot about the restaurant business, but I knew what I wanted Jimmy’s to be and was lucky to have a partner, my husband Josh, who had the experience to help me make that dream a reality,” she says. “I wanted a diner that would feel like some of the places I’d eaten in Upstate, while visiting my friends at college, with great food and great music and a quirky vibe.  I wanted to have a place that would employ interesting and talented people.” Everything in Jimmy’s was made by the staff, from the artwork on the walls to the menus to the t-shirts. Papagani envisioned a place where artists and bartenders and local families would eat at, and a place she could run and support her family with.

“Jimmy’s was all of that and so much more,” Papagani says. “I met some of my closest friends there while serving them pancakes and coffee, and I got to really know the neighborhood I was living in. I was able to employ some truly amazing people over the years and I look forward to seeing what they do in the future. The heart of any restaurant is its kitchen and my cooks were a tight knit group of hard working individuals that were with me for over a decade. The most difficult part about closing Jimmy’s was telling my kids and my staff that this beautiful journey that we had all been on together was over.”

Jimmy’s was a relic of old Brooklyn, a version of simpler times that tech and gentrification has pretty much obliterated. The restaurant didn’t have a website, all checks were written by hand, and most importantly, the business was hyper-involved in the community. “Jimmy’s was one the last of it’s kind. In a digital world, Jimmy’s was pretty analog,” Papagani says. “We never said no to a donation request. Whether it was a public school needing a tater tot donation for its gala, or a gift certificate for a raffle or a non-profit like NYC Together needing lunches for it’s teens, Jimmy’s always supported its neighbors.”

Chalkboard menus at Jimmy’s Diner

Papagani wants Jimmy’s to be remembered as a place with “good food and a good heart.” She also hopes that whatever business next moves into the now-vacant space will continues in the  tradition of supporting the community. Papagani and her family are still serving the community, with their second Greenpoint restaurant Anella, which survived a devastating fire in 2018 and has pivoted to takeout amidst the pandemic.

“I’m confident that if we work hard and smart, we will make it through this challenge,” Papagani says. Anella is currently open Thursday-Sunday for dinner, plus weekend brunch, dine in and take out. “We are very lucky to be able to seat in our garden and have the room to space people out appropriately,” Papagani says. “I am really lucky to have Anella to channel my post Jimmy’s energy into or, as one of my kids pointed out a few days ago, ‘You’d be really crazy mom.'”

Join the Conversation

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  1. I have never been to this location but did go several times to the one they had in Greenpoint on Calyer St and that closed to, many hrs. ago.

    It was a great restaurant, great location, great people, great ambience like a small farm house.

    They put in Ma Tante an upscale, gourmet, destination restaurant. Unless you are rich you need a loan from a bank to pay the bill.

  2. My boyfriend and I work opposite schedules so we are rarely able to visit a bar or restaurant together, so while I’m sad for all the businesses that are closing, none has felt personal – until Jimmy’s. Good food, good heart – good vibes, good music, every time!! Our favorite place. RIP Jimmy’s and good luck to the owners and staff. <3

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