From decimation in June to resurrection in the New Year, Simos Diner is back – and judging from the lunchtime crowd, it was as though that tragedy never happened.
Last June, The Leader had to tell the heartbreaking story of the burning down of beloved neighborhood restaurant Simos Diner at 5004 N. Shepherd. However, the family pledged to bring the diner back to life in short order, and that promise came to fruition as they re-opened their doors to the neighborhood Jan. 8.
“We basically gutted the building ourselves,” Steve Simos said of the long road back. And that wasn’t all they had to endure. Following Hurricane Harvey, the restaurant’s contractors were pulled off that job to assist in the recovery efforts – essentially decimating their workforce down from seven or eight workers to just a couple. “That’s when our family came into the picture and did what we could do. It’s been a wild ride.”
Along the way, the family knows their progress would have been substantially stunted without community support, and expressed endless gratitude for the tireless support the family received throughout the rebuilding process – an outpouring of love Steve called “beyond words” as they worked to restore Simos to glory. At one point – with investment in repairs coming in around $350,000 – Steve even initially had his house up for sale as a contingency plan should additional funding not come through. Thankfully, it never got that far.
“Every day I would come up here and just find boxes of supplies outside the restaurant; I had customers come up here and give us a little bit of money to do whatever we needed with it,” he said. “Thank the Lord, everything went right. Most of the people knew the restaurant and knew who we were since we’ve been in the neighborhood so long, so they tried to help us in any way they can. I don’t know what to say.”
Seeing as the neighborhood gave back to them, the Simos family spared no expense in doing the same for its Garden Oaks/Oak Forest family, renovating the interior and sprucing up several features. And as soon as permitting cleared, open flew Simos’ doors once again.
“It may look different, but for me, it feels like it’s the same place,” said Vicky Simos-Connelly. “This just feels so good, to have it open again. It was a process, and we went through a lot – but we got through it. We made it.”
Steve’s wife Natalie echoed her sister-in-law.
“It was so emotional seeing it open again. You don’t realize how much your customers really are like family until you don’t get to see them, and these last few months have been so hard,” she said. “We couldn’t get in touch with some of them or see how they were doing, and seeing them in the streets would make us so happy because we knew they were ok.”
So emotional, in fact, that Natalie admitted tearing up several times when the first customers walked in.
“It made me so emotional to see people come in, as though it was just a normal day – like we were never gone,” she said. “My feet feel like they’re going to fall off, but it’s such a good feeling to be able to come back to work. I love it.”
And Simos’ regulars returned that love tenfold, flocking to the spot following the company’s Facebook post, filling its parking lot nearly to capacity.
“So much scrubbing, so many nails driven, so many trips in and out the door, so many hours. Thank you, Simos Family. Make extra grits — I’m hungry for one of your omelets,” resident Gala Gerber wrote on Facebook.
Without a grand opening, Steve didn’t know what to expect upon re-opening their doors; but the result floored him.
“I really thought it was going to take about three to four months to re-spread the word about this business,” he said. “I always think of the worst outcome.”
His sister, however, had no such doubts given what she knows about the neighborhood.
“They thought business wasn’t going to be good, but I knew people would come today – they’ve been waiting for this place to be open again,” Vicky said Monday.
Simos’ tragedy is now firmly in the rearview mirror; with its doors open and counters bustling with the sounds of their neighborhood. They’re back – stronger than ever.