Article and Photo by Earl Mays
A “Holiday Menu” sign with bright orange letters greeted pedestrians walking by the Step Ins Restaurant and Lounge in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, announcing the diner’s annual holiday special for Thanksgiving. The menu included a choice of fried turkey or duck seared and slow roasted with orange marmalade and sides of candied yams and stuffing.
The holidays are typically the trickiest time of year for the restaurant and many similar businesses, says Step Ins’ owners, the brothers George and Christos Scopelitis, but they’re confident they know how to handle it. “It is having a steady customer flow multiple days of the week that keeps the business float, not one day of mayhem and then six days of quiet,” says George Scopelitis.
According to the brothers, the recession that started in 2007 prepared them for challenges by forcing them to think about raising prices and keeping portions the same or keeping prices low and reducing the portions. Ultimately, they chose neither of the options, keeping prices and portions the same in order to maintain their customer base. The restaurant initially took a financial hit but managed to recover, the brothers say, and this strategy kept them alive through the recession and during their slow periods such as the holiday season.
For Thanksgiving, the Scopelitis brothers swap the everyday menus for just a breakfast menu and the holiday special, an affordable $11 a plate, including sides and a choice of drink. The dessert menu remains the same.
This Thanksgiving the diner had a bigger holiday crowd that usual and ran out of the holiday special by 9 p.m. George Scopelitis attributed this to the year’s early start of Black Friday shopping, with many stores opening to shoppers on Thursday evening. “The bigger crowd during Thanksgiving is also a small indicator of the economy trying to come back,” he says.
Business has been slow lately but he estimates it will pick up again after Christmas. While the restaurant was not directly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, it lost business because the mass-transit outage kept people away.
“You have to have tough skin, meaning as a business owner you have to be in touch with the economic situation in the world and most importantly your customer base,” he says “Once you know what your customers want and plan a way to meet their expectations at a reasonable price, there is no doubt in the success that will follow.”