Adding to His Plate: Upscale Restaurant Vet Takes Over Venerable Diner in Gramercy

Stratis Morfogen brings his 35 years of experience in the food industry, which currently includes two Manhattan locations of the Brooklyn Chop House and the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop franchise. He’s returning to his roots with his newest venture, Diner 24, as he takes over the former Lyric Diner in Gramercy Park.

| 08 Jan 2024 | 12:02

Score one for the people who won’t have to see another bank or drug store chain on the corner. One veteran of the industry is fighting the good fight, and doing the unthinkable: taking over a 24-hour diner in the heart of the trendy Gramercy Park area and relaunching it as Diner24.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun with it, but we’re going to stay true to what makes a diner great,” said Stratis Morfogen, a third-generation restaurateur who is adding to his plate with the opening of Diner24.

“I’m going to stay true to what people love about a diner; it’s comfort food, but we’re really going to make it special,” he told Straus News recently. “The fun milkshakes, breakfast 24 hours, double, triple smash burgers, classic Greek dishes. The menu is going to go true to its roots of pancakes and waffles, but we’re also going to elevate the production, with homemade breads and great vegetarian dishes like hummuses.”

He said he is always on call in case his restaurants and employees need his expertise. “I always say I’m available 19/7. I get about four or five hours in to sleep and that’s it,” he said, laughing.

The Queens native, who grew up on Long Island, came up with the name after studying search engine optimization and learning that “100,000 people a day after 10 p.m. search for things like ‘24 hour diner’.” He explained that diners are disappearing in the Big Apple in part because the owners’ children are not interested in taking them over, so their properties are being sold for as much as $60 to $90 million dollars. “It’s just too much money for them to continue...They have to sell 100 million hamburgers to make that kind of money,” said Morfogen, 56.”

Morfogen’s first job in the industry was at 5 years old when he would garnish plates of fish with lemon and parsley at the Chelsea House in Bellerose, Queens, one of his dad’s restaurants. “Part of my pay was having a bucket of French fries next to me to pick on while I was working,” he recalled. When he was six year old, his mother was planning a family trip to Disney World, but he said he’d rather visit the Fulton Fish Market. “That was my Disney World,” he said

He ended up working at the Fulton Fish Market, and was responsible for bringing it to the internet in 1997 with the launch of Morfogen, the former owner of Philippe Chow, now owns buzzed-about eateries like the Brooklyn Chop House, which has three locations, FiDi, Abu Dhabi and Times Square, the latter opening in 2022. “That was the biggest COVID deal done. We did 25,000 square feet in Times Square,” he said. He also owns the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, where he said, ‘I’ve taken the old automat and made it smart phone controlled.”

You’re a third-generation restauranteur. Who was the first person to have restaurants in your family?

My grandfather and his three brothers owned Pappas and that was in 1910. It was on West 14th and was there from 1910 to 1972. It was the place to be; it was where politicians, presidents, business leaders came. And then my father came to the States after World War II and went to Lafayette High School in Brooklyn. After he finished high school, he went to work at Pappas. He saved about $8,000 and opened up the Chelsea Chop House, which was on Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street, in 1956. And then my dad had about 14 restaurants and diners in his career.

When did you start working at your dad’s restaurants?

From the womb [Laughs] I knew what I wanted to do at the age of six when I first got a taste of the Fulton Fish Market. I knew that this was going to be my life. And actually it made it difficult to really focus on school because I knew that was not going to be a part of my life. My daughters take after their mother, thank God, she’s a Georgetown MIT graduate and I barely graduated high school. But you could imagine the dinner conversation when I tell the kids, “Education is not going to define you.” My daughter graduated from the University of Miami and my little ones are going to probably NYU next year. I’m all for it, but it doesn’t define you. And that’s why I wrote the book “Be a Disruptor.” They don’t teach entrepreneurship in today’s universities. They teach you to be a VP in someone else’s dream.

How many restaurants do you own now?

That’s a very fluid question. I own Diner24, which is about to open, I own Brooklyn Chop House three times, and Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, we have two that are corporately owned, but right now there are 15 that are about to open, 10 are open, five more are about to open, and we have another 100 in development. But these are all franchised.

Tell us why diners are disappearing.

There are two reasons why there’s a shift. All my dad’s colleagues who have owned diners for 30, 40, 50 years, they didn’t know they were sitting on gold. And what I mean by that is that big developers have come and bought the real estate that they’re sitting on and some of them are selling for $60 to $90 million dollars, which is what some of these properties are being sold for. And that’s a lot of hamburgers.

And my dad’s generation is almost all gone and I’m 56. My dad was the president of the Queens Diner Association, so we were very social with all the other diner owners. And what happened is the next generation, we were brought up in a culture where my father would say to me, “Don’t go into the restaurant business. I worked so hard so you could have a better life, where you’ll be able to take your wife out for Mother’s Day and for Valentine’s Day and for New Year’s Eve, everything your mother has never had.”

The other reason is that the ones that were stragglers, they never embraced technology. Technology for my father was my mother sitting on a Casio register that they bought at Staples. I started to study why a lot of the diners are going out of business that shouldn’t be and the number one reason is they don’t understand search engine optimization.

How did Diner24 come about?

I wasn’t looking to go back into the diner business. The man who owns it, Manny, he’s 85, he knew my father and he approached me and said, “Listen, my son doesn’t want it. I’m sitting on $100 million dollars in real estate. I want to go to Greece and retire and I want to hand you the keys to the Lyric Diner.” And I said, “Manny, I got 30 restaurants opening this year. It’s something I’m not really interested in.” And then he started telling me, “This diner is so important to the fabric of New York City and to Gramercy. It’s been there for 35 years. I want to hand it over to you and I’ll give you a really cheap rent and everything that you want.” So he made it very hard for me to say no.

Diner24’s website,, is still under construction