Ari Thanos has a lot on his plate as he works to recover from the Aug. 22 fire that destroyed his diner, The Landmark, at 265 S. Highland Ave. in Ossining.
“I’ve never gone through something like this before, so I don’t know everything it entails,” he told the Business Journal. “One thing I can tell you, I’m really aggressive to get things going. I’ve already found a couple of builders. We went to the village already because we want to rebuild.”
Whether the replacement diner will be a replica of what was lost, or something larger and more modern, remains to be seen.
“It’s all up in the air,” he said. “It’s what the insurance will allow, what the village will allow. Would I like to modernize it? The main priority in my mind is to make it as efficient as possible because a lot of these older buildings aren’t as efficient as a new building when it comes to heating, gas, water.”
Thanos said people in the community are already asking about the timetable for rebuilding.
“They’re upset, too,” he said. “There are some people who ate at the restaurant seven days a week. We’ve seen their kids grow up. We’ve lost customers due to death. We’ve been there for all aspects of life.”
The Landmark, which was reduced to a pile of rubble after a kitchen fire broke out and quickly spread, had been owned by Thanos for about 17 years. It was one of three operating under the umbrella of The Thanos Restaurant Group. Thanos took over the City Limits diner in Stamford from the Livanos Restaurant Group early in 2017 and, on July 22 of this year, opened The Mirage Restaurant & Café in New Rochelle.
The Mirage was named in tribute to the original Mirage Diner, which had been a fixture in New Rochelle for decades. The diner was demolished when Iona College built a residence hall on the North Avenue site.
“We struck a new deal with Iona in terms of a lease,” Thanos said, adding that the lease is for 30 years.
Nostalgia, tradition and a sense of belonging in the community became an even stronger theme for Thanos even as The Landmark was burning. He immediately promised to rebuild, thanked “the first responders who came to the scene and valiantly fought the intense fire,” and thanked the Ossining and Briarcliff communities for their outpouring of support.
Thanos also promised the restaurant’s employees jobs at his other establishments.
“They were grateful, some were crying,” he said. “I’m not just about making money. There’s a bigger picture of doing the right thing by people. I want to say 100% of the people are accounted for in terms of work.”
Thanos said in the food service business being people-oriented is important.
“In a diner, you’re dealing with people from the poorest to the richest and, in essence, they’re all the same people when they come in,” he said. “We’re making people feel good.”
Thanos went to work in the diner business when he was 25 years old. He’s now 42.
“I was born and raised in Dobbs Ferry,” he said. “When I was 25, I was in the entertainment business as a disc jockey. That was my prime business, nightclubs and weddings and events, those kinds of things.”
The owner of a diner in the Atlanta area also named The Landmark flew him there to be the disc jockey at a party. That man, Tom Lambrou, also had run a diner in Peekskill called the By Pass and the one in Ossining.
As Thanos recalled, “He said, ‘I have this diner up in Ossining. Do you know anybody who wants to buy it?’ I kind of hesitated for about 30 seconds and was like, ‘You know what. I’m thinking about it. Why don’t I buy it.’ ” Thanos said they struck a deal on the spot.
Although he earned a business administration degree and minored in marketing in college, “I made all the mistakes you do in the beginning,” Thanos told the Business Journal. “You buy that guy’s corporation, you buy all his liabilities. It was a mess in the beginning, especially when that place was really underwater. But, after a year and a half, I kind of straightened it out and he asked me to come down to Atlanta and be partners with him and we opened up eight restaurants down there.”
Thanos spent two years flying back and forth between New York and Georgia until selling out.
At The Landmark in Ossining, Thanos became friendly with one of the regular patrons, Richard Johnson, who had a medical degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from NYU and took graduate executive management training at Columbia University.
“He started taking me under his wing and showed me the rest of the business world, what’s out there,” Thanos said. “I really owe him a lot. We’re very good friends now. He lived in Briarcliff at the time and still lives there.”
Johnson is managing partner of the MidAtlantic Fund, a venture capital fund that focuses on seed and early-stage funding for mobile technology, health care and service companies. Thanos is a principal of the firm. They’re been involved with companies focused on areas such as internet broadcasting, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, marketing and executive security.
“He showed me the venture world, going out raising money, how to structure things, whatever you have to do for startups. At one point we raised $15 million for a back surgery company called Vertos Medical,” he said. “The main company we’re focused on now is Propel Orthodontics.” Propel manufactures and sells orthodontic devices and is located in Ossining.
Thanos said at one point they were staging what amounted to a “Shark Tank” episode, like the TV show, every Friday at the Landmark where they would invite entrepreneurs to come in and make a pitch for funding.
“If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s really all about the numbers. Learning how to grow a business is the primary thing,” Thanos said.
The Thanos Restaurant Group is set to grow again in November when it’s scheduled to take over the food and beverage service at Sterling Farms Public Golf Course in Stamford. There will be three restaurants on-site at the golf course, according to the group.