Bobby Spiropoulos: An Entrepreneur of Astonishing Attributes
■ By Bob Nicolaides
“Through its grand opening, when the final touches were in place late in January of this year,” says The Randolph Diner owner Bobby (Haralabos) Spiropoulos, “there hasn’t been one day of business loss” due to construction or decoration of his luxurious establishment. Yet one would guardedly use the term diner to describe his masterpiece of a structure created by the well known designer David Jackson with many of ideas from none other than the owner himself.
Indeed, The Randolph Diner, in Randolph, N.J., appears to surpass this nomenclature due to its lavish exterior shape and interior décor, if not for its remarkable food and irreproachable service—not to mention its ambiance. Truthfully speaking, how many diners have you been to where there is an elevator from the main floor (with a capacity of 281 seats, including the 35 of the sports bar area) to the catering rooms upstairs, with an additional kitchen and service bar? That’s not counting the outdoor area utilized in the summer, which can comfortably fit another 65 people.
The catering facility, The Grove at Randolph, has a main room that holds up to 135 people, with a secondary room that holds 30, designed mostly for meetings. But we mustn’t forget the balcony adjacent to the large room, where there is room for another 30.
To return to the main section downstairs, a happy staff of waitresses and waiters clad in orange uniforms with brown accents go about the business of serving satisfied guests in a milieu of glamour and luxury, of color and light. One of the waiters reminded me of Star-Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The Randolph Diner employs about one hundred people. It opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Sections of the walls are covered with hand-laid colorful stone, but most of it is covered with symmetrical squares in lemon yellow accented by medium brown. Colorful yellow lamps descend from the ceiling directly over the counter. Extraordinary lighting abounds in every corner of the massive room, which nevertheless does not appear big because of its division into smaller areas. The wood by the staircases or other sites carries the shape of octagon throughout the structure.
To the right of the entrance lies the traditional counter, behind which you’ll find the open kitchen in plain view of the dining crowd. Heading the cooks and other personnel in the kitchen is Bobby’s brother George, who works there as the head chef and produces the delectable dishes that are on the menu.
To the left of the entrance, on the other side of the elevator wall and staircase, you find the sports bar, with 24 overhead side-by-side TVs that let you comfortably view the game from any angle. It rivals most sports bar establishments and is pretty impressive.
Finally, in the closing days of the construction, a huge mural was applied to a space in the rear of the establishment near the staircase, which gave it an additional dash. Whatever the extent of his diner realm, Bobby Spiropoulos’ jurisdiction doesn’t end here. When we were finished with the details of the diner, he put his coat on and advised me to do the same, being the cold day that it was, leading the way toward the door.
Across the way he showed me a row of eight shops he said belonged to him. With six rented out, he kept two to himself, one of which he turned into the Brooklyn Bagel & Deli, which he loads with fresh bagels for which a line forms every morning. He also carries all types of Greek products, from cheeses to preserves. The other store is Chill Yogurt, a frozen-yogurt specialty place where you can delight in many flavors.
Asking Bobby how he feels about his business, we got this response: “We are bringing the key features of high-end dining to the casual dining environment at an everyday value with inspired cuisine, attentive, knowledgeable service, and an upbeat atmosphere. We do this by keenly focusing on the subtle details that define your dining experience. The spirit of our hospitality shines through in attractive food presentation and the welcoming smiles of a team that works together and is proud to host you. Our respectful, intelligent staff is devoted to customer service and eager to please.”
An admirable entrepreneur, Spiropoulos, 53, was born in Nafpaktos in 1962 and arrived in the United States at the age of 12 with his whole family of parents and brothers, invited here by his father’s sister. At first he worked in a factory along with his brothers while they attended high school. In 1979, while going to Dover High School, he worked as a dishwasher until he graduated. Then he got a job as a line cook in 1980. When he was 17, he, his middle brother, George, and two cousins, Kosmas and John Bessas, all the same age, bought the Don’s Diner in Irvington, N.J., which they kept through 1989, alternating duties.
The 240-seat diner at the time they bought it grossed $12,000, which they upped to $45,000 when they sold it in 1989, and the partners disbanded, with Kosmas going into the taxi business, which he is in even today. John went to Greece and began a profitable franchise business called Pita tou Pappou. George went to Greece but came back and opened Christos, a luncheonette in Parsippany, N.J., between 1989 and 1991.
That was the time Spiropoulos initially bought a small piece of the current property, the location of a small diner of 75 seats, to which within the year he added another one hundred. It wasn’t until 1993 that he acquired a liquor license for the property. The lot that encompassed his property included a dry-cleaning store that still exists, moved over somehow to make room for another section in the diner that brought its total seating capacity to 226. Responsible for the overall construction is Cypriot Sotiris Konstantinou of El Greco Construction, and Spiropoulos has much praise for both his work and character.
The establishment has operated in this capacity for 25 years. Spiropoulos has never had to lay off any staff or close the diner one single day, days that starts at 6 a.m. and end usually at 2 a.m. the next morning.
Bobby married Kathy Krug in 1983 and had three boys and a girl. Kathy who also runs the The Grove Catering Facility upstairs. First-born Christopher, 30, is set to marry Lauren Talamini, an executive at The New York Times, on September 10. He is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University and works supervising the operation with his dad.
Angelica is a social worker and is married to Demitri Demopoulos, who has a post with Google. Spiropoulos’ third child, Dimitri, is in the hospitality business, and Zachary chose a more artistic skill, occupying himself with the marbletop design trade.
By all standards, one must admit that the story of Bobby Spiropoulos is that of great achievement and success.
The establishment is located at the juncture of Route 10 and Center Grove Road in Randolph, a community of over 25,000, is mostly a sleepy town, with the exception of the hubbub on the strip along Route 10 where there’s a plethora of stores of every nature, from restaurants to banks to car dealerships. The remarkable thing about this town is its impressive high school, ranked 16th in N.J. Towns close to Randolph in the County of Morris are Dover, Morristown, Hopatcong, Madison, and Florham Park.