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At Tom's In Prospect Heights, A Luncheonette Is Family Tradition

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – For Jimmy Kokotas, restaurant work is a family tradition.

"I've been in this business since I was eight years old," he said.

For the third-generation owner of Tom's in Brooklyn, his establishment is more than a luncheonette.

"I don't want to overstate it, but it is a Prospect Heights landmark," he said. "It's been serving this community through good times and bad times for the last 80-some-odd years."

The story of Tom's began when Jimmy's family moved from Greece.

"My great uncle came to the States. He was working here when it was Lewnes Ice Cream Parlor in the '30s. He got drafted, went and served in World War II, came back. The people were looking to sell. He ended up buying it, turning it into a luncheonette. That became Tom's," he said.

Jimmy's uncle Gus later inherited the place. During his tenure, offbeat furnishings and trinkets filled in around the old-fashioned counter and classic black-and-white checkered floors.

"He was always collecting little tchotchkes here and there. And when people first walk in, I think they're a little mesmerized," Jimmy said.

Hand-painted plates hang on walls beside celebrity headshots, framed stained glass, and year-round holiday decor.

"Thank God he never became an interior decorator. I don't think he would have lasted too long. But for this place, it worked," Jimmy said.

When Jimmy took over upon Gus's retirement, he sought to preserve much of the unconventional aesthetic and signature menu.

Soda fountain-era drinks include the cherry lime rickey and the chocolate egg cream. Lunch items like fish and chips and a pastrami sandwich are available, but the all-day breakfast offerings are the biggest draw. A wide array of pancake options includes cinnamon roll pancakes, swirled and drizzled with glaze.

"We don't do anything fancy," Jimmy said. "People will call us a greasy spoon, and I think I take pride in that."

Jimmy welcomes second- and third-generation regulars, attributing the restaurant's longevity to its warm brand of hospitality.

"One of the things that's been great about Tom's is that it always made people feel welcome no matter who they were, no matter what their beliefs were, what their backgrounds were. You came in, you were treated with graciousness, with sincerity, meant to feel welcomed, and I think that's what resonated with people," he said.

782 Washington Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11238
(718) 636-9738

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