Prefabulous: Diner on 55th

Dmetrios Anagnostos had all intentions of going into construction. At 20, he emigrated from Greece with plans to live in the U.S. for 10 years, learn how to operate a bulldozer, and then bring one back to Greece to start a road construction company.

"Then I got mixed up with the restaurants," recalls the owner of Diner on 55th with an amused smile. "I never did learn how to work a bulldozer."

Instead he opened a couple area restaurants: first a 24-hour joint, which he closed two decades later to open an upscale restaurant in Westlake, which he ran for 19 years until he retired.

"I stayed out for a while, and I was bored," he says, recalling a trip to Atlanta, Ga., to visit his daughter. "There, I stumbled into a real busy diner, and that was it."

Anagnostos contacted a Georgia-based company that specializes in the construction of authentic, prefab 1950s-style diners. A year later, in 2001, he was out of retirement and running his own classic diner at East 55th Street and St. Clair

Walking through metallic swinging doors into the Diner on 55th is like stepping into a 1950s Coke commercial, where you can take seats at red booths accented by black-and-white checkered floors.

Its shiny, stainless steel dining-car exterior is a beacon amid blocks of old brick buildings and parking lots in need of repair — a pleasant reminder of the once thriving industrial neighborhood. It's precisely the feeling Anagnostos had hoped to capture.

"The building is self-advertising. People drive by, and they want to stop in," he says. "Inside it's like home. We want people to come in and feel like they've known you forever."

The diner was built in three pieces so that, in true diner fashion, it can be torn down and rebuilt on another property if necessary. Anagnostos has owned the corner property where it resides now for more than 30 years, after purchasing it with the intention of building a restaurant.

"I wish I would have opened a diner in 1978," he says, noting the Diner on 55th is his favorite of all the restaurants he's run. "I come into work happy, and I walk out happy. All my customers here in the diner, they feel like family. When they leave here, I want them to leave happy, too."

WHAT WE ORDERED: The Crazy Omelet ($6.95), a hearty mix of green pepper, mushroom, gyro meat, bacon, sausage, onion, cheese and tomato. 1328 E. 55th St., Cleveland, 216-361-0550,
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