changing with the times, since 1932 45 Years and Counting

| 17 Jul 2015 | 12:42

    Every week, Our Town will celebrate our 45th anniversary by profiling a neighborhood business that has been around longer than we have. Know of a local business that should be on our list? Email us at

    On Second Avenue, near 91st Street, hidden amidst a scene of restaurants, cafes and diners, the 3 Decker Restaurant has been doing business since 1932.

    From its origin as a neighborhood joint in Great Depression-era Yorkville to, now, its incarnation within a gentrifying cultural hub, the restaurant’s echoed its locale. Reflecting the neighborhood’s growing diversity, the 3 Decker’s propositions include Greek and Mexican cuisine and American barbecue alongside traditional diner food.

    Athanasios Raftopoulos, aka “Ernie” by neighborhood regulars, has been among the 3 Decker’s caretakers since he was 16, soon after his arrival in New York.

    “When I came from Greece I knew little about the restaurant business, but when I came here I couldn’t get a job anywhere else. So I worked as a dishwasher over here in 1965, and from there on I was learning the business,” Raftopoulos said.

    He bought the 3 Decker from its original owners, fellow Greeks, in 1967.

    Although still a neighborhood cornerstone, the 3 Decker has had sunnier days, Raftopoulos said. Increased competition from newer restaurants has obliged the 3 Decker to expand beyond its original identity for fear of becoming outdated, he said.

    And, as for so many other businesses along the Second Avenue corridor, construction of the new subway line there has added another obstacle. Business is down about 50 percent since the project started, Raftopoulos said.

    “The subway is killing us. Because for years we used to work with truck drivers from Connecticut, New Jersey, that knew us and would stop by all the time for breakfast, or come later on for lunch.” he said. “Taxi drivers, limousine drivers, all customers, cannot find parking now, and cannot possibly stop here. That section of the business we lost. We lost it.”

    He also reminisced about an Upper East Side that has long since ceased to exist.

    “This was a working neighborhood,” he said, ticking off a list of mom-and-pop shops and businesses that have since disappeared. “And in those days there were no high-rises here, it was a working community from 90th Street all the way up to 96th Street. There were factories, garages, and so forth.”

    The 3 Decker survived them all, and Raftopoulos attributes that to a loyal, local fanbase.

    “They are very much our favorites.” He said. “They’re always coming here because we have been here for all these years. And some of them grew up in this neighborhood, and now they’re married and have kids of their own, and so forth. We are a very local restaurant.”