Johnson Diner & Bar opening in mid-March


The Johnson Diner & Bar will open in the middle of March replacing the Riverdale staple Blue Bay Restaurant, which had been there since the 1960s until it closed in 2022.

The owners of the new diner told The Riverdale Press that they will be keeping a lot of the practical aspects of a diner and making sure the neighborhood feels comfortable.

“We’re all Greek and we understand Greek diners,” said John Solo, a partner of the diner. “We just want to take the Greek dining model and grow it and evolve with the times, put some food that we’ve worked on with chefs to make sure we had some value and quality to your standard diner but still have your regular bacon and eggs of course.”

The owners have a history with the area, with Solo having grown up in Inwood and coming to Blue Bay when he was younger once a month with his family. Stefanos Katsikoumbas, another partner, used to own Louie’s Dale Diner on 189 W 231st St. They also own other restaurants including The Grand Astoria in Queens, Cantina Taco & Tequila Bar in White Plains and Cantina Taqueria & Tequila Bar in Harlem.

“We want to keep it as a classic diner; we’re not trying to recreate what a diner is,” said George Ballis, owner and managing partner. “We just want it to be a modern diner and keep the classic dishes here, as well as giving our guests in the community fresh new ingredients.”

Residents can expect dishes like the classic Greek salad, roasted lemon chicken, buttermilk pancakes, creative waffles for kids, fun sandwiches, and beer battered shrimp tacos. Some of those ingredients will be sourced locally, Ballis said, highlighting that his other restaurant uses Pat LaFreida Meat Purveyors, which he described as one of the best meat purveyors on the East Coast.

The diner will have a full liquor bar with wines from all over the world, including new world wine and old world wine from Cabernet from California to Sancerre from France, as well as a couple fun, unique and special cocktails, said Ballis.

“We realized from our experiences at The Grand Astoria that early evenings, especially after the dinners, if someone wants to come get a late bite, they could come here and have a lively energetic place to also have dinner late at night,” said Solo.

The Blue Bay, which had been around for 50 years, closed in December 2022 after it lost its lease when the landlord increased the rent.

“My dad also had a little coffee shop downtown by the World Trade Center for 35 years and something similar happened to his coffee shop,” Solo said. “After years of being there — and it was very successful in the 80s and 90s — 9/11 kind of turned it on its head. The neighborhood changed, the landlord got difficult.”

Solo learned from that experience the importance of taking the diner experience and evolving it a bit, he said. He said that the model of having a “one hundred page menu” is difficult and something his dad had to learn about.

Hours for the diner are not yet set in stone but owners said they were thinking anywhere from about 7:30/8 a.m. to 10/11 p.m. They said that revenue and the needs of the community will dictate those hours. Owners are also currently working on hiring a full time staff.

“We’re just excited,” Solo said. “We’ve opened up a couple places before but this one specifically, we’re very excited because just like The Grand Astoria we feel this could be another one that’s a staple in the neighborhood. It’s already been a staple, so we’re just trying to take it to a place where it makes business sense and it maintains being a staple.”

Johnson Avenue, Johnson Diner and Bar, Blue Bay restaurant, Greek, Stefanos Katsikoumbas, John Solo, George Ballis