A flyer advertising the Utopia Diner space at 267 Amsterdam Avenue between 72nd and 73rd Streets as being for rent came as a total surprise, said Mike Sabry, the owner of the classic diner. He’s got a lease for eight more years, and has every intention of sticking around, Sabry said.
“There is nothing to lease,” he said, adding that he feels he is being harassed.
But landlord Mike Laub told a different story, and said Sabry has unpaid rent from before the pandemic.
“Am I harassing him?” he asked, astonished. “No. He’s made no attempt to pay me anything and he’s been open the whole time for takeout and delivery, and now for outdoor dining. How about telling the property owner’s side of the story. Everybody is a victim here. I also have to pay my mortgage. I also need help. I need to maintain the building.”
Sabry said he paid his rent up until the pandemic. “I have all the receipts,” Sabry said.
Utopia, which opened in 1983, is a no-frills diner with comfy booths where you’re likely to run into a local like Harry Belafonte or Congressman Jerry Nadler having a casual breakfast. The prices have caught up with local prices, but are still reasonable in a neighborhood where brunch with a couple of friends can set you back $100.
Sabry said he’s been working since the start of the pandemic.
“I never closed one day,” he said. “To be here for the neighborhood from day 1 I put myself and my family in danger.”
Sabry said he has not been able to pay rent during the pandemic — like the majority of restaurants — and has been operating the restaurant without working gas for years, using electric appliances instead.
Laub said Con Ed turned off the gas because of a leak two years ago and Laub upgraded the restaurant’s electric service in the interim. The gas came back on a couple of months ago.
Sabry was confused and upset that the landlord is advertising the space. Restaurants are protected against eviction until October 1.
“If he decided voluntarily to put it up for lease, it’s unbelievable,” he said.
A flyer from broker Rafe Evans of Walker Malloy says the space is for rent for $40,000 per month. Evans confirmed “it’s on the market.”
“I sent him a legal notice,” Laub said. “He hasn’t paid since January. I want him to come to me and make some kind of a deal, make some offer — and for the future, too.”