It’s just like the good old days eating at Chris and Jimmy’s Diners

Danielle Toth

Retro dining has youth appeal in the Heights

Chris and Jimmy’s Diners is located on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. The separate cars function as one diner.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Chris and Jimmy Tsilianidis, owners of Chris and Jimmy’s Diners were born into the restaurant business.

“In their mother’s belly, if they could see outside, they would see a restaurant,” their father Pat Tsilianidis said. “The first thing they learned was to flip burgers and mop floors.”

They have a lot of practice — and walking into the diner, customers are immediately taken back to the ’50s. The restaurant features shiny checkered floors, upholstered bar stools and antique pictures of ’50s movies and sports stars. If that wasn’t enough to take the customers back, the intoxicating smell of hamburgers, French fries and home-cooked food would.

Chris and Jimmy, brothers from Mentor, know what it takes to keep the customers happy — their family has been in the business for more than 35 years. Their father owns Lucky Restaurant on East 185th Street in Cleveland.

Chris and Jimmy opened Chris and Jimmy’s Diners on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights on Dec. 10, 2004.

Although they already had experience in the restaurant business, it was difficult opening their own restaurant.

“It was always in the back of our minds,” Chris said. “When the place came up for sale, we decided to buy it. The place speaks for itself. It’s different.”

The hardest part of opening the restaurant was staffing and training employees, Jimmy said.

“It takes over your life,” Jimmy said. “There is so much marketing and advertising. In this business, you have to be everything. You’re the owner, operator, cook, server, dishwasher — you do everything. Every day, you’re here at one point or another.”

If anyone knows the difficulties of the restaurant business, their father, Pat, does.

“It’s hard work,” he said. “It’s not an eight-hour shift five days a week. Sometimes I work 18-hour days, and when you divide that by the money I make, I make less than minimum wage. But I have double savings because I work so much. I have no time to spend the money I make! That’s the success of this business.”

Chris and Jimmy use the same recipes that have been in their family for years, which originated from their uncle, who owned a diner as well, and their grandmother.

The menu is diverse, featuring a range of traditional items such as burgers, milkshakes, surf and turf, Swiss steak, meatloaf and stuffed cabbage. The brothers also serve several Greek dishes, including moussaka, or shepherd’s pie, and pastitzio, which Jimmy describes as a Greek lasagna.

Although they haven’t adjusted the menu since they first opened, they say they will soon be looking at the most popular dishes and seeing what they can add or delete. They also have no plans to expand as of yet.

“This is just it for now,” Jimmy said. “We’re seeing how it takes off, and we’ll go from there. One is enough — it’s a handful!”

Chris and Jimmy’s has received a great deal of publicity in the past few months. They provided dinner for musician Al Jarreau and his entourage during Cuyahoga Community College’s JazzFest 2005. Also, NBC reporter Al Roker filmed a segment of his show “Roker on the Road” about U.S. diners in Chris and Jimmy’s kitchen. The segment aired on the Food Network.

The diners are composed of two restored diner cars.

Chris’ diner, accented in blue, is considered one of the 10 nicest diners in the world. It was originally called the Zephyr and operated in Berwick, Pa. It was built in 1949 by the O’Mahony Company, which built many of the best diners in that time. Before it was Chris’ diner, it was named Dottie’s Diner.

Jimmy’s diner, accented in red, was built in 1952 by the Mountainview Company and came from Atlantic City, N.J. Before it was Jimmy’s Diner, it was a Chinese restaurant named Lu Chi’s.

The restaurant has a great appeal to the younger generation, Jimmy said.

“It’s a retro dining atmosphere,” he said. “It would be like dining in a place that your parents would have dined in when they were your age.”

Contact features reporter Danielle Toth at [email protected].