Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Phoenix Diner will offer fare familiar to patrons.

The Phoenix Diner will offer fare familiar to patrons.

Former Vale-Rio chef hopes to fill void left by popular diner's closing

By Jess Kamen

For The Inquirer

When Phoenixville's beloved Vale-Rio Diner closed in February to make room for a Walgreens and a Starbucks, many borough residents were sad, and others angry, about losing their favorite local spot.

So, the Vale-Rio's devoted former regulars may be skeptical about whether the new Phoenix Diner, which will open next month just up the road in the Acme shopping center on Starr Road, near Route 23, can ever replace their old haunt.

But chances are good that they'll like the food. That's because they've been eating it for the last decade. The new diner's owner is Ali Ghouneimy, who worked at the Vale-Rio as a chef for 11 years.

Ghouneimy, who was born in Egypt and has lived in Phoenixville since 1997, decided to open the new place because "people need a place to go. They miss the Vale-Rio, and this community needs a new place. So I had the idea to open one myself."

The Phoenix Diner's menu will be similar to the Vale-Rio's, but will offer more items, said Ghouneimy. On weekdays, it will be open from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m., and it will stay open 24 hours on weekends.

Meanwhile, the basic structure of the Vale-Rio Diner was moved and it is sitting across the street from Ghouneimy's diner, partly covered with a black tarp. The Vale-Rio's owners, brothers Francis and Richard Puleo, own the property on Newhall Street. and would like to reopen the diner there, but zoning restrictions prohibit it. They are petitioning the Borough Council for approval to amend the zoning regulations, but according to Francis Puleo, it could be years before it reopens, if it ever does.

Like many others, Ghouneimy is not optimistic that it will. "They already had the spot. If they cared about the diner, why would they sell the land and close it [the Vale-Rio] in the first place?" he said.

When interviewed in February, Puleo said the Vale-Rio diner simply couldn't work economically. So how will Ghouneimy make his new Phoenix Diner succeed?

"It's all about the customers - take care of them, be loyal to them," said Ghouneimy, who didn't sound concerned, even though he took out a loan to open the new place. "And give them good food, of course," he added and laughed.

The Phoenix Diner has been receiving a lot of job applications in the last couple of weeks, but so far none of the Vale-Rio's former employees have applied.

What happens if the Puleos do manage to open the Vale-Rio across the street?

Many regulars say "the Val" can't be the same place it once was without the old staff and the regulars. And although Ghouneimy said he would like to see his old diner reopen, he's confident that the Phoenix Diner will succeed.

"I know a lot of people from working at the Vale-Rio, and they're all really excited and happy to see that I'm doing this," he said. "I love diners, and I've worked as a cook my whole life - it's what I do. The Puleos do real estate, but they don't do food."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The best part is plenty of Handicapped parking spots and it is on the East side of town.