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Lollipop Diner reopens after arson

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Five long months after a fire destroyed the Lollipop Diner, coffee is again being brewed at the Whitestone institution.

The neighborhood mainstay officially reopened its doors Tuesday morning after father−and−son ownership team Michael and Kostas Psillis poured thousands of dollars into completely revamping the eatery. Kostas Psillis said he is nervous, but optimistic about Lollipop’s return to Whitestone.

“It’s a very good thing to be back, but also it’s very hard at the same time,” the younger Psillis said. “It was a lot of money and also time and aggravation. But we’re happy to be back in the neighborho­od.”

The grand reopening of the diner, located in the Whitestone Shopping Center on a service road at 153−31 Cross Island Pkwy., comes just over two weeks after the man who set the fire that destroyed the diner was sentenced to prison time.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Michael Trantel, 42, of 15−29 159th St., was sentenced to serve between seven and 14 years in prison April 1 for setting a bag of Halloween candy on fire after breaking into the Lollipop Diner Nov. 2 to steal a pack of cigarettes.

The bag quickly ignited a blaze that spread to other businesses through a wooden awning that lines the shopping center, causing extensive damage to six businesses in the shopping center.

Psillis said he was happy Trantel is behind bars, but the punishment does not outweigh the hardship of restarting his business from scratch.

“To me, he should be there for a long time,” he said. “But at the same time, it doesn’t help me any which way.”

Inside the Lollipop Diner Tuesday morning, it was reminiscent of being in an aquarium. Shoppers strolled by, many stopping in their tracks to peer inside the window as if looking at a tank of fish, when they realized the diner had reopened.

“Wow,” one older woman mouthed to her friend.

“Oh, my God, they’re open!” another man exclaimed to his wife.

One longtime waitress, Valerie, who declined to give her last name, said she expects business to boom once word gets out about Lollipop’s renaissance.

“Everywhere I went, people were asking me, ‘When? When? When? When are you going to be open again?’” she said, standing at the cashier’s register as a patron came in to congratulate Kostas’ father, Michael, on the reopening.

Derek Bowen, a longtime customer who was on his way in to Lollipop for an omelette Tuesday morning, agreed.

“No question. I was going to other places around here and it just wasn’t the same,” Bowen said. “It’s almost like the Lollipop is the taste of Whitestone.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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