Diner Culture: Tommy's Diner's Tom and Kathy Pappas

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Tom and Kathy Pappas will be married 35 years this July. Twenty-four of those years together have been spent at Tommy's Diner, with Kathy in the kitchen and Tom (who, at the beginning of their relationship, was "a good-looking guy with long hair") entertaining and greeting the restaurant's loyal clientele.

The Pappas' story begins just north of Sparta, Greece, where Tom and Kathy's families were neighbors. She moved to the U.S. He followed. The couple purchased the former Ater's Drive-In in July of 1989.

"I always loved to cook," Kathy says about their decision to open Tommy's. "We wanted to do something where we could work together. He was a good PR person and I was the cook."

For Tom, the restaurant is more than a career. It's a hobby, as well.

"Me personally, I don't play golf. This," he says, gesturing to the always-crowded '50s-style dining room, "is what I enjoy. Right here, messing with the customers, teasing them. I look forward to it every day. As soon as I get up in the morning, I come here. At 5 in the morning. For years, [I came at] 4."

When is bedtime for someone who gets up that early? "I watch Channel 28 for the weather. As soon as they say the weather, I'm out, I'm done," he says.

"He can't not be here," Kathy adds, "Even on his day off."

The people who dine at Tommy's add to the restaurant's character. "[Our customers are] what make this place different. They work Downtown, but on the weekends they come here and they bring the families, the wife, the kids," Tom explains. "At Easton, Polaris, we'll always find customers. We find customers in South Carolina, in Florida. In the Boston airport and at Kennedy airport."

The two say that while at work, they're too busy to argue, even if they wanted to. Meanwhile, they dish out more than Greek specials and never-ending cups of coffee. Tom provides a bit of counseling as well.

"If a husband and wife are sitting next to each other and he pulls out the paper, I grab it," he says. "'It's your wife, man. Talk to her. Read the paper later. Leave the paper at home. Talk to your wife.'"

House Favorites

Q: What do you like to eat at the restaurant?

A: Tom: On Sundays, I go to church, then come here for breakfast.

Kathy: I like the eggs Benedict, he gets the veggie omelet with feta cheese.

Q: Where do you eat when you're not at work?

A: Tom: We like Fisherman's Wharf. For anniversaries, it's Eddie Merlot's.

Tommy's Diner

914 W. Broad St., Franklinton