Kitty Corner to Flushing and Wilson Avenue, a neighborhood diner sits amidst the burgeoning crowds of young families and twentysomethings. I’m across the street from the Boar’s Head factory, which continues to dole out fresh deli meats and where hungry drivers still stand around the four hefty wooden tables outside the restaurant. I hold the door for a gentleman in a hurry. Inside the dining room are three booths, which indicate plans to return at a later date. Suddenly, Athina “Tina” Skermo emerges from a back room. She hangs up the phone and greets us both with a warm “Hey honey, what can I get you?”
Aside from Mrs. Skermo, who works seven days a week from 5 am to 4 pm, Tina’s employs a single line cook and a single delivery man on staff. “We don’t need more than this,” she tells me. We discuss the business side of things, which she assures is fine — her neighbors and regulars have kept the place afloat with their concern and early morning shifts. In better days, Tina’s Place had opened every morning at 3:30 am and catered to factory workers and sobered barflies alike. Like most restaurants, they’ve been forced to adapt their hours to meet the needs of the pandemic.
The man in front of me orders off the menu: a basic meat platter, double sausage and coffee, black. He grabs a bottle of water from the humming refrigerator, a telenovela casting judgment on him from the tv above while a telenovela casts judgment from the TV above.
Mrs. Skermo says she wishes city and state officials had left indoor dining at 25% capacity. “You look everywhere else and see the casinos packed, the malls packed, and they shut us down. I don’t know…We were taking temperatures and doing things right.”
This opinion is not unique to Ms. Skermo, many restaurant and bar owners have pleaded with out-of-touch politicians to lighten the restrictions they currently face. According to Mrs. Skermo, her son was able to secure at least some PPP loans at the beginning of the pandemic.
Just as we’re wrapping up, she reveals that it’s her birthday and her daughter will be taking her out to eat on Long Island where indoor dining remains open. “We’ll be okay. It’s all dependent on the weather, but it’s been good this week.”
Few things are truer than Mrs. Skermo’s work ethic, her dedication to her customers, and the resilience of a place like “Tina’s.” I say goodbye and take a few final pictures, making sure to document the banner that proudly hangs above the kitchen and reads “Thank You Bushwick,” which commemorated their 50th anniversary in 2019.
I am sure that Tina’s Place will outlive the pandemic. It has outlived the rough-and-tumble 70s, the recession, and disastrous weather conditions. It has endured because of the community around it, which arrives to an occasion that political leadership has not. It will hang proudly on the walls of North Brooklyn, a banner of hardiness and dedication to those who love it.
As of Tuesday, there remain no plans to reinstate indoor dining in the city. For places like Tina’s, this means foot traffic will remain dependent on the weather and the indomitable spirit of its patrons.
Top picture by Hannah Lane.
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