Days of the diner on Hamilton Beach

scotto

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Days of the diner on Hamilton Beach

Before the Golden Arches and KFC, a highway diner called the Plaza served steak and eggs and pancakes all night long.
By Paul Wilson
The Hamilton Spectator
More articles by this columnist
(Jun 9, 2005)
Today's another scorcher and we're heading to the beach. Back, back, to Hamilton Beach of nearly 60 years ago.

We've pulled into an Art Deco diner called the Plaza. It's air-conditioned and our '48 Ford sure ain't.

The cash register is just inside the door. Beside it is a stack of Plaza postcards in beautiful black and white. "Take a few," says the guy at the counter. "Give 'em to your friends."

The Plaza's famous. It's pretty well the only place on the highway to get a meal between the U.S. border and Toronto.

We're not sure when the Plaza opened. We do know it closed for a while in the war years. The rifle range was too close for comfort.

In 1946, battle won, the economy starts a long, strong run. Everyone is full of hope.

They're making money, taking trips in new cars.

A Greek immigrant named Chris Tipoulow is working as a waiter on Market Square, downtown Hamilton. He runs into Alex George, who's also from the village of Skopia, northern Greece.

They and two other guys, Joe Roskovich and Louis Laskos, go out and take a look at the Plaza. They see it sitting right beside the QEW, an awful lot of traffic going by.

The Plaza was built on land owned by Ontario Hydro. Hydro's willing to rent the property for $25 a month. The four men are in business.

They fly two flags from the roof -- the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes. Then chef Laskos starts making that kitchen go.

The Plaza is not a big place. It's long and narrow, the way diners are supposed to be. As you enter, the soda bar's on your right, with seating for 10 or so on chrome-trimmed swivel stools.

To your left there's room for 50, at tables and booths along the wall. And there's a jukebox.

In no time, the Plaza is packing them in. Americans are just discovering Ontario's cottage country, driving up from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York State.

Steak and eggs is what they want. Pancakes too.

On weekends, the Plaza loads platters right through the night. The chef goes through 60 dozen eggs and 40 gallons of pancake mix.

The place turns out to be a gold mine. They don't undercharge at the Plaza. Don't have to. People pull in anyway.

A veal cutlet dinner is $3.50, this at a time when eggs are 18 cents a dozen, bacon 29 cents a pound, bread nine cents a loaf.

No one complains. It's good food and they're glad to get it.

At the end of a long Friday night shift, the waitresses are pocketing more than $40.

But on the horizon, a mighty structure is rising and it spells trouble for the Plaza. The Skyway opens in the fall of 1958 and brings with it a realignment of the road. The highway no longer passes just outside the Plaza's front door. This diner's day is done.

Coming across the Plaza postcards is what prompted this piece. For those cards we need to thank Ken Elder, a conservation architect. He's a native of Hamilton, but has lived in Ottawa for many years.

He has collected 25,000 postcards and some 1,500 are from this area. You can see them on a remarkable website: (Site no longer available)
As for the details on the Plaza itself, we thank Louis Tipoulow. Today you'll find him and brother Chris at the Budapest Restaurant on John South. Their father was one of the Plaza partners.

In the summer of 1949, age 10, Louis was washing dishes at the Plaza, which stood just north of where the go-kart track is today. He was fresh from that village in Greece. The Plaza, with the cars and the crowds and the music and the clatter, was a very exciting place.

Louis didn't speak a word of English. That fall he went to Memorial, Grade 6. "But they didn't have ESL classes. I just sat at the back of the room.

"The next summer my father said, 'My God, it's been a year and you still can't speak English.' I got shipped off to Appleby."

Louis boarded there, went on to a degree at Western, ended up teaching for 30 years and is now back in restaurants, that trade he first tasted at the roadside diner a long time ago.

StreetBeat appears Tuesday,

Thursday and Saturday.

pwilson@thespec.com

905-526-3391

Photo#1 In late 1940s, the Plaza was often packed with motorists travelling the QEW between the States and Toronto.


Photo#2 Postcards From the Ken Elder Collection
A Buick Roadmaster parks anywhere it likes at the Plaza in the '50s. Though the diner still flew the flags of two nations, traffic was passing it by. Blame that on a big new bridge.

 
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scotto

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Feb 16, 2004
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Attached is a little better shot of the Plaza, this is also one of their post cards that they use to hand out. Thanks to Beach resident Ken K. for sending this one in. :tbu:
Too bad the place didn't stick around for the new Path, they would be making money again.
 
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scotto

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Feb 16, 2004
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The Beach Strip
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Member David sent in a link to some vintage Beach aerial photos from the McMaster library, a couple show the Plaza restaurant most likely when it was about to close for good. The new QEW is open, although I don't one vehicle on the road it self, it was the end for the Plaza.



 
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