After 39 years, Little Pete’s, the well-loved diner on 17th and Chancellor Streets, is closing for good on Memorial Day to make way for a Hyatt hotel. Owner Pete Koutroubas is throwing a block party the following day to say farewell.
“I’m crying already. That’s my baby,” Koutroubas says of the diner he opened on June 20, 1978, just four days after he turned 20 and six years after his family came to Philadelphia from Greece. “But it is what it is. I’m the little fish. The big fish eats the little fish.”
Along with its prime Rittenhouse location, Koutroubas, who owns Little Pete’s with his brother, John, credits some of the 24-hour diner’s initial success to the Elan nightclub in the Warwick hotel in 17th Street. The club, long closed, opened for business around the same time.
Little Pete’s size contributed to its longevity, Koutroubas says — already speaking in the past tense: “You know why it was one of the best? Because it was small. Two waitresses, two dishwashers, two cooks, one cashier. When you have a big restaurant, you need extra help. And still you’re only busy a couple of hours a day, for lunch and dinner. We were always busy.”
He’s expecting a big crowd to come say goodbye at the Tuesday, May 30, block party, which was first mentioned on Philly Chit Chat. The bittersweet festivities will take over Chancellor Street outside of Little Pete’s from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with food for a few thousand guests, wine, and a band playing Greek music. “We’ll have plenty of food,” Koutroubas says. “I’m here 39 years. I know a lot of people.”
The party continues that evening at Little Pete’s Art Museum location, in the Philadelphian condo building at 2401 Pennsylvania Avenue. Unlike the free Rittenhouse block party, the nighttime event (5-9 p.m.) will be pay-as-you-go and it’s in the restaurant’s garden, not in the street.
As for replacing the original location, there’s nothing in the works just yet. Another Rittenhouse address would be the first choice, but Koutroubas says rents are too high. Fishtown is on the table, if an opportunity comes along.
“The neighborhood is coming up down there,” Koutroubas says of Fishtown. “But I’d give them some different food. There are a lot of vegetarians now, a lot of salads. People stay away from cheesesteaks.”