In more than 50 years in business, the four owners of Little Neck's had seen it all: mid-century social upheaval, numerous recessions and even a kitchen fire which closed this neighborhood landmark for three months in 2004.
But in the end, it was the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression — combined with equally tough negotiations with their landlord — that caused Scobee Diner's proprietors to make the decision to .
"We just couldn't afford to buy the place for what they were asking," Scobee co-owner Harry Pallas said of negotiations with his landlord of more than 50 years, the Hageman family.
According to Pallas, their offer was $1 million below the landlord's asking price for this decades-old eatery situated on a corner lot at the northwest corner of Little Neck Parkway and Northern Boulevard.
Pallas declined to divulge the owner's asking price.
Along with Pallas, Scobee co-owners Sol Winder, Gus Xikis and Greg Christ all seemed to be in agreement that staying in business during a lingering recession, escalating rents and higher food prices, was impossible.
"The way this economy is, it doesn't pay to stick around," Pallas said.
Still unclear, even to Scobee's owners, was the landlord's future plans for the site.
"They supposedly have a tenant waiting," Xikis said.
Representatives of the Hageman family could not be reached for comment.
As bad as the news of Scobee's imminent demise is for restaurant regulars and the community at large, the closure promises to hit the diner's 40 employees particularly hard — some of whom, like manager Armando Morales, have been working at the establishment for decades.
"It's a sad thought to drive by here and see the lights off," Morales said last week.
Even as the owners began making plans for a possible closing day party for regulars and staff, waves from the news of Scobee's closure continued to reverberate through the neighborhood — and beyond.
"I wish there was something we could do to keep this iconic eatery opened," wrote Barbara Peerless, a former Queens resident now living in Hawaii.
Still unclear was whether members of the Tenet family, which owned and operated what was then known as the Twentieth Century Diner, knew about the impending closure. That includes the family's famous son, former Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet, who grew up working at the now-historic dining establishment.
"I wouldn't know what to tell them," Pallas said, referring to the Tenets.