Athanasopoulos opened The Breakfast Club in 2002. Before he came across the place, it was vacant — a relic of 1962 that had fallen into a bit of disrepair. Having worked in the restaurant business on and off in one form or another since he was 14 years old, Athanasopoulos came across the bones of the diner thanks to a family friend.
Thanksgiving night in 2001, Athanasopoulos and this friend, who owned a flower shop in Harvard Square and traversed Western Avenue every day, started talking.
"He's like, 'Hey, there's a diner down the street,'" Athanasopoulos said.
Next thing he knew, they were leaving a house full of 30 people on Thanksgiving to take a drive to see the place. Athanasopoulos later went by on his own and saw a man inside the place. He found out that the owner of the abandoned diner lived in Watertown, tracked him down, and struck a deal.
The space had the necessary framework to redevelop the diner concept but needed a bit of attention.
"When we came in, the counter wasn't even here — they were doing all the cooking out back. So we sort of wanted to make it back to an original diner again," Athanasopoulos said, and they did so by adding granite countertops and a black-and-white tile floor.
During development of The Breakfast Club's concept, Athanasopoulos and his then-business partner tossed around a couple of ideas. The Diner, The Dinah (Boston accent and all), and The Breakfast Spot were all on the table until the pair found themselves out one night.
"Stupid bars back in the day, they used to play the music and they would show a video of the song," Athanasopoulos said. Simple Minds came on, he said, along with video from The Breakfast Club, and the deal was sealed, so to speak.
"And then we just started naming everything after the characters. Thank god, because 'The Diner' — what would be our theme? What would our decorations be like?" Athanasopoulos said.
When the restaurant first opened, taped-up '80s posters lined the walls, and the menu was the size of a small notebook. There were breakfast specials, five omelettes, and minimal sandwiches. Today's menu is substantially larger, having grown along with the restaurant. About three years ago, Athanasopoulos expanded the space with an additional dining room off the side of the diner, increasing the restaurant capacity.
Along with this expansion came a reworking of the decoration concept. Gone are the '80s posters of old. In their stead, there's a collection of Athanasopoulos' '80s records, movie paraphernalia, and his own Atari, which his mother once bought for him for his birthday.
"I was a disc jockey from like '88 to '96, you know here and there, and I was a big movie buff anyway," Athanasopoulos said. "Whoever I would DJ with would be looking for actual music; I'd be looking for soundtracks."
It naturally followed that those records would be put to use in Athanasopoulos's '80s-inspired diner.
Fourteen years later, The Breakfast Club has seen a handful of changes, but it remains a staple of the Lower Allston neighborhood.
Athanasopoulos has his regulars: the weekenders, the weekday crowd, and the seven-days-a-week crowd.
"It's a lot of neighborhood people. And what's interesting too is that out of 14 years, we've only been closed 14 days. Christmas every year, that's it. Any snowstorm, the Marathon bombing — no driving during the bombing and stuff like that — we were all there. And it's funny because those were the days that we're actually busier. If there's a snow emergency, you know, people will walk here," he said. "People know that we're always open."
And the ones who visit have plenty of food to choose from. A bunch of popular items come from The Breakfast Club's "Library Specials" list: The Basket Case, for one, which comes with two eggs, home fries, toast, a choice of meat, and two pieces of French toast or pancakes. Other favorites include the banana oat and Nutella pancakes, the fire bomb eggs Benedict, the breakfast panini, and milkshakes.
Athanasopoulos said they also sell about 50 orders of meatloaf per week.
After all these years, Athanasopoulos doesn't really cook anymore, but he's a constant presence around the restaurant.
"I wake up in the morning, and I have two kids — I drop them off at school, and then I come here and I just hang out at the counter," he said. Athanasopoulos talks with customers, oversees his employees, and, he says, criticizes everybody that comes in. In a friendly way, of course.
"They're like, 'Yeah, I'll have a vanilla milkshake,' and I'm like 'Really? Really? A vanilla milkshake?' They usually end up changing," he said.
If he comes off gruff, it falls away immediately when he falls into conversation with one of his regulars. Sometimes he picks up the tab, too.
The only day Athanasopoulos won't be found at The Breakfast Club is Sunday. That day is reserved for church, family, "stuff like that."
"But then I feel bad for not coming here," he said. "Well, for me it's not work. I don't feel like it's a job."
That shows, in the way he talks of his employees, all of whom he said have been with him two years or more.
"I'm very lucky in that respect too," Athanasopoulos said. "It's awesome. It's tough. This is business, but we're still close and tight, so it's like family."
Athanasopoulos said he is surprised the restaurant is still going strong. Listening to him talk about the place, though, it seems like a no-brainer. Lines out the door, a rotating cycle of neighborhood regulars — it adds up.
"People on Saturday and Sunday and holidays and stuff like that, they'll wait in line for an hour. And I'm very thankful, and I'm very grateful for it. I'm so amused by it and everything like that, but I don't get it. It's just — it's almost like a cult, like they enjoy waiting. They'll take selfies of themselves waiting in line at The Breakfast Club, and I'm like, 'You guys are nuts!'" Athanasopoulos said.
In the near future, The Breakfast Club may be able to accommodate more of these loyal customers. Athanasopoulos said he was working on plans to add a patio off to the left of the restaurant and to add a second floor, depending on the necessary permissions required.
Beyond that, Athanasopoulos is actively looking to open another restaurant. Depending on the location, it could be another Breakfast Club, it could include dinner, or drinks, or just all-day breakfast.
If he could get a liquor license, he said, "I would probably turn it into a New York-style diner, open at six in the morning, staying open as late as the area would allow me to, and just do a breakfast place all day."