Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Breaking a curse? Lifelong cooks believe they can make it happen in College Road spot

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KC’s Good Times Diner. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — The restaurant space at 1016 S. College Road has seen a lot businesses open and then close, sometimes in less than a year. Konstantinos Fontanas and his wife, Carlene, are hoping to change that trend with KC’s Good Times Diner, which opened several weeks ago.

In the last six years, the space has been occupied by Cubbie’s, Monica’s Seafood, Wilmington House of Pizza and most recently Corbett’s Burgers and Soda Bar. Though the place may not literally be cursed, poor visibility from College Road and lack of easy access from northbound traffic, compounded by a slightly cramped parking arrangement, may have all contributed to the previous closings.

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Mr. Fontanas declined to be photographed, saying “I’m cooking, nobody wants to see a photograph of me. My wife, she’s beautiful. Photograph her.”

Carlene Fontanas knew about the place going in, but was still drawn to the building’s “character.”

“When we moved down here because our daughter was going to school, we had no intention of opening another restaurant. We were actually working for someone else when we saw the space had become available,” she said. “I’ve always loved a certain time period, ‘American Grafitti,’ yes? And I’ve always wanted to do a 1950s diner. And this building, it just had that character. We couldn’t not do it. We visited two times, the second time did it. That’s all it took.”

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More from Fontanas’ collection. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
Pieces from Carlene Fontanas' personal collection of Americana on display in KC's Good Times Diner.
Pieces from Carlene Fontanas’ personal collection of Americana. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Carlene Fontanas decorated the diner with her own personal collection of Americana, including movie posters, newspapers clippings and photographs. She said she and her husband understood the drawbacks of the location, but ultimately hoped their atmosphere and food would win over customers.

“We get it,” Fontanas said, “there’s not much we can do in terms of our visibility. We can’t move the sign because it’s grandfathered onto city property and we don’t want to put something on the road that’s going to flash and glare it people’s eyes. And, yes, turning at the light can be tricky. But you can come up the back way and take Cedar, right into our parking lot. It’s actually easy once you figure it out.

“We’re hoping that once people come here, especially our older crowd, they’ll remember this kind of diner fondly,” she said. “And once they try the food, they’ll realize we’re doing something special. It’ll be worth it for them to come back.”

While this optimism could strike some as naive, especially given the location’s history, the Fontanas family has been in the business for a long time.

“I don’t want you to do the math,” Fontanas said, laughing, “but I’ve been doing this since I was 13. My husband’s been doing this since he was 15. We have recipes from our families, Greek recipes from his, something like the homemade perogies I’m making now, from my family. We know the food is good.”

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“We have specials every day,” said Carlene Fontanas. “And also surprises. We did fried Haddock one day, stuffed flounder. There’s things you can count on, and other things that kind of reward you for coming back.”

When it came to the restaurant’s daily specials, throwbacks to 1950s diner culture like meatloaf and chicken and dumplings, the recipes are distinctly southern.

“Well, you have to remember we’ve been cooking in the south for a long time. We ran a diner like this one in Charlotte for almost 10 years, and we worked in Florida, too,” she said. “And we’ve been fortunate enough to work for people over the years who were very generous. They said, ‘here, when you go out and do your own thing, take these recipes with us.’ So, we like the food, of course, but we’ve seen it work in diners before.”

The Fontanas said they’d had a warm welcome to the Port City, in more ways than one.

“Upstate New York, right now, it’s brutally cold. I hate the snow, hate the cold. But here, it’s beautiful,” she said. “And the people have been very nice. Some of the other restaurant owners in the area have reached out to us, it’s a good community.”

KC’s Good Times Diner is open Monday 6:30 a.m. – 3 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. – 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 6:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Sunday, 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. It can be reached at (910) 399-3521 and on Facebook.

This radio is, according to Konstantinos Fontanas, a tube-powered mid-1940s original.   "It's only missing one tube now, I've fixed it up," he said. "Soon I'll have it up and running."
This radio is, according to Konstantinos Fontanas, a tube-powered mid-1940s original. “It’s only missing one tube now, I’ve fixed it up,” he said. “Soon I’ll have it up and running.”


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