Local diners are an integral part of any community, especially when the owners know how to make people from all walks of life feel welcome. Over the past sixty-five years, Curley’s Diner has had only two owners: the original “Curley, ” Herluf Svenningsen (a curly-haired blond Swede) and Maria Aposporos and her sister, Eleni Begetis. In 1941, Svenningsen brought a former trolley car to the present site on West Park Place, replacing it in 1949 with the present building, a silver and red Art Deco beauty he had purchased for $37,000 to replace the trolley, spending $30,000 on renovations along with $5,000 for the iconic neon sign that still identifies the site. Business boomed from the start; Svenningsen boasted that he went through 175 pounds of coffee every week as well as 1,000 hamburgers.
During the 1960s and ‘70s, the Urban Renewal years, the area around the diner deteriorated becoming increasingly unsafe. Mr. Svenningsen decided it was time to retire to his house on Vernon Place a block away from the diner. In 1976, he sold the business to Maria Aposporos, a 29 year old widow from Greece and her sister Eleni and they and their children have run the landmark eatery ever since.
In the early 1980s, the Urban Redevelopment Commission of the City of Stamford began showing an interest in acquiring the diner for a proposed high-rise residential development, offering the sisters slightly over $230,000 for their property. Maria was quoted as saying about the URC “Let them go somewhere else. Darien could use some tall buildings. Stamford has enough“ While the city did manage to acquire 7,000 square feet of the diner’s parking lot, she eventually won a decision in the Connecticut State Supreme Court allowing her to keep the diner along with ten parking spaces.
In 1987, the diner was “renovated,” losing its original Art Deco skin but gaining additional space in the rear. Over the years, it has been photographed and featured in several documentaries including a fifteen-minute movie produced in 1984 by NYU film school students entitled “Over Easy.” Does anyone know where to find a copy? Fall, 2016, the owners, Maria and Eleni plan to give the diner a new “old” look, restoring it as close to its original appearance as possible based on photographic evidence.