Open Letter: 9/11, the virus, my dad and his legacy

Dear Tribeca,

19 years ago, on September 11, 2001, unexpectedly and unannounced, our world was turned upside down. I was 17 years old, a month into my senior year in high school on Staten Island. My teachers were on strike outside the school, and when the news came in about the attack, they ran back in and told us what had just occurred in Manhattan.

Many of my fellow students had parents who were firefighters or police officers and/or worked downtown, and we all stormed out — myself included. At the time, my dad was one of the owners of Gee Whiz Diner, and he was the one who was there on that day. I drove around aimlessly, trying to reach him, my friends, my family — and just find the way towards something. I remember the radio playing “Imagine” by John Lennon. It was the first time I really listened to the words of that song, released almost exactly 30 years prior to 9/11.

Hours later, my dad finally called and told me he was walking home — from Tribeca. He had literally handed over the restaurant to the FDNY as a rescue site, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot, walked to Bay Ridge, and somehow got a ride from there. He opened the door covered in ashes and dust from head to toe with his hands and eyes open wide and screamed, “I’m home!” But there wasn’t much more he could say other than that — he could not believe the things he had just witnessed.

As the days passed and he realized Gee Whiz would be closed for a long time, he and his partners at the time, including Peter Panayiotou whose son Chris has just reopened Gee Whiz, talked about how this would all play out. At the time, Gee Whiz was a traditional 60-seat coffee shop — its current size. There were two other commercial spaces next to it. While many businesses in the area “ran for the hills” out of downtown, either voluntarily or involuntarily, Gee Whiz doubled down and expanded into those two spaces, fully renovating the entire restaurant. It was a rebirth moment for him, his partners, our families, and for the community.

When my dad passed away in March, I thought back to 9/11 whenever I contemplated what I would do with Tribeca’s Kitchen. What would my dad do in my shoes? And I quickly knew the answer. I would do what diner owners like him would do: fight through the good times and the bad. Your family, your employees and your community need you. This nightmare that we are living this year is most definitely my 9/11. I am a proud diner owner’s son, and I will do what I know I am supposed to do. It is for these precise reasons that I, like my dad and Pete, am rebuilding Tribeca’s Kitchen now. It was through sharing this story and writing this reflection at this moment on this day that I fully realized the importance and value of what it means to be a neighborhood diner.

Diners have been around for over 100 years for a reason. Diners are not fundamentally defined by a certain decor or menu selection. What they are really about, and why communities always need their “neighborhood diner” around, is being there for everyone with open arms like my father’s with something for everyone — rich or poor, happy or sad, large parties or a table for 1. Diners are about employee culture, summer jobs, opportunities for those who have no education but an amazing work ethic and a dream.

God bless the first responders who perished on 9/11, the thousands of others who were killed, and all of their families. They will never be forgotten because that moment in time changed our lives forever, and they paid the ultimate price. God bless my father and Peter and all those we lost this year from this horrible virus, and all of our families suffering with the pain of loss.

I know that our great city will recover, because we have a strength and endurance like no other. I’ll do my part with the rebirth of Tribeca’s Kitchen, and you’ll each do yours as best you can, as we always strive to do. As unbelievably painful as it was on 9/11, and now this year, we’ll be okay. We always are, so long as we keep on striving for the things John Lennon asked us to “Imagine.”

Andreas Koutsoudakis (“Andy Jr.”)
Owner, Tribeca’s Kitchen



  1. This is beautiful. Thank you from everyone in the neighborhood.

  2. My kids are big fans of Gee Whiz, and now reading about a legacy that goes back through so much, I feel really touched to have Gee Whiz and Tribeca’s Kitchen as part of our neighborhood.

  3. The neighborhood would not be the same without Gee Whiz and Tribeca’s Kitchen. I am so happy that Tribeca’s Kitchen is open again. I will miss Andy’s warm welcome and big smile when I visit but I am sure you are up for the task. Best of Luck to you!

  4. beautifully said. Thank you.

  5. Andy Jr.
    Thanks for sharing! Wishing you all the best.

  6. God bless you and your family. We’ve got YOUR back now.

  7. Hey Andreas,
    That was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your story with everyone. Good luck to you and your family!

  8. A beautifully told history of perseverance and dedication. May your Dad’s memory be eternal. May the memory of all who perished from the 9/11 attacks be eternal. God bless America ????????

  9. Andy was a dear friend who made a profound impact on our lives. Not a single day where we do not think about him, how giving and kind he was, how he persevered and believed in continuing his business, how he kept us close just like family….we admire the strength and perseverance you have and the hope you give us for the future. Your family is loved!

  10. Perserverance and hope. Never forget, always remember and just keep swimming……just Imagine if we all come together and keep pushing forward at the face of adversity?!!! Well said Andy, keep that fire alive!

  11. Beautiful letter, Thank you. Your Folks raised you very well.

  12. Wonderful family, heartfelt thanks for sharing and inspiring. I first sat in Gee Whiz in 1990, working close by at a brokerage firm, and ordered breakfast daily. I can still remember the delivery man. 15 years later, I moved to the neighborhood and now have 2 first-rate diners. As a native Staten Islander, my family is with you. Always.

  13. Dear Andy Jr.,
    Your father was a wonderful man: generous, ebullient, kind and hardworking. He was always good to the schoolchildren and teachers of P.S. 234 across the street and all the artists, actors, writers, and families of Tribeca. After 9/11, he and his partner Mr. Panayiotou at Gee Whiz fed the first responders and recovery workers at Ground Zero just a couple of blocks away. He then brightened dreary Church Street with his Tribeca’s Kitchen and I was sorry that some people gave him so much trouble when he was trying to have a few outdoor tables — ironic now. His only flaw is that he would run low on Black+White cookies. I know you at Tribeca’s Kitchen and Chris Panayiotou at Gee Whiz [and let’s not forget Teddy further north at the Square Diner] will remain the spiritual anchors of the neighborhood and keep the Black+Whites stocked! All good wishes, Joanna Molloy

  14. Hi Andy Jr., what a wonderful tribute to your dad Andy and Mr. Panayiotu his old partner. They were a big part and still live forever in our hearts of Tribeca. I can remember way back when I first moved down here 1992. my husband use to tell them to go next door which was a little new stand. They would pick up the newspaper and various things beside the food we order. Old School waiters! Your dad, Andy was kind hearted and always very welcoming to us and everyone in his diner. May his memory live on forever! God bless you and the family. We will continue to support Tribeca Kitchen and Gee Whiz which is a little piece of the original neighborhood which is disappearing each and every day. I pray we all make it through this very hard time.

  15. Thanks Andy Jr. Well said. Your father was very special to my family and me. I cannot help but smile and cry at the same time just reading what you wrote. We are on our way home and cannot wait for our next meal at TK!

  16. From the time I met Andy and Peter in the diner where they worked on 7th Avenue and 15th St, I knew they were good men and would do well together. And since the time I met you on Saturdays at Gee Whiz when you were just 10 Y.O., I knew that with a father like Andy, you too would be a good man. Andy would keep me updated and proud of your progress until you passed your bar exam. You have big shoes to fill and a legacy to carry on, but I am more than confident that you will bring Tribeca Kitchen to fruition again. You have my support and that of this community. Please bring your children too on Saturdays when they are older so we can meet the coming generation and “Imagine” with them as well.

  17. Gee Whiz, just down the street from my home on Warren since mid ’90s, always the best fries and even better people.
    All the best for the future: many memories of the past.