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Bringing diners to downtown

Landmark Diner Founder goes where others won't

Restauranteur Tom Lambros is leaving his mark on downtown Atlanta.

The founder and owner of the popular Landmark Diner in Buckhead recently opened another diner in the old Sylvia's Hall, and he is planning an upscale Greek Restaurant in the base of the Read About
Tom Lambros Georgia-Pacific Tower on Peachtree Street.

That's in addition to the Landmark Diner Lambross opened a year ago near Georgia State University's Rialto Center and a mini Landmark he opened several months ago near The Fox Theatre. He has a sixth diner, this one also a mini Landmark, planned for Cheshire Bridge Road near Happy Herman's.

"We understand the business and we want to do something for downtown and feed people and make jobs," said Lambros, a Greek immigrant who opened the original Landmark Diner on Roswell Road.

Lambros is among a scant few restauranteurs who have entered the dificult downtown market with a new restaurant in recent years.

Most downtown restaurants are near attractions such as Philips Arana or Underground Atlanta or inside hotels, or else they tend to be chain restaurants that close shortly after dinner.

The Landmark Diner near GSU, however, is open 24 hours a day and Lambros intends for the Landmark at Sylvia's eventually to stay open 24 hours.

He firmly believes that a 24-hour cycle makes neighborhoods safer and more lively, particularly because downtown workers, students and residents tend to congregate in the wee hours once they know a place stay open. Late-night business at the GSU Landmark is still modest, Lambros says, but it has become steady enough for the restaurant to break even during those hours.

Downtown advocates laud Lambros' decision. Since activity downtown still tends to dry up after 6 p.m., the addition of a couple of round-the-clock eateries can have a tremendous impact, said A.J. Robinson, president of the downtown advocacy group Central Atlanta Progress.

"The success [Lambros] has had at GSU has been very good, and it shows that he's figured out the downtown market," Robinson said. "If you can figure out a market like that - with its eclectic mix of students, tourists, workers and residents - and bring in a concept that people desire, there are a lot of oppurtunities to be had."

Restaurant broker Harold Shumacher noted the opening of the Georgia Aquarium later this year and the recent revitalization efforts at Underground Atlanta could help boost business for downtown restaurants. The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE:KO) is also planning to build a new World of Coke attraction near the aquarium, and city leaders are assembling a bid for a planned NASCAR hall of fame museum.

Shumacher believes the new Landmark near City Hall and the Capitol could possibly become the "it" place for legislators and lobbyists to concregate informally, and the planned upscale Greek and Mediterranean restaurant inside the Georgia-Pacific Tower has the potential to attract downtown business people trying to woo clients or close deals.

"Diner food is a universal cuisine that serves big portions at reasonable prices, and it has a lot of appeal to the urban crowd, which can be difficult to understand, " Schumacher said.

Shumacher also noted the new Lambros restaurants at GSU, Sylvia's and Gerogia-Pacific are close to 90,000 hotel rooms and thousands of new condos and apartments being built new Centennial Olympic Park and other pockets of downtown.

"Downtown is starting to have more full-time residents and the convention traffic is steady," Shumacher said. "It's a good time to be doing it."

Lambros says he did not seek out the new restaurant sites, but rather the deals came to him through word of mouth via the constant traffic at the original Landmark.

"People come in here and they talk to me and say, "I think I am getting out of the business.' and I think maybe it's a good idea to make another restaurant," said Lambros, who is 50.

Lambros is bringing his son, Nick Lambros, and nephews Ari Thanos and Nicholas G. Lambros into the family business by letting the 20-somethings slowly get involved in running the various restauants. The young men all studied business in college, and they all worked at the original Landmark when they were in their teens.

"I want to see them crawling and then eventually to see them run. They are learning the business from the very bottom, and they are smart and they work hard," Lambros said.

The patriarch of the Landmark empire acknowledges the downtown locations will be his most difficult yet, but now he's got help from his son and newphews who closely monitor business and swap tips or ideas amongest themselves.

"A lot of things are against you [downtown], but you work hard and work long hours and try to figure it out, " Lambros said. "You can succeed."

Asked about retirement, Lambros insists he has not got any plans to stop running the restaurants.

"I do not play golf and I do not know anything but restaurants, " he said. "What would I do?"

Lambros might not be done building his restaurant holdings.

"I just want to accumulate enough to make a good living and leave something for the younger ones to have." Lambros said. " We are only working hard and doing the best we can.".

By Mary Jane Credeur

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