Kimberly Restaurant in Milford serves nostalgia along with food at new location
MILFORD — The Kimberly Restaurant is new, yet for many customers it’s as comfortable as a plate of meatloaf heaped with mashed potatoes and gravy.
The restaurant is owned by the Tsopanides family, which for 43 years ran the popular Kimberly Diner on the Boston Post Road across from the Police Department.
The diner opened in 1970 and closed in 2013 after the property owner died suddenly.
Four years later, the family found the right location to reopen where the former Jeffrey’s Restaurant was located at 501 New Haven Ave.
“We were like Cheers before Cheers,” owner Timmy Tsopanides said of the old diner, referring to the bar in the TV sitcom that ran from 1982-93, and where “everybody knows your name.”
“If you didn’t know anyone when you walked in, you knew them when you walked out,” he said.
Timmy Tsopanides is known for the fresh diner food he makes — dishes with a Greek flair among them. But more popular than any dish on the menu is his mother, waitress Rena Tsopanides, a great-grandmother who bends and moves with the ease of a 20-year-old in the job she adores second only to family.
Rena Tsopanides hugs and warmly greets customers like long lost family members and works seven days a week, 12 hours a day.
Customers request that she be their server many times per shift. She couldn’t get through a brief interview without such a request.
“I love it because I like people,” Rena said. “This is my life.”
When a customer asked her what kind of soup is available, the answer isn’t simply “chicken orzo,” but rather, “beautiful chicken orzo.”
Not ready to order yet? “OK my beautiful, take your time,” she says in a strong voice thick with an accent.
Rena Tsopanides, her late husband, “Rosie” and her brother, opened the Kimberly Diner in 1970 after owning a luncheonette in the Norwalk area.
She met her husband in the United States, got married at 161/2 on a Sunday and went to work on Monday, she said. He died in 1983 at age 46.
Rena Tsopanides has also known recent heartbreak — her son Dennis died at age 44 in 2011 and her daughter, Lisa, died in 2014, both of heart-related ailments.
Tsopanides said those losses were tough, and part of what keeps her going are her grandchildren and especially her great grandson, who is Dennis’ grandson. They have similar looks, personality and the same name, she said.
“He gives me life and energy,” she said of the 3-year-old. His framed photograph is on the fireplace hearth in one of the rooms she works in.
Rena and Timmy Tsopanides, former longtime Norwalk residents, now live in Orange.
Their old customers from the diner have returned in droves to the new spot and that is also reflected by posts on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Milford Alderwoman Janet Golden posted on Jan. 20 that she was at the restaurant eating breakfast:
“We found our favorite place again… We love Rena so much. We have known her since the kids were little! Had a wonderful breakfast with David Golden!”
Another posterwrote: “It’s so good to have Rena and Timmy back. The food is still excellent and the service is still tops. It feels like going home again.”
While the Kimberly Diner had a traditional Greek diner look and feel, the motif at the new place is more restaurant-like — in keeping with the old Jeffrey’s.
There are three rooms, each with fireplace, elaborate light fixtures — one with a chandelier and each table is covered with a black table cloth with glass on top. Sheer curtains tied back add to the coziness.
But the menu is unmistakable Greek diner, both in food and price.
There is a also view from two of the rooms of the marshes tall with reeds and a partial view of Long Island Sound, all maximized by huge windows.
During the time the mother and son were waiting for the right location so they could reopen, they worked at the Blue Sky Diner in Stratford, owned by family.
Timmy Tsopanides said of the four-year delay in finding the right new location, “Everything happens for a reason.”
For a short time he ran the restaurant under the old Jeffrey’s Restaurant name, then decided: “I decided I have to be who I am. (It) became the Kimberly.”
He said while it was great to work with family at the Blue Sky, “I missed seeing our customers in our own venue.”
The restaurant’s Facebook page indicates some followed Timmy and Rena Tsopanides from the Blue Sky.
Timmy Tsopanides said there are “a million diners,” but he sets himself apart with fresh, high-quality ingredients.
Currently the restaurant is open from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. serving breakfast and lunch, but will soon try phasing in dinners and staying open later.