Dan’s Place 2

December 11, 2009

Hidden among apartment buildings of a residential area in midtown Albany, NY is a small diner resembling a train car called Dan’s Place 2. If one can figure out where the place is, they will discover greasy-spoon-perfection at an inexpensive price. From mouthwatering burgers to hot, hand-dipped French toast, Dan’s place serves comforting food that makes first-timers become one of the many regulars. In addition to satisfying meals, Dan’s Place serves up a comforting atmosphere as the business has been built on a foundation of family and friendship since the first location opened in 1977.

A little history…

Daniel Mahoney and his partner Donna * first opened Dan’s Place on Madison Avenue in July of 1977. Dan had been a short order cook for a long time. When he decided to lease the location, he had worked there for a couple months under someone else. The owner spoke about selling, so he offered to buy it out resulting in the choice of Albany as the location to open his business.

The diner was a success for 10 years until they were forced to leave after the building was bought and their lease was not honored. In January of 1988, Dan and Donna bought a small building of their own on Washington Avenue, renaming the 1939 Wister style diner Dan’s Place 2.  The original structure of the diner was made in 1954 on Hudson Avenue and was transferred to Washington Avenue.

Dan and Donna worked together to run the new business until he passed away in 1992. Donna continued to run the business but upon becoming ill, two of her children named Donna and Tom, supported her in helping her at the diner. In 1996, Donna passed away and left Dan’s Place 2 to her four children. Although all four children have part-ownership of the business, the diner’s success is owed to Tom and Donna’s hard work and dedication working as both managers and cooks. “It was my family’s business– my sister, my mother and Dan and you just kind of flow into things,” Tom said.

Currently, Donna lives in Troy and Tom resides in South Bethlehem. Everyone in the family was basically from Troy and the business became available. “We own it so there is no sense in going anywhere else,” Donna said.

Location…

Located at 494 Washington Avenue, the diner is nearby Albany’s “college student ghetto” making it a favorite of students looking for a cheap bite or “hangover food” after a night out at local bars. “Guys come in and are stuck on burgers for two years. Other kids are stuck on breakfast,” Tom said. He admits that the rush of customers often depends on the academic schedule of SUNY Albany. They most definitely notice a quiet in the diner when the university is on break. However, the clientele does vary keeping the diner busy. “Customers are common folk to way up there and they all mix in well and make friends and its fun,” Donna says. You can fine judges lawyers, doctors, firefighters, policemen, students, bummers, reporters…basically anybody and everybody eating at this diner.”

Although the location of their business works to their advantage in many ways, it also has its disadvantages. The location has been the cause of a change in their hours of business. Donna recalls that in the past they would be open all night long on Friday and Saturday nights. Today, they are only open on Friday nights.

When opening a business in what is considered a ghetto, owners must be prepared to deal with crime. The owners of Dan’s Place 2 have been fortunate in only being robbed once. Donna explains that their one robbery was at 7 a.m. on a Tuesday just a couple of days before Christmas. “It was a man who had been released from prison the day before, got off a bus in Albany and was looking for a quick buck,” she says. Thankfully, he got next to nothing and the police had him before he was two blocks away from the diner. Besides this once incident, Donna, who comes to the restaurant at 2:30 a.m. and opens the door at 5:30 says that no one has bothered her.

What makes it worth while…

There are many aspects of their business that make managing it enjoyable for the two siblings. Although this was not what she planned on doing as a career after going to nursing school, Donna, who makes the soups, salads, and prepares many of the meals has come to find satisfaction in pleasing customers with her cooking. The fact that the diner is family run with a small staff of waitresses is something she often appreciates. “Some days it’s a bonus and other days it might not be,” Donna says. While the owners of this diner are related by blood, it seems that many of their customers have become their family as well. Through the years, the majority of their customers have become regulars many of them from years ago at the first location.

Tom enjoys the opportunity to meet new people and takes pride in the quality product that he is serving. “You meet a lot of people in a business like this. You are at a level where..some jobs you would never meet this many people. Its good home-cooked food, fresh and its nice to know you are giving someone a nice product especially when they appreciate food,” Tom said.

Donna explains that there are many second generation customers. “We have kids come in here and say “oh our father or our mother came here” and some you can pick out who their mother or father might be,” she says. She is grateful for the friends she has made along the way whether they are customers or employees and that she can take them with her even though they go. Certain “regulars” come in and eat the same thing everyday while other people come in and you never know what they are going to have. “I have one guy come in and he sits down, he gets his meal. He probably wouldn’t even know what to ask for I just make it for him and sit it in front of him,” she says. One of their regulars named Harry admits to coming everyday often eating his favorite breakfast of eggs and home fries. When asked what keeps him coming back he explained that it was both the food and the people.

Meanings behind the meals…

Known for their Emmy burger, part-owner Tom claims, “It is the best deal in town.” For $5.85 you can get a half pound burger with bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and French fries. The Emmy burger is named after Tom and Donna’s sister Emily. In 1977, Dan and Donna were trying to come up with a hamburger for the restaurant and at the time there were not many half-pound burgers around with bacon and cheese so they created that by themselves and it needed a name. It was going to either be called the Donna or the Emmy and they decided that Emmy flowed better.

The Emmy Bull burger got its name from a college student from Long Island who asked for an egg put on their burger. Their mother and this student came up with the Emmy Bull. The chicken pull is also popular with a chicken patty and the bacon egg and cheese.

The beat the house breakfast was something that their mother and Dan came up with. It was on the pretense of trying to get a meal where you can get so much for your money that you are beating the house. It’s a big meal with three eggs, seven strips of bacon, or three big sausage links, or a nice piece of ham with home fries and toast. “They always want to know what you get for beating the house and I say a full belly,” Donna said.

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