~~Yesterday at around 3:00 in the afternoon, Leo’s Place, which was opened in the late 1940s, closed its doors. One of the few remaining establishments of old Harvard Square before the sharks of globalization started buying the Square up in the late 1990s, Leo’s Place was an old fashioned, honest to goodness eatery–not “ethnic,” nor “fusion” nor particularly obsessed with health and locally produced. Devoid of pretension, Leo’s did not peddle in “food experience.” It offered instead great, basic food at reasonable prices and in a casual, often quirky atmosphere.
Since 1982, Leo’s has been owned by Richie and Raffi Bezdjian, immigrants from Aleppo, who combined clockwork efficiency with a spirit of fun and goofiness. In their hands, Leo’s was a place which attracted local writers, artists, musicians, actors, and professors. Yesterday at noon, when we went for to say goodbye to our friends Richie and Raffi, the walls had been stripped of the photographs of all the people who had graced the premises of Leo’s Place. The food was still great–omelet for me, french toast for my companion, the place filled to capacity, and Richie and Raffi doing their thing. But the empty walls told another story.
And there is a story in the closing of Leo’s Place–a story of immigration from the Middle East, of two wonderful Armenian guys running a diner for almost three decades, and doing it with a mixture of panache and grit, of not succumbing to the changing fads of foods and the fickle demands of foodies. But most of all, it is the story all too familiar nowadays in our daily life–the forces of greed and power taking over entire blocks and doing with them whatever their investors desire.
It’s the same everywhere, and Harvard Square has not been spared the lethal reach of hyper capital. In fact, the old Harvard Square in gone, replaced by one big, very ugly mall where you can find, if you look hard enough, a handful of the old establishments. The rest is mostly trash–clothes, bad food; more clothes, more clothes, sunglasses–sorry, eyewear.
Farewell Leo’s Place, till we meet again.~~
Sad to know. I always enjoyed my breakfasts there with often very interesting Arabic music. I hope that there will be a home for them beyond a place in our hearts.
It was simply “Leo’s Place” on Boylston Street when I worked there in 1975. Leo Piandes was the owner and all the staff were Greek, except for me. George was the cook, “Charlie” was the other man behind the counter, and “Toola” took the orders. I was the gopher, brought in to help Charlie with his English language skills, instead I learned all the Greek words not to say aloud. (I believe the SNL Olympia Restaurant skit took its material from Leo’s.) Leo’s was known for the hearty breakfast plates, burgers with fries, and Greek salad. I left Leos’ to return to school and picked up a part time gig at Nini’s Corner (later Crimson Corner). Among the workers in Harvard Square we considered Leo’s our secret food haunt to avoid the tourist crowd,