A line of people was waiting to eat brunch at his packed restaurant late Monday morning, but Tiffin Inn Pancake House owner Saleem Sabagh, sitting in the back office, hung his head and frowned.
After nearly 40 years of operating at 6601 Veterans Memorial Blvd. in Metairie, Sabagh will have to close his well-known breakfast and coffee house on Sunday.
He plans to search for potential new locations, but in the meantime, his 45 employees will be out of work.
Sabagh declined to go into detail about why he’s closing, but he said his landlord, Harold Wainer, wants “to do something new” with the property after the restaurant’s lease expires.
Wainer declined to discuss his decision, but two of the diner’s employees said they are being pushed out to make room for a new HomeGoods chain store location.
HomeGoods, which is based in Massachusetts, could not be reached for comment on its plans.
The A-1 Appliance & Electronics store next to Tiffin Inn is also losing its lease with Wainer to accommodate whatever comes next. But its employees and merchandise will simply move to another A-1 store about a mile away in Kenner, sales manager Bret Gervais said.
Sabagh and his staff could only wish they were in the same situation.
“Let us know if you hear of any jobs for us,” Tiffin Inn manager Celina Hollingsworth, of Kenner, said before vowing to picket in front of the HomeGoods store whenever it opens.
“We were enjoying good business, enjoying seeing our regular customers over and over and over,” said the 86-year-old Sabagh, choking back tears. “This is a blow to us.”
Sabagh founded Tiffin Inn in 1977. Its interior — pink walls, dark wood paneling, fiberglass-tiled drop ceilings, pastoral paintings, metallic syrup caddies and Muzak-playing speakers — never seemed to progress with the times. But families came back again and again for the pancakes and omelettes and coffee.
A frequent sight was young soccer and baseball players still in their uniforms eating breakfast after weekend morning games at Lafreniere Park, just across Veterans from the restaurant. Retirees, people doing shift work and high schoolers in formal dance attire were regular customers as well.
The brunch crowd on Monday — Memorial Day — included 91-year-old Jim Small; his wife, Barbara, 92; and their friend, Victor Hawks, 91, all of Metairie.
They said they all had the same reaction when they learned a few days earlier that Tiffin Inn was closing: first shock, then sadness.
“Our kids were (young) when we first started coming here,” Hawks said. “The youngest now is 60 — the oldest is 65. ... It was very disappointing to hear it would be closing. Apparently, loyalty means nothing.”
Sabagh was as surprised by the news as anyone. He didn’t see the closure coming, he said.
When Wainer asked him some time back whether Tiffin Inn planned to renew its lease, Sabagh said he replied, “Yes.”
“Harold told me, ‘That’s all I need to know,’ and we left it at that,” Sabagh said. “Then, he came back (and) said, ‘Saleem, I have to do something else with the property, and I can’t renew your lease.’ ”
“We enjoyed the business. We enjoyed the people who came here,” he continued. “I want to thank them for their support through the years, and hopefully we’ll see them again soon.”
It’s the second local fixture to shut down recently. Tiffin Inn will close its doors exactly two weeks after the popular chain restaurant Houston’s at 4241 Veterans in Metairie served its last meal.