Business

Philadelphia Deli is closing after nearly 50 years and a bitter legal fight

Philadelphia Deli closing after a deal made on a 'deathbed'

After nearly 50 years of serving innumerable Philly cheesesteak sandwiches and family style meals the restaurant is closing it's doors on Friday.
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After nearly 50 years of serving innumerable Philly cheesesteak sandwiches and family style meals the restaurant is closing it's doors on Friday.

Demetri Drosinis practically grew up in the Philadelphia Deli, a small diner on South Kings Drive that looks like a relic of a bygone era next to the glittering new hospital building and uptown skyline poking up across the street.

His father, Paul Drosinis, started the business in 1969 with Alice Drosinis, his wife. Both Greek immigrants, they bought the restaurant when it was a barbecue joint and turned it into the style of diner that was once omnipresent across Charlotte. Inside, a jukebox sits silent under a cartoon poster of Charlotte in the 1980s, while a few regulars drift in the back door and order a late breakfast.

“I wish we could have saved it,” Demetri Drosinis said Tuesday, wearing a white apron and standing in front of the kitchen, which turns out everything from cheese steaks to chicken pitas to eggs with livermush.

Friday is the Philadelphia Deli’s last day – the day that the sale to a developer closes. It will also mark the final coda to a bruising legal fight that tied up the diner in a dispute over whether Paul Drosinis, who signed a contract along with his wife to sell a little more than a month before he died in 2016, was competent to make that decision.

Greencastle Capital Management, the buyer, won a lawsuit last year against the Drosinis family, with a judge ruling that since he died, the issue of Paul Drosinis’ competency “has been removed,” and ordering them to close the sale.

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After almost 50 years in business on Kings Drive the Philadelphia Deli Restaurant will close its doors on Friday Feb. 9 for the last time. Paul Drosinis, who passed away in December of 2016, signed an agreement with Greencastle Capital Management to sell the property. In an attempt to hang on to the restaurant the family took Greencastle to court but lost the case. Demetrios, Dino and Alice Drosinis served longtime customers they called "family" on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. John D. Simmons jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

“Alice and Paul Drosinis negotiated several times over a period of years for a sale of the property,” said Brett Dressler, a lawyer representing Greencastle, which agreed to buy the 1/4-acre property for $930,000. “Nobody mentioned a word about Mr. Drosinis being incompetent until well after the closing deadline.”

Jeffrey Butler, president of Greencastle, hasn’t disclosed plans for the property, which is across from Carolinas Medical Center and the Little Sugar Creek Greenway.

Documents filed as part of of the legal case show negotiations with Butler had been going on since at least 2014, with a cousin of the Drosinis family who is a Realtor acting as a go-between. The Drosinis signed the sale contract on Nov. 7, 2016, when the cousin brought it to their house. Demetri Drosinis said he was working at the diner and didn’t know the contract was signed until a week later when he saw a survey crew.

What Demetri Drosinis disputed, however, was whether his father was mentally able to enter into such a contract. He said his father had turned down previous offers and didn’t plan on selling. Paul Drosinis, an 83-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran, signed a power of attorney in Sept. 2016, empowering his son to make decisions about his finances if he should become disabled.

According to affidavits from several of his doctors, Paul Drosinis was experiencing a rapid decline in his mental facilities at the end of his life, when he had been in and out of the hospital.

“In my professional opinion, Paul Drosinis did not possess sufficient mental capacity to enter into a contract from his admission to the hospital in October 2016 until his death,” wrote Dr. Paul Colavita, according to an affidavit filed in 2017.

“He was dying when he signed this,” said Demetri Drosinis, looking at the contract. His father often no longer recognized people, including his children and grandchildren. He said his mother signed the contract as well because she was following her husband’s lead and has limited English skills.

“I didn’t even look, I didn’t even ask, and I don’t understand everything,” Alice Drosinis said about the contract, in a deposition filed as part of the lawsuit. “I didn’t know if I was supposed to sign it.”

But the contract was signed – Paul Drosinis’ scrawled signature is visible, under his wife’s, in an exhibit filed as part of the case.

“There wasn’t even a dispute that (Paul Drosinis) signed it,” said Dressler, the attorney representing Greencastle Capital Management. “Months went by, the closing went by. … Nobody says a word about Paul’s incompetence.”

After the closing deadline passed and the Drosinis family wouldn’t close the deal, Greencastle filed a lawsuit to compel them to finish the sale. In a summary judgment filed Oct. 30, Judge Carla Archie ruled that the contract to sell the land should be enforced, deciding against the Drosinis family and in favor of Greencastle. Alice Drosinis was also ordered to pay $17,813 worth of court costs and attorney’s fees.

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(L-R) Longtime customers Jim Scancarelli and Benn Barry stopped by for lunch on Tuesday. After almost 50 years in business on Kings Drive the Philadelphia Deli Restaurant will close its doors on Friday Feb. 9th. John D. Simmons jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Demetri Drosinis said they don’t have the money to press an appeal of the legal case. Now, the Drosinis family is winding down their business in preparation for closing the sale Friday, at which they’ll receive the previously agreed sale price. They’ll have 30 days to clear out the restaurant, Drosinis said, which remains thick with memories.

“I’d sit right here on this booth,” Drosinis said, gesturing to a cracked booth in front of a television where he spent hours as a boy after school while his parents worked until midnight. “Everything changes though.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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