Queens of Queens
By Tanzania Hughie
On a sunny Saturday my eyes are filled with sunlight and delight because I live in the best city in the world. No one can debate it, all New Yorkers have a love hate relationship with the city. You can’t stand your roommate but, you love your apartment. Full on disdain for your landlord but, your rent is cheap.
New Yorkers are always on the lookout for that new local spot. A spot where you go when you don’t want to cook, when you just want a quick bite, and when your apartment is too small for holding gatherings of more than just a couple guests.
Bring me your ultra rich and your working poor and they all are treated like gods at the local spot. It’s so important to have community in your everyday life. The local spot is a refuge from your roommate and their incessant arguing when you are trying to watch your favorite TV show. It’s your oasis from the concrete and tenements that make you gulp in slight regret when you pay your rent.
All New Yorkers know just like the sitcom ‘Cheers’ the local spot is a place where everyone knows your name and most importantly everyone knows what you are drinking.
During COVID we have been unable to really enjoy our communal spaces. These spaces and people act often as therapists. The bartenders become your emotional outlet, the servers become shields from the concrete world that surrounds us. The owners of the restaurants become your teachers, leaders, and closest confidants. I’m sure we all have been filled with sorrow at the overwhelming number of neighborhood restaurants closing. Here in Astoria, Queens, when I hit the strip after being in quarantine I was relieved that some of our beloved places were alive and well.
Owning and running a restaurant is very male dominated, yet there are also many strong women in Astoria holding it down for our community whose sacrifice and passion often go unnoticed.
The first of these women owned businesses you must visit is Queen’s Room. It is here, nestled on the corner of 3602 Ditmars Blvd., where you will be treated like family. In fact, as I walked up to the front entrance I observed a patron telling owner Antonia Joannides to please keep game night on its regularly designated night. Sounds like family to me. When you first look through the take out window you can see that Queen’s Room definitely has that upscale classy nook vibe.
For outside purposes that have trickled to the sidewalk from the staff to fellow patrons I felt very much at home. I got a chance to catch up with Boss lady Joannides who makes the most moist and tender Mediterranean style chicken you’ve ever had. I caught a glimpse into her world. Hers seemed similar to mine, people often second guessing you because you are a woman. Also triple guessing that she is actually the owner of the spot. That doesn’t defer her; she is still a badass Scorpio, something we also share in common.
Just a couple of seconds with her and I’m already captivated by how welcomed she makes me feel. Antonia oozes hospitality, and she can pour a stiff drink. Antonia, who has operated Queen’s Room for three years, prides herself on the fact that there is diversity in the restaurant. She has employed a lot of women and believes in representation so you’ll see the pride flag flowing and Black Lives Matter banners in the windows. She is empowered by the fact that all women should be embracing their ability to be an inspiration, and has set out to make Queen’s Room a home away from home.
A true haven indeed. She believes it’s her attention to detail that keeps customers coming back. I believe it’s her heart and her ability to create community on a Ditmars corner that keeps her place full and open.
The next Astorian restaurant which you must dine at is The Thirsty Koala on 35-12 Ditmars Blvd. This Australian farm-to-tab;e local hot spot is sure to have you craving more of the outback. I had the privilege of meeting with the two owners of The Thirsty Koala and let me tell you something: these women owners are fierce. As soon as I met them, their energies commanded my attention and I’m definitely not a pushover. Much like Antonia, these two ladies; Katherine ‘Kathy’ Fuchs and Aussie-born Christine Chellos are phenomenal in their own right.
The Thirsty Koala has been in business a rolling eight years. The place is busy, full of life, music blaring, it is the place you want to be on a Saturday night. Heck, any night! The bustling restaurant became too loud for us, so I was guided through the kitchen where chefs and sous chefs were fixing Aussie-inspired dishes with a Greek flare for us locals to enjoy. Did I mention they serve kangaroo? Crikey! The Thirsty Koala’s ambience really transports you to a lush, lavish leafy plateau in Australia.
When we get down to it these two strong women work well together because they have similar backgrounds. It’s funny how the life of a Wall Street banker and a former member of the FDNY became a culinary match. A twelve year friendship has lasted through the grueling schedule because they understand and respect what each other expects from the business.
They realize that there are men everywhere but if you are professionals, people will judge you by you work ethic and how you present yourself. They rise above it all and have positive attitudes because they feel this overwhelming sense of responsibility and that lives are in your hands. As leaders, the wisdom that they have gained is to allow yourself to face every obstacle, lead you to a higher and better self and you gain a better, stronger, greater you. Christine suggests having more fun while you’re young, waiting to get married, and stay with your mom and dad a little bit longer until you figure out your life’s path.
Ultimately, I learned a lot from the women I interviewed. I learned that thinking differently wasn’t a bad thing and should be encouraged and even necessary for a good partnership. Someone’s opinion could just help you resolve an issue in life. I’ve found that in my own life I seek to be able to reason with people. For reasoning with someone is the true measure of one’s investment in any relationship.
Let’s face it, we are all in a relationship with our local spots here in Astoria. I am so glad I got to highlight and catch up with these dynamic women in our community. When you get a chance, check out these communal spaces and tell them Tanzania sent you.
Keep it thorough in every borough
The City and Me.