Olga's Diner is coming back to Marlton. Well, sort of.
Ground was broken Oct. 2 for a new diner on Route 73 at Baker Boulevard — the former site of Carollo's Family Restaurant. Owners Chris Kolovos and Bill Dovas plan to name it Olga's after the iconic diner that once stood less than a mile away on the Marlton Circle. The two men also operate the Penrose Diner in Philadelphia and the Colonial Diner in Woodbury.
The new Olga's will base its logo and retro design on the old one, but Dovas said the establishment will have several modern twists, like vegan menu options and earlier hours. The restaurant will be open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to midnight. The Evesham Township planning board unanimously approved the project at a meeting this spring.
"We'd like to bridge the gap from one generation to the next," Dovas said. "We're in talks to bring back the old sign. We're hoping to get that thing!"
Dovas says the team has not spoken with 87-year-old John Stavros, whose mother, Olga, opened the original Olga's near Camden's Admiral Wilson Boulevard in 1946 and expanded to the intersection of Route 70 and Route 73 in Evesham Township in 1959.
"The plan is to get in contact," Dovas said. "I believe they're aware. I hope we have their blessing. I hope they see it as an honor."
Whether or not the new owners get an endorsement from Stavros is unknown. Repeated calls to Stavros' home by the Inquirer and Daily News were not returned and messages were left with two family members.
John Stavros took over from his parents and operated Olga's Diner until it closed in 2008. A fertility clinic will open on the site this spring. The restaurant had struggled to keep up with taxes and utility bills. Stavros told the Inquirer at that time that construction projects made the restaurant less accessible to customers.
"They say they're going to do the overpass; they're going to do this and they're going to do that," Stavros said. "We didn't know from day to day if we're going to have a driveway."
Evesham Councilman Steven Zeuili spoke highly of Dovas and Kolovos.
"We're confident," Zeuili said. "We have some restaurateurs with a lot of experience. They must think it's going to work because they're investing a lot in this."
Construction on the 7,225-square-foot building will cost $3 million, Dovas said. They hope to have it ready by next spring, when they plan to hire 65 to 75 employees.
Olga's was a landmark, not just for local teenagers looking for a late-night snack, but also families across the region making their way to Long Beach Island.
"So many business deals were made at Olga's," said Evesham Mayor Randy Brown. "So many late-night drives back from the Shore because it was a midway point between Long Beach Island and Philadelphia."
Whether it was the famous bakery, which made an inaugural-ball cake for President George H.W. Bush in 1989, or the classic look and huge neon sign that drew in travelers trapped in Shore traffic, there was something special about Olga's. Brown especially enjoyed the bakery's cream doughnuts, and said the new owners assured him their bakery will be "first-class."
"When you grow up in a town, you wish you can have a feeling," Brown said. "I call it the 'Field of Dreams' effect. Where there's a field in a middle of nowhere and all of a sudden you find this baseball field. And Ty Cobb is there playing baseball. I think Olga's gives all of us that feeling that we can go back in time."
This kind of nostalgia is what inspired Eric Ascalon to create the "Remembering Olga's Diner" Facebook group, which has 383 members. On it, Ascalon says members help preserve the oral history of the diner. Most of the group's growth came when he posted photos of the old Olga's building, along with a Facebook Live virtual tour of the site just over a week before it was demolished. More than 92,000 people viewed the video. When new members poured in, Ascalon was shocked by how many Philadelphia natives joined in to share fond memories of stopping at Olga's on the way home from the Shore.
"After school, or a concert, it was the go-to place," he said. "I went to high school at Cherry Hill East in the late '80s. Even then, it was a piece of the past. It was retro back then! It was the closest thing that we had growing up to Arnold's Diner in Happy Days."
Ascalon enjoyed the French onion soup there but admitted Olga's appeal was more in the atmosphere.
"As kids, we weren't too picky," Ascalon said. "We weren't gourmets. We were just happy for a late-night snack."
Ascalon said he hopes the new owners get the approval of the Stavros family.