Even as restaurant trends have skewed toward the Edison light bulb-lit gastropub and the upscale fast-casual, a good diner remains a solid choice for a hearty meal in a pretension-free environment. For years, the red and white striped awning of the Anastasia Diner has served as a non-waving flag signaling such modest aims to passersby.
The interior of the diner, two cozy rooms of tables and chairs, is unassuming and quaint and has recently been made to feel even more so with a new coat of paint and artwork on the walls. There’s also been some recent, though understated changes to the Diner’s already robust menu – waffles, additional Benedict options, a decadent serving of biscuits and gravy.
The changes are the result of new ownership. In December, Ivan and Margarita Stoyanov took over the Diner. They say they are committed to maintaining the Diner-milieu – one of good, homemade food served in a low-frills, laid-back setting. These are modest goals for a couple that has displayed remarkable ambition just to get to this point.
The Bulgaria-born Stoyanovs both hold post-graduate degrees – Ivan’s a lawyer, while Margarita holds a Masters in speech therapy. But the couple loves to travel and passed up opportunities to work among the professional class in Bulgaria to live and work in the Canary Islands. They were there in 2011 when Margarita found out she’d been awarded the American green card she’d applied for on a whim.
“I thought it was a scam,” Margarita says. But it wasn’t and the Stoyanovs headed back to Bulgaria to finish the application process which included “piles and piles of paperwork,” according to Margarita. After a lengthy interview process, Margarita was awarded a Visa and the couple decamped for Cape Cod – where Margarita had spent a season working in a hotel some years prior.
But the Visa never came. And Margarita had to start the process all over again. “The government said they sent it and if I didn’t get it I’d have to pay $1,000 and do the interview over and many of the steps again,” Margarita remembers. “I didn’t give up, though.”
In the interim, the seasonal hospitality work in Cape Cod dried up, so the couple decided to move to Florida. Working in hotels and restaurants in Naples, the couple fell in love with the sub-tropical climate. “It’s paradise,” Margarita says of the Sunshine State. “So much different than the Cape!”
But just a few years later, the Stoyanovs were heading back up North. An old friend of Ivan’s in Massachusetts had called and offered the Stoyanovs an investment opportunity. A small, but perennially popular café in the town of Brewster, MA was for sale. It was a big decision that the couple took in stride, packing up and heading north in 2014 to take over the café. Fatefully, Margarita’s green card arrived, shortly before they left.
The couple ran the café in Brewster for three years. All the while, they felt the warmth and greenery of Florida tugging at them. They began looking for a place of their own to operate in the Sunshine State. That’s when they came across the Anastasia Diner.
“We booked a flight in November. One month later we owned the restaurant,” Margarita remembers. She says the beauty of and welcoming community on the island sealed the deal. And when the Diner’s doors opened on December 10th, the Stoyanovs were in charge. “It all happened so fast,” Margarita says.
Since then the Stoyanovs have set about to make slow, but well thought out changes to the Diner, starting with the interior décor. “For me, personally, it didn’t feel welcoming,” says Margarita. “We took out the booths and put in tables and chairs. We painted, added some new paintings, and just made it feel more comfortable and inviting. Now it feels really cute.”
As for the food on offer, Margarita says the menu’s proclivity towards Southern-style, made-from-scratch cuisine was in line with their vision for what a diner should be. Still, they added some of their own recipes – one being the previously mentioned biscuits and gravy.
“It’s been the number one selling plate since we opened,” Margarita says of the Southern staple. “We make the biscuits from scratch every morning and the sausage gravy, too. People love it.”
In the midst of all the change, something permanent took place, as well, as the Stoyanovs recently became U.S. citizens. “It’s been a long journey,” Margarita says understatedly.
Meanwhile, the Stoyanovs have also applied for a beer and wine license for the Diner. They say the opportunity to serve alcohol when coupled with the Diner’s extensive menu fits their vision of a restaurant with broad appeal.
“We want the Diner to be a place where everyone feels welcome,” Margarita says. “We want you to feel like you can bring your friends and there will be something for everyone to enjoy. We want it stay cozy and laid back.”
The restaurant is located at 1770 A1A South. Visit them online at www.facebook.com/anastasiadinerflorida. Photography by Brian Miller.