Local Dishes: Alpha Koney Island is reborn as the Alpha Diner in the Ann Arbor area

WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – The long wait is over for Marwan Al-Rabie. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time to get back to the restaurant business.

Its recent opening for Alpha Diner, 4389 Jackson Road, attracted customers who had been eating its food for years. Most traveled the short distance from Ann Arbor to enjoy the Greek diner classics that flocked to Alpha Koney Island for 17 years, which closed in 2019.

The story of his new space began when Alpha Koney Island in Oak Valley Plaza closed when the rented space was vacated to make way for an Old Navy store. After months of searching for a suitable location to move into, and after the pandemic loomed and his funds dwindled, Al-Rabie finally secured funding from a business partner to open his new location.

This place presented itself when Al-Rabie said that the Classic Cup Café in Scio Township was closed due to financial problems due to the pandemic. He took over the space at 4389 Jackson Road and his concept of Coney was reborn as a full-service alpha diner.

This place has a special meaning for Al-Rabie. Thirty years ago when he immigrated to the United States, Al-Rabie said he worked as a dishwasher in the Classic Cup Café.

From that humble beginning, his restaurant career grew until he took over the original owners of Alpha Koney Island in 2002. In his 17 years there, he said he built a lot of regular customers, built a good relationship with landlords Tom and Fred Goldberg, and built a strong base in a part of town he eventually plans to return to.

Right now, Al-Rabie is bringing back the Mediterranean favorites Alpha Koney Island was known for – gyro sandwiches and Greek chicken salads – and adding new products to round out the menu. The signature saganaki – a Greek appetizer of fried kasseri cheese served with flatbread – is also back.

“What makes our Greek salad different is the dressing – it’s homemade,” said Al-Rabie. “The gyro sandwich comes on a Grecian Delight Pita and we serve it on a stick … so it’s always fresh, we serve it as we go.”

The new Alpha Diner also serves fish tacos with homemade chipotle sauce, grape leaves, hummus, and breakfast specials, including a full board of pancakes and Belgian waffles.

Al-Rabie looks forward to welcoming its regulars back and meeting new customers.

“My old Alpha Koney Island customers keep checking in with us on our website – they look forward to coming back,” he said. “People appreciate that I give them good food at reasonable prices.”

While he’s working hard to provide sanitation and social distance while opening at 50 percent capacity, Al-Rabie is also looking forward to a return to full dine-in per state COVID regulations. In the meantime, he has set up a new online ordering system to provide convenient take-away food.

In the future, Al-Rabie would like to bring Alpha Koney back to Oak Valley Plaza. He said he was grateful to Ann Arbor and his landlords for their years of help and that he still had good relationships with his former landlords, whom he invited to the opening of his new location.

“They were good people … I want to thank them too,” he said. “I want you to see what ideas I have if I want to go back.”

Alpha Diner, 4389 Jackson Road, is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Customers can order online at www.alphadiner.com.

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