Greek Restaurant Owner Watched the Towers Go Up and Come Down

John Costalas with a memento of that fateful day

John Costalas will never forget 9/11. The owner/operator of Essex World Cafe, adjacent to the World Trade Center, has been in this location for many years.  “I watched the Towers go up,” he shared. And he saw them come down.

In this business, customers become like family. “We lost more people than anyone. All the people who worked in the Twin Towers came to eat here. Young professional people, some from the Port Authority. Now it’s changed.”

On that fateful day, he could not believe his eyes. “It was incredible. You never forget people jumping from the 93rd floor trying to get out. It got so dark. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.” These indelible memories stay with him.

Because of  its location, following the tragedy, the restaurant was used as a medical station for victims.

The Essex sustained damage from the aftermath of the crashes. “If you were inside the restaurant, you were OK, but it you were just outside the doors, you would have melted from the heat.” Many suffered from smoke inhalation and minor injuries and were hospitalized, including Costalas. He spent a few days in the hospital. “We closed for 2-1/2 years, then reopened, but it’s a different world now. Our customers are no longer those young professionals; they are construction workers. Everything’s different.”

Costalas is bracing himself for the anniversary of 9/11. “It’s going to be an emotional day. The families will come here to see me – they are all our friends. Honestly, I’ll take my blood pressure pill in the morning, and just hope I am OK that day.”