New Jersey has lost 150 diners in the past decade. Here's why. New Jersey is known as the "diner capital of the world." But as more diners close, the ones that remain need to adapt to survive.

New Jersey diners adapt to survive in state dubbed 'diner capital of the world'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1241959475/1241959476" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A MART├ŹNEZ, HOST:

If you're in New Jersey and looking for some food, you should stop at one of its hundreds of diners. The Garden State has been dubbed the diner capital of the world, and while several recently had been forced to close, others are changing to survive. Here's NPR's Kaity Kline.

KAITY KLINE, BYLINE: New Jersey's love for diners is next level. Even though the diner didn't originate in Jersey, a few things gave it a kick-start.

MICHAEL GABRIELE: In the early years of the 20th century, New Jersey had the best infrastructure in the United States. It was a source of pride.

KLINE: Michael Gabriele wrote "The History Of Diners In New Jersey." He says because you have to drive through New Jersey to get from New York City to Philadelphia, travelers wanted to stop and eat something cheap and delicious, and the vast majority of the shiny stainless-steel dining cars were made in New Jersey.

GABRIELE: We had so many diner builders, and their business plan really sparked the great number of diners that we have here in New Jersey, starting back in the 1910s and moving all the way to the 20th century.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPATULA SCRAPING ON GRILL)

KLINE: I went to Townsquare Diner in Wharton, N.J. The owner, Peter Sedereas, has more than 25 cousins who also own around 50 diners in New Jersey. So he started an unofficial coalition, and he estimates that over the last 10 years, the diner population has gone down from about 600 to around 450.

PETER SEDEREAS: In New Jersey, property values are very, very high and diners are always at the best locations, you know, in the city centers or on the busy highways. They're on corners.

KLINE: Townsquare Diner is two minutes from the highway and surrounded by shopping centers. Sedereas gets an offer to buy his diner once a month.

SEDEREAS: But you know, I'm still young. I still have kids in college. I still have to work.

KLINE: Sedereas says almost all diners in New Jersey are family businesses, but the next generation doesn't seem keen to take over. So as owners retire, it makes sense to sell.

SEDEREAS: My kids aren't interested in the diner business. They're all in the medical field. I think that's why the trend is to start selling off and developing the land and collecting the rents or, you know, cashing in.

KLINE: The diners that do stick around need to adapt to survive - like, for instance, adjusting the size of the menu.

SEDEREAS: Our menu used to be 18 pages long. Now it's one page, front and back.

KLINE: Most diners in New Jersey used to be open 24/7, or very close. But people just aren't going to diners at two in the morning anymore.

SEDEREAS: They're just not like our generation. We did it. We went out and had the disco fries and bar food at 2 or 3 o' clock in the morning. Where my daughter - she would, you know, take an Uber to the bar or club, and then when they would leave the bar or club, they would Uber back home.

KLINE: And fewer people are working the graveyard shift.

SEDEREAS: Where we are, there used to be a lot of factories that would have the overnight shift, and when their shift is over 4 or 5 o' clock in the morning, they'd come to the diner in the morning and eat. They don't have that overnight shift anymore, so we lost that.

KLINE: Sedereas says that despite the closures, diners are still thriving. He says his business is doing better than 20 years ago, with regulars like Linda Love and Mary Ann Kisto.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I come to be with my girlfriends. You know, we're special needs moms, and this is our getaway for five minutes to talk about our day, talk about our life.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It's convenient. It's clean. The waitress is excellent. She remembers us by name. I just love the atmosphere.

SEDEREAS: I don't see diners, you know, ever leaving New Jersey.

KLINE: Kaity Kline, NPR News, New Jersey.

Copyright © 2024 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.