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Saturday, May 25, 2024

“Want Me to Top That Off for You Hon?” The Blairstown Diner and the Roots of NJ Diner Culture

Still from the movie “Friday the 13th” 1980, featuring the diner. Georgetown Productions Inc.

A bottomless cup of coffee, creamy coleslaw and the promise of a quick meal is the quintessential diner experience. And the fries. We can’t forget the side of
fries. All these things make the American diner a New Jersey staple, and the
Blairstown Diner is no different.

With roots in the horse drawn lunch wagons used to feed factory workers coming off late shifts, the “diner” was conjured up by Jerry O’Mahony of Bayonne, who built the first prefabricated stationary lunch wagon, or “dining car” in 1913 (dining car was later shortened to diner).

It was a concept that made opening a restaurant easy — and cheap. His first diner sold for $800 and operated out of Hudson County. Soon, O’Mahony would produce more than 2,000 diners throughout the tri-state area and the Garden State would be crowned the diner capitol of the world.

According to 50states.com, in 2010 there were 600 diners left in New Jersey,
now it’s estimated that there are only around 400, making the Blairstown Diner one of a dying breed.

A notable loss for Warren County was the closing of the Crossroads Diner in Belvidere, which shut its doors in 2018. Established in 1957, the Crossroads was the only diner built by the short-lived Campora Dining Car Co. based out of Kearny. A new owner bought the building on eBay for $70,400 and had it transported to New York.

A postcard from the Crossroads Diner which closed in 2018. The structure was sold, as well as the land. now occupied by a Dunkin Donuts.

The Blairstown Diner, which was listed for sale this past August, was built by
the Paramount Dining Car Co. in 1949. According to “The History of Diners in
New Jersey” by Michael C. Gabriele, “A transportation invoice, dated August 24, 1949, documented that Charles Simonson paid Paramount $515 for the ‘transport of diner number 607 to Blairstown.’”

The Blairstown Diner is best known for being featured in the 1980 horror movie “Friday the 13th”. As a result, horror aficionados from all over the world visit the diner every Friday the 13th to have a bite to eat and roam other filming locations in town.

Autograph by Ari Lehman, the original “Jason”, for a fan. Photo by C. Tamulonis 9/2023
Fans from all over line up to see “Friday the 13th” at Roy’s Hall in Blairstown.
Photo by Rarmin Public Domain,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3817536

Actors from the movie occasionally make an appearance at the establishment and for years locals and fans alike have dressed as the movie’s lead antagonist “Jason Vorhees” to give diners a thrill.

“Plasterhead,” a low budget horror film released in 2006, also used the diner
for one of its scenes.

A still from the movie “Plasterhead” at the diner in 2006. Arts Alliance America.

Blairstown locals will remember the diner being run by Panagioti “Pete” Apostolou for almost 30 years until his death in 2018. Pete’s memory lives on
with local patrons who remember his quick smile, easy going nature and love
of adding extra anchovies.

The diner was bought by Gary Wishnia in 2019, and additional renovations were made, including adding an outdoor seating area and digital sign.

Renovations to the interior over the years were careful not to change the
iconic style the diner has kept for almost eight decades — which is a classic
“Googie” design, popular at the time of its construction. Googie architecture is a futuristic style from the time-period, heavily influenced by cars, chrome and the atomic age.

The Googie style is alive and well inside. Photo by C. Tamulonis 9/2023

Whether a diner changes hands, or tries to modernize, almost any establishment you visit in the great state of New Jersey will have on its menu the “Happy Waitress” — typically a grilled cheese sandwich.

The Blairstown Diner serves up its own version as an open-faced grilled cheese with tomato. If you take a stool at the counter, you will likely wind up having a pleasant conversation with one of the waitresses, and as she eyes your dwindling drink she’s bound to ask, “Can I top that off for you hon?”

Traditional iced tea served at the diner. You can expect to be asked to “Top it off.” Photo by C. Tamulonis 9/2023

The Blairstown Diner staff, always easy with conversation and quick to give you a refill, are hopeful that there will be a smooth transition to any new
owner, but are concerned their jobs could be in jeopardy.

They hope the diner keeps its iconic status — and people — that make it a New Jersey landmark.

The windows are decorated with homages to the “Friday the13th” movie. Photo by C. Tamulonis 9/2023

To learn more about diner culture in New Jersey check out:
https://www.facebook.com/HistoryofDinersinNewJersey/

Cybele Tamulonis
Cybele Tamulonis, Contributing Writer

Cybele is a writer and editor with more than 16 years in the publishing industry. An avid reader, you can usually find her with the latest new book release from the local library. She currently resides on a farm in Hardwick with her husband and four children. In her spare time, she writes historical fiction specific to New Jersey.