BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — Fans of Station House Cafe have two weeks to dine in, or take out their favorite breakfasts and/or lunches. Owner Maurice Gawrgy said he will be closing the doors to the local eatery after 31 years, on Friday, April 30.
TAPinto sat down with Manny, as many customers call him, at the cafe earlier this week and learned a bit about this man who has been working in the food industry almost from the time he arrived in the United States from Egypt in the 1970s.
He said he began as a dishwasher at the Country Squire in Warren, and continued there until 1985. While doing that, he realized he was capable of a lot more and knew he wanted more out of life, so he took his savings and bought a small restaurant in Newark. He sold it a short time later, with a profit, which he used to buy a food truck.
Then, “I learned one of the partners at Country Squire wanted to buy a small place in Berkeley Heights, so I became a partner,” he said, adding “I bought him out in six months.”
From the day in 1989 when Station House Cafe opened its doors, Manny said he has usually worked seven days a week, “maybe it’s my mistake to own it that long,” but he loved the customers and the work. Still, “I need some time off, to relax,” after which he plans to look for a part-time job, maybe one that is “three days a week,” Gawrgy said.
He and his wife, Sonia, who have been married for 38 years ago, have raised three daughters, and are now grandparents to two boys and one girl.
He blames COVID-19 and the resulting pandemic for his decision to close the cafe, not just his landlord, who he said “doesn’t want to extend his lease." His old lease expired on Feb. 2, 2020, and "three weeks later the pandemic started, and I closed. We made it through the first wave, then the second wave,” he said, but even though the business has been open for a while, Gawrgy said “I can’t get help, my customers can’t dine-in,” although that has changed, and the business has become mostly “take-out and delivery. That’s not my type of business. I’m an old-fashioned businessman ... I love to talk to people and have fun … All of my customers are very upset for me."
Now that people are able to dine in, following COVID protocols, including wearing a mask when they aren’t eating or drinking, there is more business, but it's not enough. Gawrgy wears a mask, too, as he works behind the counter and checks people out.
TAPinto dropped in about 11 a.m., the “quiet time” at the cafe. There were two tables with customers eating late breakfasts, and not long after they left, a lunch customer came in. She ordered lunch, and ate it at the counter. In between checking people out and talking to TAP, Gawrgy took phone orders, made a turkey club and a ham club, for take out, and packaged soup for another take out order.
He will miss the people the most, he said. “I love meeting people, and helping them.”
What he won’t miss is working seven days a week. “You shouldn’t work seven days a week,” he said.
Station House Cafe, at 128 Station St., in Berkeley Heights, opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m. Over the years it became the place where families gathered on weekends for family breakfasts and celebrated birthdays, where friends met to catch up, business associates met clients and, during the winter, snow plow drivers stopped for coffee and some warmth after being on the road for hours. In fact, winter is the busiest season, he said. “I serve homemade soup all winter,” and it is very popular.
The menu is extensive, from traditional breakfast sandwiches to classic burgers and fries, and everything in between, including, by special order, Middle Eastern favorites. With only two weeks to go before the cafe closes its doors, customers are making sure they stop by to wish Gawrgy well in his new endeavors and to enjoy one more meal with family and friends.