ROXBURY, NJ — The iconic but long dormant Tom’s Diner on Route 46 in Ledgewood was demolished today while its former owner, town officials and the property’s new owners watched.
A wrecking crew tore into the dilapidated structure and, piece by piece, deposited twisted metal, wood and cinder block into dumpsters. The demolition marked the end of many years of effort by township officials and courts to force former owner Tom Seretis of Kenvil - whose family once ran the eatery - into complying with building codes.
Seretis in September 2019 was sent to jail for a weekend on a contempt of court conviction related to his failure to live up to promises he repeatedly made to Roxbury Municipal Court Judge Ira Cohen, who was hearing the code violation cases. That came after several months of court appearances during which Cohen displayed increasing impatience with Seretis.
“You need to start doing what you need to do instead of making this hamster-on-the-wheel routine,” Cohen told Seritis at an April 25, 2019 court hearing.
When little had been done two months later, Roxbury Township Municipal Prosecutor Doug Cabana – at another court appearance related to the diner – expressed frustration with Seretis’ failure to do what he promised while asking for money from people who wanted to see the historic diner saved.
“The town’s intent from the beginning was simply to have maintenance issues addressed,” he testified. “People are hearing only one side of the story; his side. They’re not hearing the town’s side: That they have gone above and beyond. He’s the one who created this situation, and it can’t be permitted to continue … There’s been no good faith whatsoever.”
Seretis continues to often blame others for the former diner’s fate, alleging various conspiracies and issues beyond his control, including soil contamination beneath the adjacent gas station which, he asserts, prevented him from selling. Approached at the site while he was filming the demolition, Seretis lashed out with insults, accusing TAPinto Roxbury of bias against him.
Out to Get Him
The Silk City-style diner, built in the early 1940s, has not been operated for nearly two decades. Over the years, it lapsed into increasingly bad condition as paint peeled. Township officials said they had to take action, noting they face a lot of criticism from constituents about run-down, vacant buildings including Tom’s Diner.
But Seretis contended he was unfairly targeted by the Roxbury Mayor and Council when it created an ordinance regulating vacant properties. He asserted the ordinance was a thinly-veiled way of giving the township power to eventually remove the diner.
His failure to comply with the ordinance's requirements saw Seretis compile thousands in fines. Seretis continues to face municipal court complaints, moved to another town after he threatened to sue Roxbury.
“It is a very, very sad ending for Tom's Diner,” said Roxbury Mayor Bob DeFillippo today. “There's no question how much it's meant to the community.”
The diner gained fame as the site of a 1984 music video by musician Cindi Lauper. It was beloved by many long-time Roxbury residents who frequented the low-cost eatery when it was operated by Seretis' father, Frank, and grandfather, Tom, over the decades.
“It had a very long history,” DeFillippo said. “Again, it's just sad it ended this way.”
The green light for today’s demolition came March 30 when state Superior Court Judge Rachelle Harz denied a motion by Seretis to vacate a default judgment against him that had been won by the site’s new owners. At the scene yesterday, several of the new owners said they do not know what they'll do with the property. They also now own the nearby house on Canal Street formerly occupied by the Seretis family.
In the past, Seretis has contended Wawa, Inc. was interested in the diner site and valued it at $2 million. However, the new owners said Wawa is not in the picture at this point.
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