JERSEY CITY, NJ -Al’s Diner on Communipaw Avenue was demolished last week after almost a century of being in business at the same location.
The diner, first opened around 1924, had something of a notorious end as many will likely remember it for several high-profile crimes that took place there prior to its eventual closing in 2015, including the 2012 shooting that left an innocent bystander dead and another man sent to the hospital.
In 2014 police were called in to break up a massive fight in which weapons were recovered.
Perhaps fittingly, the diner was the setting for one episode of the Sopranos – where fictional Tony Soprano and several of his cohorts can be seen eating in one of its booths while traffic moved along Communipaw outside its window.
Located across the street from Lincoln Park, Al’s Diner was a regular stop over for people traveling across the city especially those going from New York to other parts of New Jersey.
“Al’s Dinner was always a staple in the community of Westside,” said Khemraj Chico Ramchal, a community activist who briefly served as councilman for that part of the city. “Everyone knew Al’s Dinner and most certainly either stopped there for an early morning breakfast, lunch or a nighttime bite to eat. But like all good places, as the customer base started to change from a local dinner hangout into a late night stop for those heading back over the Hackensack River and Passaic River problematic crime plagued the neighborhood.”
“The ownership could not control the customer base after numerous attempts to reset, they just couldn’t. Through community pressure and high crime surrounding Al’s Dinner was forced into closure.” Ramchal continued. “The diner has been demolished leaving only memories of a distant past while a new narrative is being written for the future Westside.”
Despite a difficult ending Al’s Diner will continue to have a noble history having played a key part in the lives of many residents in that part of Jersey City.
Although the diner had its own cast of characters, perhaps one of the most well-known locally was John Sakellaris, who served as owner of this and other restaurants in New Jersey for many years. Deeply involved with the Greek American Community, Salellaris was known for his participation in local politics on the local, state and national levels, supporting people such as Senator Bill Bradley, Senator Robert Menendez, Governor Jim Florio, Senator Paul Sarbanes, Congressman Bill Pascrell, and the late U.S. Representative Donald M. Payne, as well as Florida Representative Gus Bilirakis.
In 1987, he joined the Michael Dukakis Presidential Committee and in 1992 the Paul Tsongas Presidential Committee, becoming one of the strongest supporters of Greek American Presidential candidates.
Sakellaris first supported then Rep. Dominick V. Daniels in the 1970s and went on to support Rep Frank J. Guarini when he served as Hudson County's Democratic Party Chairman from 1979-1993, and later in his capacity as a New Jersey State Senator and U.S. Representative.
First appointed Deputy Mayor of Jersey City in 1985 Sakellaris would go on to hold other titles, including in 2009 when Gov. Jon Corzine named him a member of the "historic" Commission of Hellenic Heritage, making New Jersey the first state in the U.S. to have a special commissioner on Greek issues.
Al’s Diner had other owners prior to this, including George Stathakis, a well known figure in Paterson, notably for his role as president of the city’s Alexander Hamilton Club. He ran Al’s Diner in Jersey City along with his partner, Peter Caravoulias, starting just after the conclusion of World War II.
Despite their more recognized names, it is the familiar faces such as Anna Perchuan’s who worked as a waitress there for about 15 years starting around 2000 and George Athen, the Diner’s chef for nearly three decades, and both George Sadares and James L. Bryant, Jr., also both former chefs, that Al’s Diner aficionados will remember most fondly.
Know a story we should share with readers? Email editor Steve Lenox and tell him about it.