JERSEY CITY, NJ - Tony Margetis, owner of Miss America Diner in Jersey City, knew he had to do something to protect his employees and his customers when the state declared a State of Emergency in March.
“I have good customers and loyal employees,” he said.
So, when he discovered that he could still operate his diner, provided he either delivered meals to people or had customers pick them up, he decided to do both – doing many of the home deliveries himself.
“But I only delivered to people I already knew,” he said.
During the three and a half months, Margetis kept his whole staff employed, giving them a reduced schedule, but enough to have them bring home a check every week. “They had families to feed,” he said.
The iconic diner, Margetis said, is built around the diner tradition that what's on the menu can be had by any customer at any time day or night, so if people want breakfast at night they can have it. They can have supper in the morning, too.
“I've been in this business for more than 50 years and I have met a lot of people who have become loyal customers,” he said. “I think we're going to be okay after all this is over, and I am doing whatever the law says I should do. I love my staff. I love my customers. I don't want anybody to come down with the sickness so whatever the health department says on the state level that's what we're going to do.”
He said he has been through disasters before such as when Sandy flooded his home, and the disaster in Florida when he opened the business there only to have the oil spill close down the beaches in 2010.
“We came back each time,” he said.
Located at 322 Westside Avenue at the corner of Culver Avenue in the Greenville section of Jersey City, Miss America is a throwback to the classic age of diners. Although rebuilt several times, especially after a fire in the 1950s, the diner is an example of the "Streamline" style of diner manufactured by Bayonne’s Jerry O'Mahony during the 1940s.
According to Peter Genovese, author of many books on roadside attractions, Miss America Diner is the best diner in New Jersey.
Margetis bought the diner in 2014, after having sold the Colonette on Rt. 440 in Jersey City, which he ran for 25 years.
He bought his first diner, Lou’s Restaurant on Ocean Avenue, in 1970. He also owned a diner on the city line near Bayonne where the McDonald’s is currently located. At one point, he owned the Liberty View Diner near Liberty State Park until the developer of the golf course bought him and a lot of his neighbors out.
“Woody Allen and Mia Farrow filmed a movie there,” he said. “It was the set for other movies, too.”
As a boy, he came to the United States from Greece aboard a cruise ship called the Christopher Columbus, which docked at Pier 38 in Manhattan.
“People kept telling me that the Hudson River was a river, it amazed me,” he said. “I only saw pictures of the Statue of Liberty before that, but there it was, right in front of me in the harbor.”
He and his family lived early on in an apartment in Yonkers, so poor they slept on mattresses on the floor. He moved to Jersey City where he has remained most of his life, almost always in the diner business.
“I went to Snyder High School,” he said.
Back in Greece he and his friends had always wanted to be cowboys and presumed that when he got here, he would be and that he would wander off to the West, he never really got further west than he is now.
“I still hope I can travel to Arizona and New Mexico someday,” he said.
Oddly enough it isn't his Diner business that he's looking forward to when the COVID-19 pandemic ends but soccer, which he has been playing for 32 years all over New Jersey. These days he plays with college kids, and even at 63 years old he manages to keep up with them.
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