ROXBURY, NJ – Roxbury was being buried in snow March 14 and most businesses were closed. Not Roxbury Diner.
Roxbury Diner isn’t like most businesses.For co-owner Jimmy Dontas, a snowstorm – even a blizzard – isn’t a reason to suspend operations. Instead, it’s a call to action.
To many in town, Roxbury Diner – a TAPinto Roxbury sponsor – is like a lighthouse or a safe harbor; a haven of neighborly friendship and good food in good times and bad. It’s not only the place kids gather after high school games. It’s also the place folks go for a break from problems or just the daily grind.
“That last big snowstorm we had few weeks ago, it was like a state of emergency but it was my turn to open the diner,” Dontas said. “I would have been happy to stay home and take the day off but I felt a responsibility.”
The diner, on Route 10 East in Succasunna, has been operated by the Dontas family since 2003. That means Jimmy Dontas and his crew have worked through dozens of snowstorms, a few hurricanes and countless other times of trouble.
Dontas knew there would be people unable to play it safe during that storm last month; a blizzard doesn’t mean a vacation day for police, snowplow operators, fire and emergency medical personnel, utility linesmen, hospital staffers. Roxbury Diner needed to be open.
“It took me an extra hour to get here, so we opened an hour late,” Dontas said “The first people to come in were police officers working all night, some tow-truck operators and snowplow drivers. Everything else was closed.”
Formerly Victoria diner, the establishment became Roxbury Diner in 2003 when the Dontas family, all born in Greece, bought it. They’d operated a small luncheonette in Fairfield and felt the need for something bigger and better.
“We needed a bigger business,” Dontas said. “We looked around quite a long time all over New Jersey before we found something we liked that worked for us financially. We kind of brought with us things that we were good at.”
High on that list is the cheesecake made by Dontas’ brother George. “He enjoys making it and people love it,” Dontas said.
He said the diner’s flair for good hospitality and food – including baking – comes largely from his mother, Maria. But Dontas said it’s also a big part of being Greek. “Hospitality is part of the Greek culture,” he said. “Tourism is probably our biggest industry in Greece. You kind of learn to be hospitable and care about people.”
He said that “hands-on” dedication is one of the qualities that differentiates Roxbury Diner from some of the competition, particularly the corporate chain restaurants. The feedback from the community is a driving force, Dontas said.
“We care about and love the community here,” he said. “They accepted us wholeheartedly and they give back to us. We’ve been welcomed here. We’re accepted. And that acceptance kind of inspires you to keep doing well and keep doing a good job. You walk in here and see the pictures on the walls of teams. Kids come in here and say, `That’s me when I was on track three years ago!’”
The purchase of a liquor license about two years ago has added to the fun at the diner, and the inclusion of a carving station was also a good move, according to Dontas. He said the diner's catering business has grown rapidly, as has the popularity of the weekend prime rib special.
"It's the best prime rib around," Dontas said. "Our chili is homemade. In fact, everything here is made from scratch ... It's just good, homemade food."