A curious juxtaposition of events recently occurred in New Jersey’s northwestern Warren County diner landscape. One diner celebrated its 70th anniversary; one bid farewell to the Garden State.
Thirteen miles—by way of the rustic north/south Route 521/519 corridor—separated the Blairstown Diner and the Crossroads Diner. Both are classic, stainless steel, eateries manufactured in the Garden State. The Paramount Dining Car Company, which was located in Haledon, built the Blairstown Diner. The Crossroads is the only diner built by the short-lived Campora Dining Car Company, which was based in Kearny.
A Milestone Anniversary
Opened in 1949 and originally owned by Charles Simonson, the Blairstown Diner reached its seventh decade of business on Sept. 30. Christine Beegle, the chair of the Blairstown Historic Preservation Committee, who was appointed Blairstown Township’s first Town Historian earlier that month, led a brief ceremony to mark the occasion. She created several posters that displayed photos and news clippings related to the diner’s history.
Two guests of honor were on hand to help celebrate the milestone. Lillian Sydrock, who worked as a waitress at the Blairstown Diner for 50 years, and William Beegle, Christine’s dad, who as a local contractor laid the concrete block foundation for the diner, cheerfully represented the diner’s long, living history.
And one no-show made his gruesome presence felt: Jason Voorhees, the star of the “Friday the 13th” Hollywood horror movie, which was released in May 1980. Fans of the movie make a pilgrimage to Blairstown on the Friday the 13th of any month, as the diner appeared as a misty background scene in the slasher film.
Earlier this year Gary D. Wishnia purchased the diner from the Apostolou family, the previous owners, who ran the eatery for 29 years. The anniversary, along with being a tribute to longevity in New Jersey’s diner tradition, was also a salute for good luck for the diner’s next 70 years. It would be a blessing of Garden State history, culture and nostalgia for future Blairstown-area residents if the diner can celebrate its 140th anniversary in the year 2089.
In the overcast early morning hours of Thursday, October 3, a somber, shadowy, strange poetic scene took place inside the shuttered Crossroads Diner: a ghostly place setting of two dishes and two coffee cups for a meal that never would be served or eaten. This would be the day that the landmark would be removed from its familiar spot at the intersection of Routes 46 and 519, in Belvidere.
The Crossroads closed on Sunday, July 1, 2018. Tom and Sandi Zikas, as they had planned, retired and sold the property after running the diner for 41 years. (Campora built the eatery in 1956.) Prior to the construction of interstate highways, Route 46 served as the main road connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The diner once was a stop on the Greyhound bus line.
Time to Say Goodbye
A work crew arrived on October 3, and, through the morning drizzle, began preparations to move the diner. The stainless steel car was elevated by hydraulic braces and slid along two steel I beams (via rigging ball-bearing “skates”) onto a trailer truck. No crane was used, as vintage, factory-built diners in the 20th century were designed and manufactured as portable structures.
Yes, the diner was saved—not demolished, as many had feared—but the Crossroads will leave the Garden State and go into storage in the region of Hudson, New York, where it will reopen under a new name in late 2020.
Many tearful diner faithful showed up that morning to say goodbye, armed with cell phones, taking pictures and sharing memories. They had mixed feelings—sad to see the diner leave, but happy it would live on at a new location.
The big, emotional moment of the day came when the former owners, Tom and Sandi, arrived and embraced the new owner, Dale Stewart. Dale is a proud, self-proclaimed Jersey Girl who currently resides in upstate New York. “This was our baby for 41 years,” Sandi told Dale.
The Early Days
In the early 1980s, the Crossroads became the happening place on weekends, when dance clubs in the area closed at 2 a.m. The dance club crowds flocked to the diner and continued to party. In the years that followed, these night owls became loyal customers and began showing up for meals with their friends, spouses, and kids.
The Crossroads was a hub for the community, and one Warren County regular, Karen Huff Kilts, said the food and the atmosphere were always enjoyable. “It was a comfortable place for people to meet,” Kilts said. “We would laugh and make new friends. Farmers came in and told us stories. Everyone had a favorite waitress. All those friendships and chit chat—that’s what I’ll miss the most.”
More than Just a Place to Eat
“A diner is more than just a place to eat, and food is only half the meal.” Another chapter of the Garden State’s grand diner history has come to an end, but the business is always changing, always evolving; sunrise, sunset. This day is bittersweet, but we carry on.
Farewell Crossroads. Thanks for the memories.