A new epoch in the history of the Diner Capital of the World is about to open in East Newark: the new Tops Diner. New Jersey has never seen anything quite like this, and the novel structure will establish a gold standard and move the Garden State’s diner concept to the next level.
The old diner is being torn down and will be replaced with a parking lot. Tops will be situated in its same location, at the intersection of Passaic and Central Avenues in East Newark, adjacent to the Clay Street Bridge and a stone’s throw from the Passaic River. Plans call for a “soft” opening of the new diner by the end of September. The hours of operation will be 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Takeout orders, representing a significant slice of the diner’s daily business (about 20%), will continue.
The first thing motorists will see when they approach the diner is the dark, majestic Tops tower, which crowns the roof, and there’s a rigid, dazzling stainless-steel awning, which wraps around the diner’s façade. The exterior will have large windows, stainless steel panels and accents and neon lights. Space along the perimeter will allow for outdoor patio-style dining, and parking in the front and back of the diner has room for 165 cars. The overall design is a near mirror-image to the architectural concept drawing unveiled by Jimmy Golemis over two years ago.
Inside the Space
The interior design is highlighted by an eye-catching 18-stool counter adorned with black marble, serving a full selection of cocktails, beer, wine and spirits. The spacious, 15,900-square-foot interior with a high ceiling can accommodate a variety of tables and booths, with a 300-customer capacity, and the most artistic feature of the interior can be seen when you look down: an authentic, four-tone terrazzo floor, created by Sicilian artisans. Early on in the project’s planning, Golemis determined the installation of a terrazzo floor was a priority and a nod to Garden State diner tradition. Many vintage, factory-built diners from the 20th century had elegant terrazzo floors—a source of pride for family owned enterprises. Unfortunately, most modern, site-built diners refrain from including terrazzo floors, mainly due to cost considerations.
The diner’s most impressive interior appointments will be, for the most part, unseen by customers: a glistening world-class stainless-steel kitchen; a full bakery with multiple ovens for baking artisan bread, pastries, pies, and cheesecake; and separate stations for gourmet coffee and espresso; filtered water; and ice cream. Tops is hardwired with a network of leading-edge information technology resources to manage the business.
A Wide Reach
The Hudson County diner is renowned for its professional, courteous waitstaff, while customers, food critics and restaurant reviewers rave about the diner’s daily specials, breakfasts, salads, fresh seafood, steaks, meatloaf, egg platters, sandwiches, wraps, milk shakes and splendid desserts. Each year Tops is lauded by national and regional magazine “best diner” surveys, “favorite diner” polls by foodie websites, statewide news coverage, and a consensus of diner fans.
How widespread is the acclaim for Tops as a go-to place for Jersey patrons and travelers? The evidence is clear from the diner’s parking lot on any given day: half the cars have license plates from out of state. The Golemis family has used this well-earned popularity as a foundation to create something spectacular, even as the diner remains true to New Jersey’s diner culture and spirit.
“A diner is a place for people to relax, meet friends, enjoy good food, and feel comfortable,” Jimmy Golemis declared. “That was the atmosphere at the old diner, and it will be the atmosphere at the new Tops. We’ll continue to be a beacon for this neighborhood.”
The Diner Scene in the Garden State
As previously reported, the Garden State’s diner circuit has undergone a spontaneous “season of renewal” over the past three years, with major capital investments to redesign and modernize so many of these beloved roadside attractions. Tops puts an exclamation point on this trend. In terms of a historical perspective, going back to the 1950s, New Jersey has seen its share of lavish, large-scale diners with expanded seating capacities, including the Circle Diner, on the Route 31/202 Flemington Circle; the original Olga’s Diner, in Marlton; the original Ocean Bay Diner, in Point Pleasant; Mastoris Diner in Bordentown; the Tick Tock Diner, in Clifton; Geets Diner, in Williamstown; and the Point Diner, in Somers Point.
The Golemis family in November 2019 revealed plans to Jersey Bites for the new diner, replacing the familiar silver and blue edifice that evolved as a landmark for diner lovers throughout New Jersey, and beyond.
This blogger’s 2019 book, Stories from New Jersey Diners—Monuments to Community, published by The History Press, reported that the history of Tops goes back to 1938 when a man named Jess P. Persson (1884-1946) operated Tops Grill at the same location of today’s diner. It’s likely that prior to 1938, Persson also owned a mobile lunch wagon at or near this same site. The Golemis family purchased Tops in 1972 and has overseen several major expansions and remodeling projects, building a reputation as premier eatery. The new Tops Diner is the crowning achievement to that tradition.