There’s a long-standing tradition for New Jersey diners regarding the succession of ownership: leadership of the business is often passed along from parents to their children. The tradition is part of the success story that has sustained the proud and prolific Greek-American ownership of many Jersey diners. For loyal customers, this generation-to-generation family succession is a reassuring sign that a beloved, favorite diner will remain in good hands.
The tradition is part of New Jersey’s diner culture, but it isn’t easy. Operating a diner remains a tough, hands-on business, involving hard work and long hours. Maintaining high standards for friendly customer service and fresh, quality food are paramount in the competitive Diner Capital of the World.
One Diner’s Story
Themistoklis Nissirios, affectionately known to customers and staff as “Themi,” met these challenges 16 years ago, when he began directing the daily business operations for the Stateline Diner, located on the northbound side of Route 17 in Mahwah—not far from the New York State border. The diner continues to thrive as a popular 24/7 roadside attraction for travelers and Northern Bergen County customers alike.
“I was a little nervous,” Themi confessed, recalling when he answered the call to take charge of the business. His father, Nicholas, had major heart surgery in 2006, which pulled Themi into a leadership position.
The family traces its roots to Karpathos, Greece, an island in the southern Aegean Sea. On this side of the pond, Nicholas, along with his brothers John and Mike, established the diner in 1976.
As a young man, Themi grew up in the diner business with his dad and uncles. Initially, he pursued a career as a corporate IT consultant and worked with IBM for four years. He had reached a point where he was considering his options for a career change, ultimately deciding to join his dad at the diner. Two years later Nicholas had his heart surgery.
“I got thrown into the fire,” Themi said with a smile, acknowledging that expectations were high. “It was a huge responsibility and I was flying solo. It all worked out for the best.” His dad is now semi-retired, in good health, and continues to serve as a supportive patriarch for the diner. Themi’s uncle Mike Nissirios, one of the founding brothers and original baker for the diner, works with Themi to operate the diner on a daily basis.
As Themi describes his managerial responsibilities, it’s clear that he tries to balance the old ways and new trends. Prior to the pandemic, there were plans to once again refresh the diner’s design. Those plans were put on hold, but he hopes those plans will resume in 2022, saying, “You have to keep nurturing the business.” While many companies have faced supply chain issues during the last 12 months, he said the diner relies on a solid network of vendors, keeping food distribution constraints at a minimum.
The Stateline Diner’s 24-hour-a-day schedule presents unique challenges. However, Themi said that, on balance, it’s a benefit that differentiates the diner, because these days not many stay open all night. “We attract customers from New York State, other parts of New Jersey and students at Ramapo College,” he said.
And Themi knows that consistency is a key to success as well. “Much of our staff has been here for years, so they know the customers,” he said. “You want people to feel comfortable, like they’re part of the family.” That familiarity leads to repeat customers and keeps the diner going. Even when some people move out of the area, they make a point of visiting the diner, he said. Customers form their memories at the diner and stay connected.
The Stateline Diner takes great pride in its in-house baking operations, with a full array of dazzling desserts on display for customers to see as soon as they walk through the front door. The diner has a bar for cocktails and serves espresso coffee drinks.
On the Menu
One of the specialties of the house on the menu is the enticing Chicken Taverna. For breakfast, Themi recommended the variety of pancakes and French toast. Other highlights include broiled fish and shrimp, Greek specialties and Mediterranean-style cuisine, a plethora of salads, and fresh-baked pizza.
Herb Enyart, the president of PMC Diners Inc. in Oakland, built the Stateline and has overseen many expansions and upgrades of the structure. When it first opened, the diner’s exterior featured a white stone façade, large arched windows and a tile roof. The interior had a “colonial-style” design, with hanging lamps and wooden ceiling beams, all of which was in vogue during this period of diner history.
Today the Stateline has a sleek, modern interior and exterior, with large picture windows, earth tones, and a distinctive, freestanding red and yellow highway sign that beacons motorists.
375 Route 17 North
Mahwah, NJ 07430