The clock on the wall counts down to the end of an era for the famed New Jersey diner circuit. At the end of the Jersey Shore summer season, Bill Smith will step away from his flattop grill for the last time at his namesake eatery, Mustache Bill’s Diner in Barnegat Light, Long Beach Island (LBI).
In a career that spans over a half century, which includes receiving the prestigious 2009 James Beard Foundation Award and garnering thousands of loyal customers, Smith has distinguished himself as the gold standard, the diner man’s diner man, the best in the business in the diner capital of the world.
A Visit to Mustache Bill’s
The place was packed. Customers were chatting. Waitresses smiled as they poured cups of coffee. Food was being served in the crowed quarters. Dishes, cups and tableware were musically clinking. A heavenly mixture of aromas — eggs, sausage, potatoes, and burgers — filled the diner.
There was nothing melancholy or overly sentimental in the diner’s atmosphere when this reporter sat down at the counter for a summertime brunch. It was another busy morning at a Jersey Shore diner, and rightfully so — a most fitting testament to Mustache Bill’s top-level consistency, quality, and friendly customer service.
The choice this day was a Mustache Bill classic creation called the Cyclops: two fluffy, delicious pancakes crowned with medium eggs in the center. Bacon on the side? Sure. Multiple cups of coffee? Of course. Convivial conversations with fellow customers? Absolutely. What else would you expect at the best vintage, modular, prefabricated diner in the Garden State?
This reporter was granted entry into the diner’s kitchen to observe the grand master in motion. Smith was folding an omelet — one of thousands he’s made — gathering ingredients, twisting, turning and whirling, wielding his spatulas with surgical precision.
What will Smith do after he retires? “I’m going spend time on my hobby: looking for UFOs,” he quipped with a wink while working at the grill. What will happen to the diner and the property? “We don’t know yet,” Smith’s sister, Dottie Brady Zauli, said.
Up for Sale
Oceanside Realty, a real estate office on LBI, has listed the diner property, located at 704 Broadway in Barnegat Light, at $3.65 million:
“Prime location in the heart of Barnegat Light! Zoned G-B, this 21,000+ square foot lot is suitable for new homes, new commercial or a multitude of other uses. Close to ocean and bay, a stone’s throw to the Lighthouse and nestled deep in this charming village, the property presents unlimited opportunity and value for the investor. Use this property for new commercial or residential construction, or retain the existing iconic structure for restaurant or other use!”
“I was an Army brat,” Smith said during an impromptu, kitchen interview back in August 2018. “My dad — also named Bill Smith — retired from the army, and we settled in this area when I was eleven years old.” A 1969 graduate of Southern Regional High School, in Stafford Township, Smith recalled working as a dishwasher at the diner in the mid-1960s.
Built by the Fodero Dining Car Company of Bloomfield, the diner originally opened on May 9, 1959, as the New Barnegat Light Diner, as reported by the Beach Haven Times. By the early 1960s it was known as Joe’s Barnegat Light Diner. Joe Sprague was the original proprietor.
Bill Smith, the father, suffered a heart attack when young Bill was in his third year at Villanova University. “I left Villanova for a while to be with him,” Smith said. “The diner became available in 1972, and it was my dad’s idea to buy the place.”
Smith honed his cooking skills by coming up through the ranks of the diner business. Part of his apprenticeship came in 1970, when he worked at the Sunset Diner (now Park 22 Diner) in Green Brook, alongside his Villanova roommate, George Psak, whose father owned the eatery.
Smith’s dad died in 1981, and part of his father’s legacy at the LBI diner is a Pennsylvania-style recipe for chipped beef. Psak went on to become the supervising judge of workers’ compensation for Hunterdon, Somerset, and Warren Counties.
James Beard Foundation Award Winner
The 2009 James Beard Foundation Award, named in honor of the great American chef, author, and TV personality (1903–1985), hangs in a display case on the dining room wall:
For more than thirty-five years Bill Smith has made everything for scratch, refusing to buy anything pre-made. It’s the homemade, straight-from-the-heart cooking that makes Mustache Bill’s a must-stop destination on the Jersey Shore for the fishing community, regulars, and the summertime beach goers.
Yes, this diner has been a “must-stop” destination in the Garden State for decades. But soon it will be time for the diner’s last rodeo. Thank you, Mustache Bill Smith, for five decades of good food and fond memories.
Mustache Bill’s Diner
Barnegat Light, NJ