Demetris And The Roadside Diner
This January 1, I’m thinking about a diner.
The Roadside Diner, near the Route 34 and Route 33 circle in Wall Township, NJ, in particular.
I happened to be in the area a couple of weeks back, picking up a Christmas gift, so I swung into the parking lot to see how they are holding up.
Not good, it seems.
It was closed. Parking lot empty, note on the door, not saying when they’ll re-open.
Before I left, I shot a couple of photos through the window. Who knows when I’ll get inside again.
For 10 years, my New Year’s Day tradition was to stop into the Roadside Diner for breakfast before heading down to Asbury Park to shoot the Polar Bear Plunge.
Ever see the cover of Bon Jovi’s 1994 CROSSROADS album? It was shot at the Roadside Diner.
Bruce Springsteen’s video “Girls in their Summer Clothes” was filmed in part at the diner.
John Sayles’ movie “Baby It’s You” was shot in part there.
It’s on of NJ’s oldest diners, and yeah, it’s got history.
Often, on January 1, I’d be the only person in there besides a waitress or two. Sometimes, others would come in to grab a booth or a seat at the counter as I was finishing up my two over easy and hash browns.
In January 2014, I had it in my head to do a portrait of the owner, or at least the gent who I thought was the owner. As I was sitting there, I saw him come out from the back, white apron on, wishing customers a Happy New Year.
I slid out of my booth and went to the counter where he was standing. I extended my hand, introduced myself and gave him my photo business card. He told me his name was Demetris (Gerakaris, I’d later find out)
I chatted with him for about 15 minutes or so, he was smiling the whole time, then I asked if I could shoot a quick portrait. He was a little surprised, I think, but said yes, sure. Asked me where I wanted him to go.
The whole place had some nice light. When I do these things, though, I don’t feel it’s right to take up a lot of my subject’s time. Gotta get to it bang bang.
I asked him to just step out from behind the counter and sit on the swivel chair at the counter. I wanted to get some of his environment and atmosphere in the shot.
I kept chatting with him to loosen him up a little. He told me the restaurant business has been his life’s work, been at it 42 years. He’s owned this diner for 16 years (at the time). We talked about his hometown in Greece, and if he got back much.
As I started to shoot, though, a strange thing happened. While chatting, he seemed shy. Wouldn’t look at me while I was shooting. Kept looking away off camera.
We chatted some more, he told me a little history about the diner. I promised him I’d drop him off a print of his portrait the next time I can swing by (and I did. For years afterwards, he’d thank me again for the print.)
Took a while but I got a smile on the last snap.
So, yeah, thinking about The Roadside Diner today.
Hoping they can get back on their feet in 2021 and that their history will live on.
© Mark V. Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography | All Rights Reserved 2021