In 1927, our family came to Hightstown from Perth Amboy. My father and his brother bought land from Mr. Benjamin Zaitz and had a brand new lunch wagon built by Jerry O'Mahony from Kearny, NJ. It was transported on wheels to its present site, which was parallel to Mercer Street, and it was named the Hightstown Diner. Dad paid approximately $7000.00 and it came complete with a twelve stool counter, full kitchen, glasses, dishes, cutlery and cookware. Mr. O'Mahony also provided an analysis of profit and loss and a follow-up on how to increase profitability. It was calculated that the average diner customer occupied his stool for about 8 minutes and spent 28 cents. In no time at all dad became quite successful. His dishes were better than the average lunch wagon food. He used fresh herbs, which he grew in his garden and dried for the winter. He used real olive oil, made fresh yogurt, baked pies in season and made his famous rice pudding.
Two years later Mr. O'Mahony located him another parcel of land in Burlington, NJ and built him a second lunch wagon which was larger and provided tables for ladies! His progress continued and in 1936 the Hightstown Diner was replaced by Mr. O'Mahoney's new diner concept having a separate dining room for family entertainment. We became one of the only food establishments to serve turkey every day! A lady farmer, Mrs. Graham, and her sister from Edinberg, NJ raised beautiful turkeys for dad and supplied us all year round. At the time we had male waiters and cooks. We washed and ironed their uniforms in our own home.
In 1929, the depression came and dad's business slowed down some, but I can always remember him saying grace at the dinner table and thanking God for helping him pay his bills and never having to dismiss any of his cherished employees.
In 1941, Nick and I were married and that is when we ordered the third diner in Hightstown. It was a modern stainless steel interior and exterior structure. It was built by Mr. Johnson who was an airline designer and manufacturer. The airline business was slow so he began building and designing diners at a factory in New Rochelle, NY. Our new diner was one of his newest and largest diners built at that time.
Our grand opening brought people from all over to see this very modern eatery. For the first time, we hired women for waitresses because the war had just begun and male employees were unavailable. Our menu became much more sophisticated. Along with the turkey, we now served steaks, chops, roast beef and lamb, fresh seafood, crisp salads and home baked desserts.
Our clientele consisted of farmers, businessmen, blue and white collar workers and their families and many travelers. The Peddie School students and faculty were very good customers. I can remember that on Friday nights we would be bombarded with students because the fish would be the only entrée served at the school cafeteria. Our Sunday morning breakfasts were also popular with the students.
After the Second World War ended, the customer's demand for cocktails and wine forced us to look into a liquor license but there were none available in Hightstown. In 1959, we sold the business and dad retired. Nick and his partner Jerry Voutsinas bought property in Bordentown where we are now located. There we built a very modern diner restaurant large enough to seat 350 people.
In 1967, a disastrous fire occurred destroying the entire building. It took us 1-1/2 years to rebuild and open for business. We then bought out our partner and renamed the place Mastoris Diner Restaurant. We had always been open 24 hours but decided to close at 1 a.m. and open at 4 a.m. During the year our three sons were an integral part of this family venture.
Our son Jim, who was attending Trenton State College at the time, came in after school and weekends and took over wherever he was needed. Our other sons, Alex and Michael were away at college but gave us lots of moral support over the phone.
On busy days we would feed from 500 to 800 people. We were open 7 days a week and closed only on Christmas Day.
Today we have a crew of 160 people, plus our 3 sons, our grandson, our granddaughter, my husband Nick and me. On busy days we serve from 1200 to 2800 people. Using 300 dozen eggs for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday is not unusual. Seafood of every kind, prime rib of beef, steaks and chops are our best sellers along with sautéed chicken and veal dishes and homemade pastas.
In our kitchen you will find a very organized assembly line performance. Our back kitchen is where heavy preparation is done. The soups, sauces, roasts, dressings and salads are prepared in this area.
The front kitchen is where all the breakfasts, sandwiches, salads, broiling, sautéing and frying is done. Each group of chefs again has his own station and does nothing but his own specialty. There is always one who expedites the order and sees that each server receives his or her correct order.
Our bakery, which has been enlarged for the fourth time since we began in 1960, is completely separate from the kitchen area. There are two bakers who just bake bread, one who just bakes and decorates specialty cakes for every occasion and three who bake cookies, Danish and all other specialties.
Our son Alex together with his son Nick, do all the buying of food, plan menus, test and create new recipes and show the chefs how to prepare them. Since we now do large catering parties off premises their responsibilities have become quite extensive. Our grandson Nick has taken over many duties in the planning and expediting of our catering business.
Our son Jim, who taught school for many years, joined the family business in 1970 and handles the front of the house. He hires and trains waitresses and waiters, plans schedules, handles reservations and operates the computer. He also manages the bar, the purchasing of liquor and, most importantly, sees that all the customers are greeted and accommodated at the preferential seating.
Michael, our middle son, a chiropractic physician fills in on his off-hours and some weekends to give his brothers a break. He actually enjoys the change from his office routine.
The newest addition to our business is our granddaughter Michelle who just graduated from her dad and brother's alma mater, Cornell. She is assisting in the office and other phases of the business. You may see her greeting you at the door in her warm and friendly way.
My husband Nick, the VP of the corporation, says it's like a vacation coming in every day since the family has taken over. He greets customers, socializes and sees that all his employees are doing their job and are happy doing so. He is very fond and concerned about all his staff.
A diner is uniquely American and has always been everyone's kitchen. It has been known for fast service, fresh food and friendliness. You never know who might be sitting next to you or from where. A four star general could be sitting next to a road laborer or the ex-President of the United States may be walking in with a woman jogger. We encourage our employees to cultivate rapport with each of their customers, getting to know how he or she likes their food and when to serve it.
We have had the pleasure of serving many prominent people including Mr. Carter before he became president and Mr. Ford after he had been president along with the Russian Ballet, the mayor of Moscow, and many sports figures. Today people are eating out more and more so we had a need for expansion. As they say-"we were bursting at the seams". We now have a separate dining room for larger parties, a new bar and lounge with dining facilities, two new non-smoking rooms and a retail bake shop.
We are constantly meeting new people from all over the world and in all walks of life, along with our steady patrons and friends. This is what makes our work so gratifying and so rewarding.
Before I end my story, I must give gratitude to my dad, Nicholas A. Corcodilos for his words of wisdom. "The road of Success" in running a food service establishment is hard work, patience, caring and understanding your customer, along with serving the freshest most wholesome and well prepared foods-in generous portions.
The End of an Era…..
On Saturday, January 3, 2004, great sadness prevailed on my family when we lost my beloved husband Nick.
Nick was a self-made man and lived his life to the fullest, promoting good values, kindness and generosity, and always with great humility. His greeting to all was always accompanied with his warm sincere smile.
A great tribute was given to him by the masses of people who attended his funeral. He is painfully missed by all of us, but his memory will be eternal.
It may be the end of an era but the family legacy will continue from generation to generation.
Greetings to all of you and many Thanks for all your Kind Condolences, and for your continued support.
- Mary Mastoris