New Jersey diners: Warm refuge from winter

WOODLAND PARK, N.J. (AP) — For some, Thursday’s heavy snow meant a welcome day off at the tail end of the work week. For Joseph Chang, an attorney who runs a small-but-bustling Paterson law office, it was crippling.

“We’re always swamped with work,” Chang said. “And actually having a snow day really creates logistical problems.”

But he made the best of it, driving on treacherous roads from his Clifton home to the Park Wayne Diner on Hamburg Turnpike to meet Debbie Rocker, his paralegal, and mull over strategic plans for his five-person firm.

Why Park Wayne? Because it’s always open, he said.

“You can always count on New Jersey diners,” he told The Record.

The pair was among the many who burrowed into bench seats and bar stools at diners across the region as Thursday’s winter storm, initially dismissed as a minor worry, poured inches of snow onto slippery streets, making travel risky.

In Bergen County, people hunkered down at the Arlington Diner in North Arlington. A sign on the door asked patrons to knock the snow from their boots before coming in. The owner put it there after firefighters, fresh from digging out hydrants, tracked in snow and left the marble floor slick during the lunchtime rush, said Karen Smith, a server.

The diner was slow around 3 p.m., but Smith said it had seen a good turnout overall.

Juan Aparicio, 55, of North Arlington, was enjoying his eggs after a hard workday. Typically, he’d be making deliveries, but Thursday he was shoveling snow.

“I shoveled three times,” Aparicio said. “After half-an-hour, it became covered again.”

Otherwise it’d been slow, Aparicio said.

He was among about a dozen patrons at the diner Thursday afternoon. Some were ending their workday, while others prepared to brave the winter weather to make some money off the storm.

Yasmin Allan, Park Wayne’s manager, answered phones and rummaged through receipts as the waiters killed time between helping customers. It was busy around lunch, but had slowed down since, Allan said. It’d still get hectic around dinner, though, especially when the snow-plow drivers get off work.

“They all come here,” she said. “Now, they’re busy on the roads. But as soon as they finish, they all come.”

Who comes to a diner during a snowstorm?

“People who drive Jeeps,” Marko Karatasev, a waiter, said with a laugh.

But people also tip better during storms, he said. And they’re nicer.

“Maybe they feel bad, you know? Because we’re not going to make money,” Karatasev said.

In North Arlington, Tom Scorsone, a 25-year Belleville resident, and his colleague, Nick Del Geurcio, of Cedar Grove, were preparing for an evening of plowing parking lots and driveways.

“We don’t do it for the money,” Scorsone said, in jest, while waiting for his grilled cheese.

But he said that even with his Ford Bronco, with which he’d be plowing, he had to drive slow in this weather. He advised others to do the same.

That was advice that Bryan Keil, 51, of Randolph, agreed with.

“The roads were awful,” said Keil, who works in sales for Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington. He’d passed several highway accidents on Route 80 and Route 3 while driving to work in his pickup.

Damian Lascano, 52, of North Newark, dined on a feast of London broil and stuffed mushrooms. He was glad he left his New York City job early, because the storm had worsened. Lascano saw a crash on Route 495 while on his way home.

“What I do is just drive slow, put on my headlights,” Lascano said. “And if there’s a truck, I drive behind him.”