As many residents know, New Jersey is iconic for its diners. Dubbed as the “Diner Capital of the World,” the Garden State is home to 525 diners–the most in any state. While Jersey didn’t invent diners, it had the perfect ingredients to let them flourish.
One particular diner, known as Mastoris, in Bordentown, New Jersey, captures the rich history of diner establishments throughout the Garden State.
The diner was a family favorite of ours growing up. Everyone in my family likes different kinds of food. Some of us prefer seafood while others are drawn to breakfast meals or lunch wraps. With the expansive menu of Mastoris Diner, we could personalize everything from breakfast to desserts–the french onion soup and cheese bread are my personal favorites. It was always a wonderful experience, which we relived the next morning through our inevitable leftovers. Even though the menu items today are limited due to the pandemic, the diner still captures the wonders of New Jersey food and history.
Mastoris Diner wasn’t always a bustling restaurant, however. It arose during a time of lunch wagons, automobile inventions, and long commutes initiating New Jersey’s history of diner expansion.
A Brief History of New Jersey Diners
The history of diners in New Jersey started in the 1910s and 1920s, during the automobile industry’s rise. Because of its location between New York and Pennsylvania, New Jersey created highly developed transportation systems, including better road networks. As busy commuters traveled long distances between these three states, New Jersey’s 24-hour diners became a popular destination to rest and recuperate.
Beginning as portable wooden lunch wagons, New Jersey diners gradually shifted from roadside attractions to fully established restaurants in the late 1940s. Over time, commuters and locals, particularly the working-class, sought out these diners for a cheap and convenient meal. The lengthy hours of operation and voluminous menus solidified diners’ popularity among residents and tourists alike, designating New Jersey as the diner capital.
Much Kneaded History of Mastoris Diner
The story of Mastoris began in 1927. When Mary Mastoris’ family purchased land and a lunch wagon, they established the Hightstown Diner. Complete with a counter and 12 stools, this diner prompted generations of expansions and relocations. For years, the family-operated multiple lunch wagons throughout New Jersey. Finally, by the early 1960s, Mary and her husband Nick Mastoris built their first modern restaurant, seating 350 people.
In 1967, however, a catastrophic fire destroyed the entire diner. Luckily, the family was able to rebuild. After a year and a half of construction, Mastoris Diner Restaurant was officially established. Working alongside their children, who would help with purchasing food and taste-testing, the diner continued to grow. Serving 500 to 800 customers on busy days, Mastoris created a separate bakery and enlarged the kitchen. The diner’s popularity was large enough to draw the attention of President Gerald Ford, whom Mary Mastoris personally served.
Generations of people have contributed to Mastoris Diner’s success. In particular, Mary Mastoris, who passed in May 2020 at the age of 98, remains one of the restaurant’s most significant catalysts. From the 1920s to the 1960s, women were hardly involved in the diner business. Lunch wagons were run by men, making Mary’s devotion and success all the more inspiring. Today, as customers and family members grieve her loss, they continue supporting the business she worked tirelessly to establish. While the business no longer operates under the Mastoris family today, it maintains the same level of patron care and quality.
Mastoris has remained a central icon for New Jersey for many years. Famous for its stuffed cheese and cinnamon breads, the restaurant now includes outdoor dining to meet customer demands.
While the Garden State is home to many diners, Mastoris remains at the forefront. Operating for generations, it’s the perfect example of New Jersey’s diner food and history.
Today, Mastoris operates on a reduced, two-page menu with restricted dining times as a result of the pandemic. However, while certain food items are currently unavailable, meals and customer service quality remain radiant.
Feature image courtesy of Mastoris
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