Amid the darkness of midnight, most food venues at Montclair State University are closed. The Freeman Dining Hall, Student Center Cafe and Chili’s at Blanton are desolate once the doors are shut and the lights go out, so student’s dreary souls have few places to wander for food late at night. One establishment, though, remains open after Bistro 62 shuts down at 3 a.m.
The Red Hawk Diner is populated with grumblings of businessmen, laughter of friends and shrieks of sorority girls through the night’s wee hours. A lone police car is stationed feet away from the diner’s entrance on its busier nights – Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays – in order to keep things calm as the night wears on.
The Red Hawk Diner lends itself to these scenarios, as it is the only place for food on campus that remains open 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Established in 2001, the Red Hawk Diner was the first diner opened on any New Jersey college campus.
Georgeanna Brown – you can call her Gigi – is more than familiar with all of the diner’s happenings. Brown, who’s worked at the diner for nine years and is one of the supervisors, has a smile that’s as large as a lake and talks fast enough to give a seasoned stenographer a headache. But one situation from a few years’ past still gives her pause.
Brown was working one winter night in 2012. It was cold, as is common for a December night. Snow blanketed the campus and the diner’s surrounding, again, as is common during the Northeast’s winters. Yet, Brown tells the story of one man, despite all of this, who walked into the diner with no shoes and no socks.
“I looked down and he had no shoes and no socks. I was concerned,” Brown said. And Brown is still concerned. Her face, once jovial, became furrowed as if the man was still standing in front of her. Brown’s tenor, once oozing with excitement, slowed down in a quizzical manner. “I asked him ‘do you want a towel for your feet?’ I was so confused.”
Brown said the man tried to laugh the whole situation off. “He said he lost his shoes somewhere. He had no shoes and no socks, but I mean we still had to serve him. I never found out what happened to his shoes. That still bothers me,” Brown said.
The unexpected oddballs are just a small part of the diner’s atmosphere. The Red Hawk Diner looks like a classic New Jersey diner – even though it opened 15 years ago. Black-and-white checkerboard tiles cover the floors, metal lines the counters, bar stools, chairs and tables, and red and white neon-ringed clocks adorn the walls. The diner maintains an aura of modernity as several giant high-definition televisions hang from the ceiling.
The family atmosphere of a New Jersey diner doesn’t escape the Red Hawk Diner, either. “Sam!” Ahmed Mohamed, one of the diner’s supervisors, shouted across the room with a wide smile on his face. “How are you doing? How’s classes?”
Sam Rose, a public relations major, chatted and joked with Mohamed when he payed for his meal at the register. “I come her for the food,” Rose said. “But I mainly come her for the hospitality. Everybody is so nice here.”
The food mimics a classic diner, but the Red Hawk Diner puts a Montclair State twist on some of its items. The hamburger is dubbed the “Red Hawk Burger” and comes with its own special “Red Hawk Sauce.” The “Hawk Nest Sampler”, made up of chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, buffalo wings and potato skins, is the diner’s own take on an appetizer sampler.
The deserts are enough to satisfy one’s craving for sweets, as well. Just ask the patron whose eyes bulged like a cartoon character at the sight of his soda with a scoop of vanilla ice cream laid gently on top.
“I love my diner,” Mohamed said. Mohamed first worked at the diner as a busboy, and then he eventually became one of the diner’s supervisors. Mohamed said he enjoys interacting with the students the most, and that’s something Brown echoed.
“I enjoy the customers the most,” Brown said. “You can tell I love to talk and I love interacting with the students. I’ll talk to them if they’re stressed. I like learning about how they’re doing in school. They’ll tell me it’s reading day and I’ll ask how the end of the semester is going. I get joy out of talking to the students.”
In more ways than one, the Red Hawk Diner resembles the life of a college student. Odd moments come to pass and the diner experiences all types of emotional outbursts. The employees crack jokes with one another, and like someone you’ve had multiple classes with, they know your name. Oh, and the Red Hawk Diner never sleeps.