The book “Stories from New Jersey Diners – Monuments to Community,” written by Montclair State University alumnus Michael Gabriele, collects unique memories from diners all over New Jersey. Gabriele is a writer, journalist, author and current freelancer who graduated from Montclair State in 1975 with a degree in philosophy.
He enjoyed his time as a student and moved on to be a full-time journalist for over 35 years. The alumnus has written three other successful non-fictions: one about professional bicycle racing in New Jersey, another one about diners and one about New Jersey folk revival music. In “Stories from New Jersey Diners – Monuments to Community,” Gabriele plays tribute to his old university by referencing the Red Hawk Diner on page 99.
“Montclair State University, on Oct. 23, 2001, unveiled its Red Hawk Diner which was built by Kullman. Montclair State, at the time, hailed it as the first and only diner to operate on a college campus,” Gabriele said.
Gabriele is proud to be a Montclair State alumnus and sat down for an interview with The Montclarion about his novel at the Red Hawk Diner.
“The inspiration for the book actually came a number of years ago,” Gabriele said. “My first diner book came out in 2013 and the name of that was ‘The History of Diners in New Jersey’ and that one did very well.”
Gabriele enjoyed hearing memories from various New Jersey residents for this book.
“My approach when I do these books for the History Press is as a journalist. I’m always looking for the narrative, the story. In my travels, I met a lot of nice people and you’d be surprised how people are very candid and if you gain their trust they’re willing to talk to you,” Gabriele said.
When asked about a particular memorable diner stories he received for his book, he remembered a touching story.
“There was a Vietnam veteran from Mount Holly and he told me this nice story about how when he shipped out to Vietnam, there was a favorite diner of his in Mount Holly,” Gabriele said. “And he had a favorite waitress there and on the diner receipt, she wrote, ‘Bring this back to me for a free coffee.’ You know, kind of heartwarming. He kept that with him all through the 18 months he was in Vietnam.”
When asked about his own favorite memory from a diner, Gabriele thought back to when he was a kid.
“…My friends and I used to go to the Tick Tock Diner and this is like late 60s, early 70s, in that time-frame and we would go there, it would be like one o’clock in the morning,” Gabriele said. “Anybody you could think of was there. College professors, politicians, cops, firemen, people dressed up in tuxedos, because at one or two o’clock in the morning, there’s nowhere else to go but a diner.”
Gabriele explained how this all ties into a major theme of his book: people go to diners for more than just the food.
“In a funny way, that sort of is part of the premise of the book, is [as they say in the business] ‘a diner is more than just a place to eat and food is only half the meal.’ And what’s the other half? It’s the place, it’s the memories, it’s the crazy owner, it’s the waitresses, it’s the customers, that’s what a diner is really all about,” Gabriele said.
Based on the theme of the book, Montclair State students were interviewed about their own favorite memories from the Red Hawk Diner for The Montclarion.
Sammi Gerbrick, a sophomore political science major, explained how a visit to the Red Hawk Diner helped her solidify her college decision.
“I went to the Red Hawk Diner the first day I toured the school. I toured Montclair and knew that it was my top choice and then my mom and I went to lunch immediately after the tour was finished at the diner and it kind of just cemented my decision because it was a cool experience,” Gerbrick said.
Cristina Perez, a sophomore marine biology major, has also had enjoyable times at the Red Hawk Diner.
“My first memory of the diner was when I first met my friends here last year. They lived on my floor, so they were pretty close to me. We all went to the diner for the first time and it was really nice,” Perez said.
Similar to Gabriele’s belief that diners are more fun than just food, Perez said she has had some good times and conversations at the diner with all different friends.
“I even went there one time with a friend of mine from high school who I graduated with just to catch up, see how she was doing her first year, [and] I was doing my first year. [We were] just getting to talk to each other because we don’t really see each other much because we’re so busy,” Perez said.