After almost six decades of service, the Peterpank Diner is closing down. The restaurant in South Amboy will celebrate its 58th anniversary on Dec. 17, but that will also be its last. The property, which is located at 967 Route 9 on the border between Sayreville and South Amboy, has been purchased by an independent developer, who intends to replace the diner with a new business.
Peterpank Diner was founded by Alex Panko Sr. and his brother-in-law, Charles Petermann, in 1957 when they purchased and renamed Margaret’s Midway Diner. A new structure for the restaurant was built in 1961 and remained operational until it was destroyed in an electrical fire on Sept. 28, 1978. Peterpank’s third and current structure was completed on July 11, 1979.
Since its inception, Peterpank has been a family-owned business. Today, Panko’s wife Alice, daughter Patty Colaprico, and son Alex Jr. help run the restaurant.
According to Alex Panko Jr., he began coming to Peterpank when he was five years old and would help as a cook at age 11. In June 1982, right after he graduated from high school, he started working full- time at the diner and never stopped. “I love the business,” Panko said, speaking of Peterpank’s closure. “It’s been very hard for me.”
Approximately four acres in size, the site is a desirable piece of land for developers. Panko described how the property has been sought after since 2013, with QuickChek and later Wawa attempting to purchase it.
“It was never about keeping the diner,” he remarked. “They wanted the property.”
Panko admitted that with three generations of his family – his mother, his sister and himself, and their children – at a “crossroads” in life, “it’s maybe just time for a change.” Colaprico is leaving Peterpank to join her husband’s insurance company, and Panko has thought about opening a new, smaller restaurant.
Intending to remain in the food industry, Panko also plans to keep his establishment local. He explained that, by staying in the area, his “good employees have a place to go.” “They’re very important to me,” he stated.
In addition to his employees, Panko spoke highly of his customers, many of whom he has become close to while working at Peterpank.
“You’re only a customer the first three times you walk through the door,” Panko said. “After that, you’re family.”
Panko recounted being invited to Atlantic City by a customer and subsequently becoming close friends.
“He came in for a burger, and we’ve been friends for 25 years,” Panko said.
On another occasion, Panko had a customer arrested. When the customer returned to Peterpank, he thanked Panko for contacting the police.
“He changed his whole life around,” Panko said. Referring to his customers, Panko said, “We truly care about what’s going on in their lives, and they care about what’s going on in our lives.”
When his father died, Panko noted that a large number of people attended his funeral. So many flowers were sent in to the funeral home, the undertaker could not take any more.
“I’ve just been so lucky to meet the tens of thousands of people I’ve met, and they’ve let me become their friend,” he remarked.
Panko acknowledged not seeing them would be “a huge adjustment.” Nevertheless, he remained grateful for his encounters with customers.
“[The] best thing was meeting all the people I saw,” he said.
Peterpank Diner will remain operational until its final day of business, which is Dec. 30.