New Jersey’s Mack Diner may get new lease on life

All Ears Records (aka Mack Diner) from the 1980’s
copyright Larry Cultrera

The Mack Diner, last operated as All Ears Records store in New Brunswick, NJ has been deteriorating for years. The location it is in is very depressed (and depressing). Ironically, at least on the exterior, this 1941 vintage Fodero diner still looks like it could come back. In fact there was an article from the August 26th “” about the very fact that the structures current owner is in possible negotiations to sell the diner to someone who wants to move it out of state.

Here is the copy of the piece written by Richard Khavkine for …… 

The Mack Diner on French Street in New Brunswick may be moved.
AUGUSTO F. MENEZES / MyCentralJersey

NEW BRUNSWICK —A dormant city fixture could be given a new lease on life. But the Mack Diner, which during its roughly 65 years on French Street has functioned as a grocery store, a record shop and, yes, a diner, might first have to be transplanted.

The stainless steel, aluminum and enamel Art Deco fixture, inoperative since soon after a drug raid put its then-proprietor behind bars in April 2005, has drawn interest from out of state. “He wants to take it away,” said the Mack’s current owner, Tareq Algharaybeh, speaking of a potential buyer he thinks is in Mississippi. “Where I don’t know.”

Flanked by a record shop and a mini market on French between Seaman and Suydam streets, the Mack’s turquoise shell glimpsed daylight recently. Last month, the advertising posters that have for years obscured nearly its entire facade were taken down. For about a week, the words “Mack” and “Diner,” on either side of the brick and aluminum portico tethered to the patina of decades, were again visible.

Within a few days, though, billboards publicizing local concerts and hand-lettered notices advertising rooms for rent again blanketed the prefabricated structure. Inside, what appears to be the diner’s original tile and wood counter teeters against the test of time. But other than the ventilation hoods, stripped of their exhaust fans, little trace remains of the diner’s days and nights as a restaurant.

But Algharaybeh, who bought the diner two years ago, says it is otherwise sturdy. “There’s no leaks,” he said. “It’s nice.” Still, Algharaybeh, who also owns and runs Sam’s Pizza and Chicken two blocks south on French Street, has little use for this period piece. With three years left on the lease for the pizza establishment, Algharaybeh wants to move that business, which he has operated for 20 years at French and Alexander streets, onto the Mack’s lot. “I’m going to move there,” he said recently. “My customers aren’t going anywhere.”

First, though, he needs to find a buyer for the diner, one willing to truck it out. Which wouldn’t be unprecedented. Just over a year ago, for instance, the Moondance Diner, a SoHo landmark for 75 years said to have been the oldest such establishment in New York City, was put on a flatbed truck and moved 2,100 miles to Wyoming. For now, the French Street mainstay’s windows remain boarded up, as they were during the Mack’s last, somewhat productive, venture.

Charles Ewen puts on an Etta James record at the Mack Diner in New Brunswick.

As All Ears’ Records, a clutter-filled shop open irregular hours, the Mack endured, more or less intact, for nearly 30 years. But if All Ears’ Records had the longest run at 150 French St., it also had a most inauspicious end. The Mack’s Mensa-credentialed owner, Charles Ewen, was said to be peddling more than just oldies singles: A nighttime raid by law enforcement on Ewen’s French Street apartment in April 2005 yielded a trove of heroin and cocaine, prescription drugs, loaded handguns and ammunition.

Soon after the raid and Ewen’s subsequent incarceration, the Mack, its Art Deco prime already the stuff of memories, fell further into disrepair. A year or so later, Algharaybeh bought the vintage — but by then decrepit — 1941 diner. While the diner was at one time a “problem property,” city spokesman Bill Bray said the diner has had “no active violations” or open complaints of late.

Built by the famed Fodero Dining Car Company of Newark and, later, Bloomfield, the prefab icon wheeled in to the city sometime in the 1940s. But a short-order cook last served a plate of bacon and eggs over easy at 150 French St. some 40 years ago. Somewhat incongruously, the Mack next had a short tenure as a grocery store of sorts. Ewen bought the Mack eight years after that, in 1976, for $7,250.

Over the next three decades, Ewen, surrounded by eight fish tanks, spun both music and tales inside the Mack. Seems he sold some of the former, too, from a record collection said to have reached in the tens of thousands of discs. One of local law enforcement’s greatest hits from 2005, though, confined the Mack to the dustbin. Or so it might have appeared, since, given time, vintage fashions have a tendency to resurface. Just as Ewen, 63, incarcerated at South Woods State Prison since November 2006, becomes eligible for parole and a new life in October, so might the Mack Diner shake off its stint in purgatory, and gleam again.