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.

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

  1. I grew up next to that diner. At that time, my uncle was renting it and served some good Puerto Rican meals. That was in the late 60’s!
    It breaks my heart that it might be moved but diners are becoming extinct and in my opinion, you can’t get a better breakfast meal if not from a diner!
    It’s also sad to see that the city and especially the French St area has become so deteriorated and no one is doing anything about it.

  2. What a shock; I knew Charlie Ewen when he was a student at Rutgers, and a budding poet, then didn’t see him until about 1999 when I visited his store. I found him much changed, seemlingly mentally ill and full of delusions of grandeur and wild ideas about education, although I now realize it was probably the drugs. I am much more sad about that than about a diner; drugs have destroyed many fine minds, and his was one.

  3. Just letting you know that the Mack Diner (former All Ears Record store) on 150 French Street (Route 27) in New Brunswick, NJ was torn down and destroyed December 7, 2010.

  4. i have spoken to the present owner of the property.she indicated it was torn down and brought to the dump.perhaps the the dump is in pennsylvania.

  5. Well I am the guy who used to have the All Ears’ Records store there …
    … the stories about my ”mental illness” and my criminal past I dare say
    are greatly exaggerated, but, …. well who cares anyway …. I will agree
    to the charge of being a fairly eccentric guy, but the rest is just opinion
    and Rutgers journalism school ”’reportage”’ (been there, done that, and
    I IKNOW)

    my email is if anyone cares about ”fackts”, as opposed to
    The Home News and other ‘expert’ opinions LOL. I DID learn a lot about
    the way the police ‘Work’ which I did NOT know when I was just a college
    grad and a regular citizen.

    • Hey Charles, thanks for checking in. I am willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt and happy to give you a forum to state your side of the story.

      • sorry pal, i mostly breaks my heart to look at this stuff, but i AM
        glad to hear someone say there might Be two sides to the story …and threre Are……thanks for the ‘offer’ ,,,, chuck ewen

      • well last time i was there was about 2 yrs ago and it was still there, ‘tho
        i know there was talk and even newspaper story or 2 some time prior, to
        the effect that it was being sold and moved to europe e.g. etc., but it was still
        there when I looked … don’t know about Now … new brunswick had Long
        considered it something they didn’t want around (like ‘an old Diner?!! ewww’)
        and regularly found a weed growing in the sidewalk etc. to ticket me for and to try to make me leave, even at such times as i DID all the regular maintenance … what a town!!! I was harassed by them regularly, even
        when i was just a record store and well before i was the bane of N.J. lol.

        they also had some weird and probably illegal city zoning stuff so that even
        Though it was a straight up commercial zone, And had parking meters all
        over the place, Tariq for example wouldn’t be allowed to do anything with
        it without having his own PARKING Lot (re which i advised him before he
        bought it from me) — he was unconcerned. (but where could you even
        possiby Put the requisite parking lot ?? …. well, one of New Brunswick’s
        ”specially designed laws” perhaps, which they weren’t above makin’ em.)

        One thing i have not seen re this is that the Name ”Mack Diner” (which
        incidentally the New Brunswick ”city fathers” regularly tried to get me
        to paint over !!) came from the fact that Mack Trucks had in earlier times
        a big plant a little ways up the road and i guess the idea was to get the
        workers to come there, which (as i actually knew the original owner —
        before i had the store i met him where i was working) — well apparently
        a lot Of those Mack Truck workers Did come there as well as a lot of the
        local railroad people (the yard was pretty close). ok, bye…chuck

  6. and Barb, you ought to be straight up Ashamed of the stuff you said about
    me ……. you stopped by to visit the store for an hour or two after not even seeing me for about 30 years or so, and Years before I got arrested and
    railroaded basically (like the poor naive guy in ‘bonfire of the vanities’) ,.,,
    you really didn’t know me or have contact with my for years …. guess you
    think your ”””informed commentary””””’ would get you part of your 15 minutes ….. really, Barb. I mean ”mentally ill’???? I will never argue with
    being called eccentric … YOU are probably medicated,, I am not.

  7. My uncle, Charles Ewen, left this world last night. I was happy to find this thread today, where he at least got to say his piece a bit. I remember my childhood trips to All Ears fondly, and he regularly let me walk out with as many records as I could carry. Godspeed, Uncle Charlie.

    • Thanks for the news about your Uncle Charlie, Dan! My condolences to your family on Charlie’s passing. I felt it was only right to allow him some sort of forum. He and I never met but at least connected thru my blog!

  8. It makes me sad to hear about Charlie; we were friends, we sang together long ago, we argued, we made up. He was a unique cat, nobody like him. Is there an obit?

  9. Dear Dan,
    I am very sad to hear about Charlie’s passing. I knew him for several years and helped him out at the record store in the late 80s and early 90s. I last saw him in 2003 and lost track of him later despite several contact attempts. I offer my condolences to you and the whole family, some of whom I met through the years. Charlie was a very generous and interesting man and I remember him fondly.

  10. Nice to see the pic of Charlie spinning the record above, and read his comments. When I moved to New Brunswick in 1986 I rented a room from him and was not only a tenant but a house-mate. We became friends and over the next several years we were roommates several times. In fact, over the years, I lived in every single room on the third floor. This was at 159 French Street, across from the diner. The All Ears Inn. The first floor served as a record warehouse. I worked for him for a while alphabetizing and filing records, which were stacked to the 20 foot ceiling. It was a great collection. He let me tape whatever I wanted. Charlie was a character. I once showed him a Harvey Pekar comic called “Star Books,” & he called me asshole, later he said, because it hit home, and he saw himself in the main character, a curmudgeonly used bookstore owner.
    He helped me out a lot over the years. There were times o would have been homeless if he hadn’t given me a room. He helped a lot of people out. I’m sorry he suffered so, after being “set up like a bowling pin.” I see from his comments above that he never lost his sense of humor, even after the ordeal of incarceration. He was a good one. A true neighborhood character. I think about him often. May he rest in peace

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