Linda Norell, the owner of Jimmy’s Diner in Mastic, takes pride in the Montauk Highway staple’s cadre of longtime regulars, its cheap prices and good food.
Norell, 56, who started working at the diner, now 51 years in business, in 1988 before purchasing it in 2002, can attach a name and memory to each photograph that adorns the walls and window sills.
Over the years, she has seen both customers and their children grow.
“It’s a generational place,” Norell said.
It’s also one that appreciates a hefty dose of friendly sass. For example, the staff T-shirts read, “Order what you want. Eat what you get!” And wall signs include “WARNING, My sense of humor might hurt your feelings” and “Teenagers. Tired of being harassed by your parents? ACT NOW!! Move Out., Get a Job, Pay your own way, While You Still Know EVERYTHING.”
Open 361 days a year (minus Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter, and Fourth of July), the cash-only diner sees a heavy work crowd during early morning rush hour and an older crowd for brunch, Norell said.
It can get loud — like a raucous family dinner — and a bit tight, with a line of people waiting to take up the four tables and 10 counter seats. And customers, always greeted with a big smile from Norell, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The food is good and they have good memories,” said Paul Drummond, of Brookhaven hamlet. “They remember the names of the people that walk in.”
Keeping the legacy alive
Vincenzo “Jimmy” Manzella, a former New York City police officer and WWII veteran, opened the diner in 1968. According to a Mastic Peninsula Historical Society archived photo, the building was a grocery store going back as early as 1961
Manzella operated the diner until 1988, when he sold it to a duo known as Artie and Wayne.
By 2002, it was for sale again.
“When it went for sale, it took my heart,” Norell said, and she decided to keep the diner’s legacy alive.
The Bay Shore native moved to Mastic in the ’80s before settling in Speonk in 1994. Three of Norell’s children, Michelle, 38, Nichole, 37, and Laura, 28, have all worked at the diner over the years. She also has a son, Gustave, 35.
It was while waitressing that Nichole met her now-husband, Michael. They married in 2009.
From whopping servings of pancakes, with any topping imaginable, to chicken salad sandwiches adorned with walnuts and cranberries, each meal is around $10. Yet many customers seem to take the menu listings as a mere suggestion, Norell said.
For locals, ‘it’s like their kitchen’
“The locals come in every day and it’s like their kitchen… and that’s how I want it to be,” Norell said, adding that many regulars place orders that aren’t on the menu, like a simple serving of sausage and grits.
That may be why some customers make their way to Jimmy’s several times a week, like Rich and Sue Savino, of Center Moriches. The couple has been coming here for 30 years — first with their children and now with their grandchildren.
“We’ll come on a Sunday and there will be people standing out there and sitting on the benches,” said Sue Savino, who has three children and five grandchildren. “We’ll walk in and say, “We’re here. We’ll sit anywhere. It’s worth the wait,” she said.
A ‘family’ of staff members
Not only do the regulars keep coming, but the staff has a tendency to stay, as well. Some have worked here for 10 to 20 years.
“I was adopted,” Jess Welge, 23, of Manorville, joked. She has worked at the diner since she was 13.
The diner and Norell continue to honor the memory of Jimmy, who died in 2004 at the age of 86, with his photographs adorning several walls.
“There’s a lot of good memories here,” Norell said. “There’s a lot of great people in Mastic, and they become like your family and I didn’t want to leave.”
1535 Montauk Highway, Mastic
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sunday, 7-2 p.m.
Above: Linda Norell, owner of Jimmy’s Diner in Mastic.