GARNERVILLE, N.Y. - Laurie Murdoch has worked at Sparky’s Diner since 1987, and when she described the kind of place it is, she used a popular saying some coined about the breakfast/lunch spot.
“You’re only a stranger here once,” she said with a smile.
Sparky’s Diner is celebrating 40 years of being a community within a community, where patrons take turns filling up everyone’s coffee, and where everyone comes to enjoy some good food with familiar faces.
Owner Jeannie Nicolakis and her husband Louie bought the diner in 1976. After the couple purchased it, Nicolakis’ first thought was owning this remote diner would cost them everything. But slowly their business grew as Louie handled the cooking and Jeannie handled everything else.
Nicolakis’ loyal patrons will tell you how great the omelett’s, burgers, and chicken parm are but that’s not the only reason they return each day.
“You want to know why we’re here? Family, fun, and food,” Kate Magee said.
She was seated with six other regulars—Bill and Toni Cahill, Joe and Pat Orapello, Steve Ruffino, and Gina Yolles—at their usual spot, the second booth from the door to the left when one walks in. The booth had two tables tacked on to the end to fit everyone.
Pat Orapello explained that people arrive in shifts. When her husband Joe got up to join some other friends, his seat was filled by Gina’s husband Harry, and Angie Amengual came a short time later and filled Ruffino's seat.
"Even if you're not hungry, you've got to come say hello," Amengual said.
There are even more members in the group, and when someone doesn't show up for a day or two, they get a phone call, Gina Yolles said.
Bill Cahill, the de-facto Sparky's historian, told stories about old friends who sat with them, the story behind the "Sparky's Adult Daycare" sign that hangs on the wall over the booth that Pat Orapello had made.
Another contribution from the group--a coffee mug rack Cahill made that hangs behind the counter with everyone's individual coffee mug. Or the bench in Bowline Park dedicated a former waitress, Donna, who passed away. She was always at the Thursday night concerts in the summer so the group had it built and placed in the park.
Nicolakis said her late husband attracted people with their good food and their prices, which haven't been raised in at least 15 years. A breakfast with eggs, potatoes, toast, coffee, and juice costs $4.50; with bacon or sausage, it's $5.50.
"Where else can you go and have [breakfast] and a bottomless cup of coffee for $5.50? Because we know the area, we know how our people are," Nicolakis said.
Church groups, civic groups, high school teams, little league teams, they all come to Sparky's.
"It's like a family here. We come everyday. You can't miss," Haverstraw Councilman Isidro "Papo" Cancel said.
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