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Kathy Daley | Democrat

Mark Moore, the most recent operator of the Munson Diner, closed the business on Dec. 22.

Munson Diner can’t get traction, famous eatery forced to close

By Kathy Daley
LIBERTY — January 25, 2011 — She’s charming enough for supporting roles in TV and movies, but penniless enough to long for a well-heeled backer.
Liberty’s Munson Diner — that steel and enamel throwback to the diners of childhood — can’t seem to get beyond the glittering past to find life in the now.
Her most recent operator, Mark Moore of Monticello, closed the place on Dec. 22.
Even though his coffee was good, his apple dumplings gained fans and his chile won awards, financial realities and other issues pressed hard on Moore.
“Right from the get-go, I was doomed and didn’t know it,” said Moore.
Moore took over operation of the historic diner, which sits on a knoll on Lake Street (Route 55) overlooking South Main, in December 2009.
He renovated until April, when he opened and did fairly well — even though he had to battle the so-so reputation the blue and silver diner had earned under prior owners. Then hot weather struck.
“When I went to use the air conditioner, it was no good,” Moore said. “Here I am, with a stainless steel diner with a lot of glass and no way to cool it down. I spent close to $1,000 for an exhaust fan for the roof. I couldn’t go into a lot of debt to buy a new air conditioner.”
He sometimes lost up to 35 customers a day because the place was too hot for them.
Gradually, Moore’s profits plummeted. December came and he had to start making decisions between paying the electric bill and signing paychecks for employees. It was Christmastime, and he chose the latter.
The Munson Diner Corporation, which owns the building, is open to working with Moore to restructure, said Jeremy Gorelick, one of the corporation board members.
“He – or any other operator – will have to come up with a business plan and a capitalization plan,” said Gorelick.
The diner, which is listed with the National Register of Historic Places, was constructed in 1945. Most of its life was spent on Eleventh Avenue and 49th Street in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen.
The New York Times wrote about Munson’s, owned by a Hungarian immigrant family, as a spot where “all classes of New Yorkers gathered on equal terms.” Perched side-by-side on the metal stools were laborers, artists, police, theatre-goers and reporters.
During the Seinfeld years, the diner served as “Reggie’s,” a fictional place featured in four episodes of the immensely popular sitcom. A Law and Order episode was filmed there, and interior shots have graced various movies.
In 2004, the diner was scheduled for demolition when the American Diner Museum in Providence, R. I. stepped in and advertised Munson’s on its website. Fifteen investors from the Liberty area gave $75,000 each to buy the diner and move it northward.
No stranger to the comfort and clubbiness of diners, Liberty has hosted within its borders the Miss Liberty Diner and Lucky’s Diner, both close to the Munson's site. Others have included the White Bridge, Triangle, Sullivan and West 17 Diner, and today’s Liberty Diner.
Can Munson’s join that list — and remain there?
Gorelick said his group is committed to seeing the diner thrive and believe the eatery can play a role in Liberty’s continuing revitalization.
With the three most recent operators, “we wanted them to feel that (investors) were hands off as much as possible — that the diner was theirs,” said Gorelick.
He said the investors realize that many first-time restaurants fail within their first year of operation, and “as a group have put in an added $95,000” over the past few years.
The big question for Moore or any other operator, said Gorelick, is how to distinguish Munson’s as a unique place to eat.
“Can it offer more affordable prices than the competition?” he said. “Can it offer a higher quality of food than the competition? The diner’s operator needs to focus on what makes it different.”

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