Meet Jack Raplee, a Queens history buff, a diner aficionado, and a freelance writer who just announced that his upcoming first book.
“I always had an interest in Queens and its history, love diners, and I often find myself engaging in conversations about Queens with many people,” said Raplee, a 45-year-old Floral Park resident who was encouraged by his friends to write a book on Queens.
Now Raplee is ready to commemorate the unique characteristics of his borough.
“From neighborhood to neighborhood, you can find many ethnic and cultural differences, as well as geographic differences that range from very rural to very urban,” he said.
Raplee wondered how he could tie all those difference together, and the unifying factor became the diner, which nearly everyone patronizes.
“At some point, you’ll find yourself in a diner, having a cup of coffee,” he said. “The rich and the poor and native New Yorkers and recent immigrants eat there. It is a cultural equalizer.”
As Diverse As The Menu is the working title for his book.
“It is based on the idea that a diner has an enormous variety of food, and in Queens you have a variety of people who are selecting from that variety,” Raplee explained.
For research, Raplee has already visited at least 20 diners across the borough on different days and times. He appointed his friend Michael Miller, a talented photographer, to capture their glory.
“I want to speak with staff members who will share a story or two, and talk to managers about their experiences with the clientele,” he said. “Every diner has their regulars, so I will ask to speak with regulars.”
Raplee would like to schedule interviews, and has established an “As Diverse As the Menu” Facebook group for people to suggest suitable diners.
“I would like to cover a broad enough representation of diners to cover as much of Queens as I can,” he said.
Forest Hills has several suitable candidates, including Tower Diner, which was formerly Emigrant Savings Bank, and Croft Drugs, which featured a soda fountain, and the T-Bone, which was established in 1934 and is likely the earliest freestanding diner in Queens.
“I grew up in Woodhaven, which never really had a diner,” said Raplee.
Some of Raplee’s diner haunts were the T-Bone after seeing movies at the Midway Theatre, Georgia Diner in Elmhurst, Waterview Diner and Cross Bay Diner in Howard Beach, and Esquire Diner in Ozone Park. He even worked at Club Diner in Richmond Hill during his high school years.
For Raplee, there is a unique sense of magic, nostalgia, and community behind a stainless steel façade where patrons sit elbow to elbow on a swivel stool.
Raplee was also inspired by his father's stories about his favorite “eateries.”
“My father was a travel agent who worked for steamship companies such as the Cunard Line, and the series of Market Diners on Manhattan’s west side fed many crew members,” he said.
Part of what has contributed to the longevity of diners was their personal touch.
“It is not like the franchises that most Americans are used to,” he said. “When I speak with people who came from the five boroughs, Long Island, or New Jersey and moved elsewhere, they really miss their diners.
“I get hungry just talking about it,” he added. “The best meal any diner serves is breakfast. I've never had a bad one, whether it is eggs or Belgian waffles. Also, you cannot return to McDonald's after having a few great diner burgers, which are the juiciest.”
To help fund As Diverse As The Menu, visit gofundme.com/queensdiners.