Steeped in history, Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in Northport has served the community, in various incarnations, for nearly a century.
“The restaurant was a former dining car of an old trolley. It was literally rolled down Main Street to this location in 1924,” says owner Tim Hess, who adds that the trolley made the journey from Worcester, Massachusetts passing through the Northport Long Island Rail Road station.
Hess, who still resides in the same house he grew up in in East Northport, recalls his father, Otto, buying the restaurant in 1972, for around $35,000. Tim bought the restaurant, then known as Northport Diner, from his father, who was set to retire in 1996.
Located on Main Street, just yards from Northport Harbour, the restaurant has the look and feel of a public square establishment where patrons know the owner and vice versa. Inside, many photos depicting Northport’s history hang on the wall alongside nautical-themed memorabilia.
Restaurant boss Maurice Freedman wrote on the restaurant’s Facebook page that Tim’s is “classic and charming…a wonderful part of the Northport experience.”
For Hess, 64, the restaurant has been at the center of his life since he was 13, when he started working as a dishwasher and then eventually took over as head chef while attending the culinary school at the New York Institute of Technology in the evening.
“It’s the only place I’ve ever worked,” he says, adding that he continues to work most days cooking many of the restaurant’s specialties, such as a remarkable Reuben sandwich, homemade blintzes from ‘a recipe from his mother, and skirt steak, fresh turkey and some of the best corned beef around.
In all, Hess employs around six cooks who all have their own specific job, from shipping to preparing specific dishes such as eggs and pancakes.
“Everything we have here is fresh,” says Hess. “We don’t have freezers because all my food comes in every day…we use the 5-day rule that anything that comes in on Monday must be out on Friday.”
He explains that in more than 25 years, “I know how many tunas I will endure. Blintz are big sellers… we sell about 25 a day on weekends. Other specialties include homemade cornbread and jam made with fresh blackberries, strawberries and blueberries.
Hess likens the Northport Harbor area to a vacation spot and says the people of the village are “some of the kindest and most supportive people in the world.”
Dinner is very personal at Hess. “I know everyone who comes here,” he says, as several customers exit and say goodbye.
“Northport is a neighborhood where everyone comes to hang out or party, from millionaires to working people,” he says, pointing to a row of seats near the counter.
Hess, who donates money and time to various local organizations in the village, including the historical society, jokes with employees and regular customers about the restaurant’s long history in the area.
And while Hess has changed little in the restaurant over the years, apart from installing a spacious back patio, which came in handy during Covid, the now-defunct Food Network show American diner revivalhosted by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition star Ty Pennington, made some upgrades inside the wagon in 2014 with the help of dozens of local resident volunteers. Upgrades included new flooring, tables, seating, skylights, and fresh paint.
Hess recalls the makeover “was fun, business was full…we had a great time.”
Asked about the early days of Covid, Hess says the restaurant was closed for about three months and there was little business. “We were all scared…and we all got it too,” he says.
Pointing to his spacious back patio, Hess says at the start of the pandemic, it was one of the only places to go in the area. “And for the summer, it’s a big hit.”
As for business now, aside from rising food prices affecting all restaurants, Hess says, “We are killing it.
The restaurant is clearly very busy each day, with 15-20 minute waits not uncommon.
While the breakfast and lunch venue closes at 3 p.m. sharp, Hess says, they get a steady stream of customers even after that.
“At 3 p.m. every day, we have to turn them down.”
Tim’s Shipwreck Diner is located at 46 Main Street in Northport. He can be reached at 631-754-1797 or facebook.com/timsshipwreck.