Before there was IHOP and even Denny’s, since its founding in 1948, Glen’s Dinette has been serving up breakfast and lunch to families and friends in the heart of Babylon Village.
Being inside Glen’s is very much like taking a quick trip back in time. Its walls are adorned with bits of nostalgia, from old pictures of Babylon Village to vintage license plates from visitors as nearby as Islip to out-of-staters from Florida, Oklahoma, and even Hawaii. And the old-school checkerboard floor and red counters flanked by red stools are features one might recall from a now defunct Woolworth’s soda fountain counter.
“When I first bought Glen’s in 1990, I was only 24 and I remember it was something of a hole in the wall,” recalls owner “Hapi” Auer, who says he always wanted to own a small restaurant.
“I really loved the idea of having a local place…one of my uncles was a chef when I was a kid and I think that was an influence as well.”
Auer, who runs Glen’s with his wife Chrissy Auer, thought at first that he would run the restaurant while finishing culinary school at the New York Institute of Technology at night. But a dean at the school told him this would be difficult and advised him to just buy the place and then return to school when he could.
“I’ve been working at the restaurant full time ever since,” says Auer, who had worked at several restaurants Out East including the former Starr Boggs in Westhampton Beach.
Growing up in Babylon Village as one of seven kids, says Auer, learning to cook was as much self-preservation as it was indulging a passion.
“I’ve always loved cooking and as one of seven kids, you better learn to cook if you want to eat!” he recalls.
Asked why he opted to run a breakfast and lunch spot, Auer says it was a logical choice.
“I’ve always loved breakfast,” he says, adding that he still does a good amount of cooking, oftentimes covering for one of his five chefs who have worked through the pandemic.
While the nostalgia at Glen’s is part of its allure, it’s not the only reason some customers make the trek to Babylon from all parts of Long Island and beyond.
Among the menu’s signature and most popular items is the homemade corned beef hash, made from a recipe given to Auer by his mom.
Auer says Glen’s corned beef hash is so good that it’s been a staple of his breakfast menu since day one. “It’s a fan favorite. We go through about 100 pounds of corned beef each week.”
Another favorite is the rockin’ Reuben sandwich, made of corned beef on grilled marble rye with sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, and melted Swiss cheese, which helped Auer win his wife Chrissy’s affections when they first began to date. “We also sell hundreds of Reubens each week.”
Other big sellers include the Idaho, with home fries, bacon, scallions, Cheddar cheese and two eggs on toast; and the newer farmer’s breakfast with homemade sausage stuffing grilled with poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce, served with roasted root vegetables, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, and carrots. “People love it,” Auer says.
He emphasizes that during his 32 years as owner of Glen’s, he’s felt strong support from the local community.
“The people around town have been great…we have so many longtime customers, some who were coming here even before I took over,” he says, adding that Glen’s is a “very legitimate hometown place.”
In fact, it’s not uncommon for one of the cooks to come to your table and ask how everything is, or for Auer’s wife Chrissy to take a breakfast order.
Even John, a cook who works the front grill, is a throwback, rhythmically calling out orders into the kitchen, such as “adding on eggs Benedict,” or “French toast.” Auer says the cook is a master at multitasking, simultaneously cooking orders while calling others out. “It’s not easy,” says Hapi.
Auer adds that in many ways, making breakfasts is more challenging than preparing a steak at an expensive steakhouse.
“At an expensive steakhouse, the waiter comes by once to just ask you how you like the steak and that’s it. But here, people want their breakfasts highly customized, for example, eggs over easy, bacon well done, toast buttered, etc.”
With an accent on quality, Glen’s uses a strong, high-quality blend of coffee and artisan bread in several varieties.
“Right now, spots like Glen’s are going through a renaissance,” Auer says, adding that when he was a kid, there were many spots like Glen’s, but they began to disappear in the 1980s and 1990s as franchises like IHOP and Panera came along.
But, he says, Glen’s Dinette has survived, filling a niche for people looking for a breakfast and lunch experience that’s difficult to replicate.
While the pandemic continues to cause problems such as high food costs and labor issues, Auer says that everyone is suffering, yet he’s seen similar challenges before.
“In my 32 years, I’ve been through multiple recessions. You have to be nimble and know how to manage things.”
Auer also empathizes with newer businesses, such as those open five years or less, that may be “buried in debt.”
Glen’s survived, in part by taking advantage of government paycheck protection program loans and with the help of family, loyal employees, and even more loyal customers.
“People couldn’t buy enough food to help support us.”
As for the present, Auer says that business is strong. “We’re doing well, thank God. Hopefully we can keep this going.”
Glen’s Dinette is located at 23 E. Main St., Babylon. It can be reached at 631-804-0628. Visit at glensdinette.com.
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