Steeped in history, Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in Northport has served the community, in various incarnations, for nearly a century.
“The diner was a former dining car from an old trolley. It was literally rolled down Main Street to this spot in 1924,” says owner Tim Hess, who adds that the trolley car made the trip from Worcester, Massachusetts by way of the Northport Long Island Rail Road station.
Hess, who still resides in the same house he grew up in in East Northport, recalls that his father, Otto, bought the diner in 1972, for around $35,000. Tim bought the diner, known then as the Northport Diner, from his dad, who was ready to retire in 1996.
Located on Main Street just yards from Northport Harbor, the diner has the look and vibe of a town square establishment where the patrons know the owner and vice versa. Inside, numerous photos depicting Northport history hang on the wall beside nautical-themed memorabilia.
Diner patron Maurice Freedman wrote on the diner’s Facebook page that Tim’s is “classic and charming…a wonderful part of the Northport experience.”
For Hess, 64, the diner has been at the center of his life since age 13, when he began working as a dishwasher and then eventually took over as head cook while attending the New York Institute of Technology’s culinary school at night.
“This is the only place I’ve ever worked,” he says, adding that he continues to work almost every day cooking many of the diner’s specialties, such as a standout Reuben sandwich, homemade blintzes taken from a recipe from his mom, and skirt steak, fresh turkey, and some of the best corned beef around.
In all, Hess employs about six cooks who all have their own specific jobs, from expediting to preparing specific dishes such as eggs and pancakes.
“Everything we have here is made fresh,” Hess says. “We don’t have any freezers because all my food comes in every day…we use the 5-day rule where anything that comes in Monday has to be out by Friday.”
He explains that in more than 25 years, “I know how much tuna fish I’m going to go through. Blintzes are big sellers…we sell about 25 per day on weekends.” Other specialties include homemade corn bread and jam made from fresh blackberries, strawberries and blueberries.
Hess compares the Northport Harbor area to a vacation spot and says the people in the village are “some of the nicest and most supportive anywhere.”
The diner is very personal to Hess. “I know everybody who comes in here,” he says, as several customers walk out and say goodbye.
“Northport is an area where everyone comes to hang out or party, from millionaires to working people,” he says, pointing to a row of seats near the front counter.
Hess, who donates money and time to various local organizations in the village, including the historical society, jokes with both employees and regular customers as he recalls the diner’s long history in the area.
And while Hess has changed little in the diner over the years aside from installing a spacious back patio, which came in handy during Covid, the now-defunct Food Network show American Diner Revival, hosted by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition star Ty Pennington, made some interior improvements to the railcar in 2014 with the help of dozens of local resident volunteers. The upgrades included new flooring, tables, seats, skylights and fresh paint.
Hess recalls that the makeover “was fun, business was packed…we had a great time.”
Asked about the early days of Covid, Hess says the diner 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 patio out back, Hess says that in the beginning 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 costs that are affecting all restaurants, Hess says, “We’re killing it.”
On any given day, the diner is clearly very busy, with 15- to 20-minute waits not uncommon.
While the breakfast and lunch spot closes at 3 p.m. sharp, Hess says, they get a steady flow of customers even after that.
“At 3 p.m., every day, we have to turn them away.”
Tim’s Shipwreck Diner is located at 46 Main St. in Northport. It can be reached at 631-754-1797 or facebook.com/timsshipwreck.