By Danny Schrafel
It’s closing time at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner on Labor Day, and owner Tim Hess is marking the occasion in the manner one might expect – by laboring.
There, the final orders of hash browns come off the sizzling griddle as the customers finish their last cups of coffee before Hess and the crew close the doors and prep for another day. Business as usual, you might say – but not quite.
There’s still buzz in town about Tim’s Shipwreck Diner, which three weeks ago got a visit from “Extreme Home Makeover” star Ty Pennington. He arrived in Northport Aug. 14 and gave Hess the joyous shock of a lifetime with the help of hundreds of local volunteers for a new reality television show.
While Hess was whisked away on a Montauk fishing trip, those volunteers, led by Pennington, completed a break-neck two-day rebuild of the diner powered by volunteer labor.
Now, three weeks later, Hess said he’s still pinching himself at his good fortune – and the devotion of his customers.
“I was so honored. I was really honored,” he said. “There’s so many people that actually did it… They were all customers, all regular people – my friends.”
So, what’s new at the Shipwreck? An overall blue-and-white color scheme prevails, and there’s a new floor, new lights, new seats and tables and nautical-themed breakfast counter stools, as well as new sky lights installed by Pennington’s crew. The overall effect is familiar but brighter and refreshed.
There’s also a new toaster oven, malt machine and waffle iron. Nicole Roarke, executive chef of JA Heneghan's Tavern in Point Lookout, reworked the menu and added some items, most notably the “Wreck-less” salmon wrap and “Wreck-fast” breakfast burrito, both of which are selling well, Hess said.
But three critical components of what makes the Shipwreck unique – the famous blintzes, the ever-sizzling griddle and the classic boxcar silhouette of the diner – remain blissfully untouched.
And the neighborhood chatter continues – as walkers pass the diner, it’s not too uncommon to hear them mention, “That’s the place Ty Pennington did over.”
“We’ve been pretty busy ever since,” Hess said.
If you kept your ear to the ground around Northport, though, it wasn’t exactly a shock that a reality show was in the works at the Shipwreck. Word had been going around Northport for months that a TV show might be filming at the iconic railcar diner purchased by Tim’s father, Otto, in the early 1970s. Otto’s Shipwreck Diner became Tim’s in 1996 when his son took the wheel.
After years of being in the entertainment background, the Shipwreck will be squarely in the television spotlight. Northport Village and the Shipwreck played host to a major scene in the 1997 film “In & Out,” and Hess’ girlfriend Janet Eckel said scenes in the “Royal Pains” TV show pilot were also filmed outside the diner.
“We’re just regular, everyday people who do their jobs,” Eckel said. “It’s a little overwhelming [to be on camera], but we look at each other every day, we sit there and we laugh and say, ‘We should be a show!’ We have a lot of laughs here. We have a lot of good times… and I always emphasize, we’re a family.”