By Danny Schrafel
With “Extreme Home Makeover” star Ty Pennington as their skipper, hundreds rolled up their sleeves to raise a shipwreck – Tim’s Shipwreck Diner, that is – to new levels in two days flat, all while cameras rolled for a reality TV show pilot.
Using Seymour’s Boatyard up the road as a home base, the team completed a two-day sprint to revitalize the Northport Village institution before owner Tim Hess, safely secluded on a Montauk fishing trip, returned.
When he arrived on Main Street Monday evening, he was welcomed by hundreds spilling out into Main Street, holding signs and chanting his name.
Hess, who his regulars know is hardly ever short of words, was thunderstruck. Read his lips, and you would have seen him say, “I am so overwhelmed.”
From the steps of his newly renovated diner, Hess gave thanks for his loyal customers and staff who make the diner an iconic Northport destination.
“Nobody complains – I can give people pancakes, they can have eggs – they don’t say a word. They just eat,” he said, to laughs. “They’re so nice – I don’t really have one bad customer… and my staff is the best there is.”
“Thank you all so much – you’ve made my 17 and his so many years the best we could have ever asked for,” his girlfriend Janet Eckel added.
The fast-paced exercise will be recounted in the pilot episode of a show starring Pennington, which film crew members said would be called “American Diner Revival.” They’ll be pitching the program to the Food Network with hopes of getting on the air this fall.
There’s little formal information available about the show yet – so little that Eckel didn’t know Pennington was the host until he showed up in town Thursday. But check his Twitter feed, and you’ll see a shot of a pristine blue ’68 Shelby Mustang – with Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in the background – and the telltale hashtag, #DinerRevival, affixed.
Word had been going around Northport for months that some sort of reality TV show might be filming at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner, an 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.
A year later, Northport Village and the Shipwreck got their Hollywood close-up, playing host to a major scene in the 1997 romantic comedy hit, “In & Out.”
When Pennington and the crew arrived in Northport last week, the atmosphere became electric, and that excitement kept growing. Fans snapped pictures with Pennington on Main Street between shoots at businesses near Tim’s Shipwreck Diner on Thursday, before the two-day mad dash renovation began, and looked on as he filmed on the diner’s roof.
Fort Salonga’s Kiersten Fitzpatrick and Mary Prisco, of Centerport, were two of several who snagged a snapshot with Pennington on Thursday.
“We’re sailing instructors over at Centerport Yacht Club,” Fitzpatrick said. “We have Northport Day today, so we came into town and one of our friends [Centerport’s Brendan Strein] spotted him, so we came down to get a photo.”
Pennington spent nearly an hour at the Northport Farmer’s Market Saturday, filming and talking to vendors. And before undertaking the two-day turnaround remodeling, Pennington worked the streets of Northport to drum up volunteers – “We had Ty do a little community outreach,” a crew member quipped.
East Northport’s John Ehrhardt, a previous employee and close friend of Hess, said the decision to pitch in was instantaneous.
“We come down here for breakfast a lot,” added Riley Ziegler, who Ehrhard recruited to volunteer.
Not only is it a major boost for Hess, the burst of buzz is a boon for Northport at large, said Mayor George Doll, who was interviewed for the pilot and did “some minor stuff” inside as a volunteer.
“People are going to come here because they see it, and that’s good for Northport,” he said.
“It’s great for Tim. It’s great for Northport. It’s going to be amazing,” added Debi Triola, chairwoman of the Northport Chamber of Commerce. “I hope the show succeeds and it continues. It’s a great idea.”
And while they were here, the film crew became big fans of Northport, the mayor added.
“The film crew said, what a spectacular place this is,” he said. “They’ve never seen a place like this where the people have come out to volunteer and help Tim.”
But don’t take Mayor Doll’s word for it – ask the star himself. Asked by a fan what he thought of the town he’d been filming in for the last few days, Pennington replied: “I’m moving here!”
“I’m getting a room in the back of the diner,” he teased from the now-reopened diner’s front step.