Diners are a staple in many communities. Whether it’s a big city or a small town, people depend on them for their morning coffee or lunch break burgers.
Over the years, the Montclair Diner has evolved, whether it be through new owners or menu changes. But the one thing that customers have counted on there is the longtime wait staff.
Angela Pakalidou and Maud McIver greet patrons with beaming smiles.
Pakalidou, originally from Greece, got started when she did the owner a favor by covering for someone who took off for vacation. She ended up staying for 19 years, she said, because “people were nice. Customers were good. Tips were good.”
Pakalidou is at the diner at 7:30 a.m. to open up at 8. She takes out the menus, starts making coffee and sets tables before her regulars start to straggle in.
McIver starts her shift a little later; she’s usually the last face late-night customers see after chowing down before she closes up. She’s worked at the diner for the last 11 years.
She met the former owner of the diner when it was closed for eight months because of a fire in 2012. She was working at a restaurant not far from the diner that the former owner would frequent for breakfast.
Pakalidou said, “My boss was going for breakfast, and he used to tell me, ‘There is some girl over there. I love her so much. She’s so nice.’”
McIver, who is originally from Haiti and has lived in Montclair since 1991, started working at the Montclair Diner, located at 613 Valley Road, a year after it reopened.
Throughout the years, the two women have learned to work in tandem. They effortlessly flow from behind the counter to bring food and drinks to tables. With some of their frequent customers, they don’t even have to ask what they want, because they always order the same thing.
“The customers come to know us,” McIver said. “It’s not like a customer anymore, they’re just like friends to us. Everybody knows everybody, and we became like a big family.”
The waitresses have come to know the ins and outs of their customers’ lives. They’ve seen everything, including first dates and children growing up.
But the intimacy and routine that they established over the years came to a halt, along with the rest of the world, in March 2020, when COVID hit.
The once-bustling diner that people would sit in long after finishing their meals was offering only takeout orders. Though they didn’t get to interact with their patrons on a regular basis, Pakalidou said loyal customers would drop off envelopes of money for those who were working in the diner throughout the pandemic.
When the diner reopened for outside seating in June 2020, both workers and customers were excited to be back.
“COVID changed a lot of things, but you know, thank God,” McIver said. “God will walk us through it, and we became stronger and better.”
Shaunte Draper, one of the managers at the diner, has worked with the two women since October 2021. When Draper first started, she said, Pakalidou and McIver were “pretty much running the diner.”
As a manager, Draper said she mostly focused on streamlining the process, but the two waitresses were the ones who maintained the quality and consistency that customers come to the diner for.
“They’re a staple,” she said. “A lot of customers that have been coming here have been served by them. They serve their children, and they’re now serving their grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the future generation. So they’re a big part of the environment and culture.”
A newer employee, Satya Sharma, who started working at the diner in January, said she felt lucky that she got to learn from Pakalidou and McIver.
“They’re so genuine,” Sharma said. “They’re so good.”
She said that some customers walk through the doors and ask: “Is Angela here? Is Maud here?”
The two fan favorites said they won’t be leaving the diner anytime soon, and that they felt a sense of pride to be a part of Montclair.
“I think Montclair Diner is a big part of the community because it’s just like where everybody comes to meet because everybody knows everybody,” McIver said.