Advantages of Growing Up in the Diner-Restaurant Business  

 By John M. Paitakes, Jr., Ph.D.

Growing up working in the Diner-Restaurant business can provide one with a number of distinct real-life learning experiences. Many children of Greek Diner-Restaurant owners have worked in their family or relatives businesses. A number of them eventually took over the family business or started their own business based upon the valuable work ethic lessons they learned working and growing up in this environment.

This experience is an excellent means of learning what leads to success in the world of work. Key elements learned are: being on time for work; dependability; responsibility; dedication; teamwork; getting along with others; understanding human behavior, managing personnel; public relations to name some. In this business you learn to get along with a diverse population; everybody has to eat regardless of their ethnic background, culture, or religion. One depends on the customer to have a successful and profitable business. Therefore, customer satisfaction is of paramount importance. “The customer is always right” is an accepted adage in this business.

Hospitality is somewhat of an inborn cultural characteristic of many Greeks. This is an important attribute for those working in the hospitality industry. It is also one of the major reasons why many successfully operated diners and restaurants are owned and managed by Greeks.

The author (Dr. John Paitakes, Jr.) has been fortunate to have grown up in this environment. His father (John Paitakes, Sr.) was the co-owner and operator of the Spinning Wheel Diner and Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge in New Brunswick, NJ during the 1950’s and 60’s. This was one of the most popular dining eateries in the area employing 50 employees and in close proximity to Rutgers University, Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and Squibb Corporation. It also provided a venue for catering for parties, Baptisms, weddings and organizational affairs.

John Jr. began working there in high school as a cashier and busboy. At the age of 17 he was assigned the position of night manager working from 1 pm until 1 am. This was an awesome responsibility for someone so young. This position entailed managing and supervising approximately 50 employees ranging in ages 18 – 70. It required a great deal of tact, diplomacy and interpersonal skills supervising personnel 3 & 4 times his age. He took his father’s counsel and advice on a regular basis in managing this task.

John Sr. had to drop out of high school at age 16, as he had to help support his parents who had recently emigrated from Greece. He worked in the restaurant business for a number of years prior to buying into his own business partnership. He was a “self-made Manager-Owner” based upon his experience and insight.

When John, Jr. completed high school, he went on to college at the strong direction of his father. Many Greeks highly value further education and wanted a better education for their children. During his college years he continued working part time in the restaurant business summers and during school vacations. Upon graduation from college and after majoring in business, he was unsure as to what type of work to pursue, so he gravitated back to the family restaurant business. He enjoyed working with a diverse population and realized that he was a “people-oriented” type of individual. He worked 10 – 12 hours per day, 5 & 6 days a week for the following year until he was called to fulfill his military obligation for the next six months.

During this period of his full-time military training and service, his father decided to sell out his share of the business to his partner. When John, Jr. completed his military obligation, he had to secure employment. Although he was unsure as to what career area to pursue, he knew he enjoyed a “people-oriented” type of employment dealing with a diverse population. He became aware at that time (1967) the county court system in which he resided had an opening in the Probation Division of the Somerset County, NJ courts. He applied and was hired as a Probation Officer. He found this position to be very interesting and satisfying work dealing with different personalities and backgrounds of male and female offenders. This turned into a successful career rising through the ranks to Assistant Chief Probation Officer during his 29-year tenure.

While working with the Probation Department, he secured his Master’s Degree and Ph. D. by attending evening classes. He also taught as an Adjunct Professor at a Community College teaching a variety of courses in Business Administration, Management and Criminal Justice.

Upon his retirement from the Somerset County Courts after 29 years, he secured a full-time teaching position at Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ. He has taught there for the past 18 years in the Graduate Department of Public Administration and the Undergraduate Department of Criminal Justice. He has also taught courses at Rutgers University, Kean University, and Raritan Valley Community College. In addition, he is a contributing criminal justice expert for EBRU TV and has recently appeared on Fox 5 News, New York as a criminal justice expert.

As the author reflects back on his careers and related work assignments, he believes several factors contributed to his satisfying jobs. Clearly, further education and training are a critical part of his job success and satisfaction. In addition, the experiential opportunity of working and growing up in the Diner-Restaurant business was another contributing factor.

The experience of dealing with customers from all walks of life (sanitation worker to the University President), was an invaluable asset gained from working in the Diner-Restaurant business. Supervising and managing employees, male and female of varied ages was also an experience gained which benefitted the author immensely. Today’s society is very multicultural and to be successful, one must be able to relate favorably with many cultures. This was another helpful learning experience gained by working in the food business. These opportunities developed a work ethic that has been a significant part of his persona and development.

N.B.:    Dr. John Paitakes, Jr. continues to teach Criminal Justice and Management courses as a full time Professor at Seton Hall University. In addition, he is the Coordinator of Internships and mentors students toward careers. For further information, he may be contacted at [email protected], Tel: 908-722-7799