It’s common for a college to have its own cafeteria. But it is uncommon for a campus to have its own 1950s-style diner.
Last October, Sacred Heart University held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for JP’s Diner, which features a 30-item menu, indoor seating for 110 people and outdoor seating for 40.The diner, the only on-campus venue of its kind in New England, was named for university President John J. Petillo in a vote by the Sacred Heart student government. Petillo welcomed the eatery as place that “will not only nourish our students with delicious, hearty meals, but it will provide them with fun and entertainment. It will also give them a chance to unwind and meet with friends before getting back to their studies and extracurricular activities.”
The diner is on the Fairfield campus between the William H. Pitt Center and Pioneer Park. It is operated by SHU Dining and managed by Chartwells Higher Education, which operates the on-campus food venues.
According to Mark Tammone, resident district manager, Petillo deserves credit for being the inspiration for the diner’s retro style, complete with old-style jukeboxes.
“Our president is from New Jersey, the diner capital of the world, and we believed it was the perfect new innovative food venue on campus,” he said. “It reminds students of where their parents and grandparents grew up eating. The menu is fashioned after a 1950s diner: we offer shakes, grilled cheeses, burgers, club sandwiches and breakfast all day, and we made sure to include menu items that were legendary diner favorites.”
Still, there is a bit of 2018 in this “American Graffiti” environment. Menus identify which foods are gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan. And some offerings, including the avocado salsa omelet and black bean burger, are closer to the Age of Zuckerberg than the Eisenhower Era.
The diner project was initially announced last April and was constructed from the ground up on a budget of $2 million, with food service beginning on Nov. 17. Tammone noted that JP’s Diner was faced with a bit of a timing dilemma with its mid-autumn opening.
“Being a brand-new concept on campus and being a full-service restaurant opening two-thirds of the way through the semester made it challenging,” he said.
The harsh winter weather created another challenge when a frozen fire-protection system at the diner in January resulted in water damage. However, the damage has been cleaned up and the venue remains open for both the college community as well as the general public.
“We are getting very positive feedback,” Tammone said. “Students love the different food options, some of which they cannot get anywhere else on campus. Plus, they also love the restaurant atmosphere where they are served. JP’s creates a communal atmosphere where people come to gather, celebrate and eat great food.”